There’s nothing more satisfying and promising for an NHL player than enjoying a productive rookie season. Most players who post good numbers in their first year usually go on to enjoy a fine career. However, for one reason or another that’s not always the case. Some players impress as rookies, but then struggle to recreate the magic for the remainder of their careers. It’s not unusual to go through a sophomore jinx, but ending up in the minors shortly after having a good rookie season can often kill a player’s career.
There have been many good players who excelled as rookies before things went South. There are numerous possible reasons for this such as injuries, team politics, coaching, player and GM changes, as well as a loss of confidence. But perhaps some players just aren’t as good as their rookies campaigns would suggest. However, just because a player never lives up to his promise after a good rookie year doesn’t necessarily make him a bad or ineffective performer. And remember, a rookie is a player who hasn’t played more than 25 games in the NHL before his first full season.
This list is made up of 15 players whose career more or less started off strongly in their first full season in the NHL and then either went slightly or completely off the rails. Although it’s called the top 15 NHL players who fell apart after their rookie season it may be a little harsh to say they actually fell to pieces. Basically the list is filled with players who had a strong first season statistically before descending into a downward spiral for whatever reason. Oddly enough, nine of these players skated with the Toronto Maple Leafs at one time or another during their career and there’s just one active player, who’s also a Leaf.
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15 Colin Greening
Colin Greening’s name has been in the headlines recently since he was part of the Dion Phaneuf to Ottawa Senators trade. Greening is the only active player on this list so he still has time to turn things around. However, he’s 29-years-old and his career has been heading the wrong way. The left winger was drafted 204th in 2005, so he’s already exceeded expectations in most eyes. Greening scored 40 points in 59 games as a pro rookie in the AHL and then posted 13 points in 24 contests with the Senators in 2010-11. His official rookie season came the next year and he racked up 37 points in the full 82 games. He then added 19 points in the shortened 47-game 2012-13 campaign and another 17 points in 76 games the next year. His play dropped off and he appeared in only 26 NHL outings last season with just one point. Greening continued to struggle and didn’t make the Senators this season and played just once for them as his production fell off in the AHL with 13 points in 41 games this year. It’s now make-or-break time in Toronto.
14 Bruce Boudreau
Bruce Boudreau had a lot of talent as a player, but was basically a high-scoring minor leaguer. "Gabby" racked up 165 points in his last year of junior with the Toronto Marlboros and was drafted 42nd overall by the Maple Leafs in 1975. However, he was chosen 14th the year before by the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the old World Hockey Association. Boudreau eventually signed with the Leafs and scored 71 points for their Dallas farm team in 58 games in 1976-77 before being called up for 15 games. He scored seven points in those 15 contests and split the next season between minors and the Leafs. The centre scored 29 points in 40 games with Toronto in his official NHL rookie season, which was a 60-point pace over a full season. Boudreau would play just 79 more games with the Leafs though as he went back and forth between the NHL and minors. He did manage to play seven games with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1985-86 but Boudreau played just 141 NHL games in his career from 1976 to 1992.
13 Peter Ihnacak
The problem with Peter Ihnacak, another Toronto Maple Leafs centre, was that he had such a promising rookie season that so much was expected of him from then on. The native of Slovakia was taken in the second round of the 1982 draft after the pick was acquired when Darryl Sittler was sent packing to the Philadelphia Flyers. Ihnacak set a then-Leafs record with 66 points in his first season. He had a decent career, but things slowly started to unravel. He stayed in Toronto until 1990, but found himself sent to the minors three separate times and played just five games in his final season with the Maple Leafs in 1989-90. Ihnacak then decided his NHL career was over and went back to Europe to play until retiring after the 1996-97 season. Ihnacak scored 267 points in 417 career NHL contests, but it took him seven years to rack up the final 200 of them.
12 Andrew Raycroft
Goaltender Andrew Raycroft had an excellent rookie season with the Boston Bruins after being drafted 135th in 1998. He was called up for 21 games between 2000 and 2003, but enjoyed his official rookie season in 2003-04 with a record of 29-18-9 to go along with a goals-against average of 2.05 and a 92.6 save percentage. In fact, Raycroft was so good he won the Calder Trophy as the Rookie of the Year. The team and its fans expected a lot from him, but Raycroft was traded to Toronto for Tuukka Rask after he went 8-19-2 with the Bruins the next season with a 3.71 GAA and save percentage of 87.9. Raycroft won a club record 37 games with the Leafs in 2006-07, but for some reason became a whipping boy for the fans. He soon went from Colorado to Vancouver to Dallas and played just 100 more games in the league as a backup after his first year season in Toronto. His last three years were spent in the minors and Europe before retiring in 2014.
11 Dan Hodgson
Dan Hodgson was one of the highest scoring centres in junior hockey history. He was only 5-feet-9-inches tall, but racked up 709 points in 298 games as a youngster in Western Canada. You guessed it, he’s a former Maple Leaf as Toronto took him in the fifth round with the 83rd overall pick in the 1983 draft. Hodgson racked up 29 points in 22 games in the AHL and then played half a season with the Leafs. He scored 25 points in 40 games for a 50-point, full-season pace. Hodgson had all the talent in the world and a lot of promise for a bright future. However, things went off track as he was back in the minors the next season even though the Leafs had a brutal team. Hodgson was dealt to Vancouver in 1986-87 and scored 22 points in 43 games. The Canucks also sent him to the AHL though and Hodgson appeared in just 31 more NHL games before spending the rest of his career in Europe from 1989-90 to 2004-05. He had a respectable 74 points in 114 career NHL contests.
10 Kyle Wellwood
Centre Kyle Wellwood played with the Maple Leafs as well as a few other clubs before calling it quits on his NHL career. Wellwood, who’s still only 32-years-old, was another skilled junior and had 344 points in 244 games in the OHL. He wasn’t drafted until the fifth round though in 2001 since many teams believed he was too small at 5-foot-10. Wellwood posted 87 points in 80 games in 2004-05 in the AHL and cracked the Leafs lineup the next year. He had a pretty good season with 45 points in 80 outings as a rookie and showed a lot of skill, imagination, and promise. He had even better numbers the next year with 42 points in 48 games. However, the rot had already set in as Wellwood soon earned the reputation as being a bit of a partier and somebody who wasn’t in the best of shape. In fact, he failed a fitness test later in his career when he reported to training camp in Winnipeg. After the Leafs cut him loose, Wellwood played for the Canucks, Sharks, and Jets as well as in Russia and Switzerland. He scored a decent 235 points in 489 career NHL fixtures, but things went downhill for him after his first full year in the NHL.
9 Nikolai Borschevsky
Five-foot-nine Russian forward Nikolai Borschevsky was a huge player for the Maple Leafs back in his rookie season of 1992-93. He become an instant hero when he scored the winning goal in overtime of a seventh and deciding playoff game in Detroit. Borschevsky was drafted as a 27-year-old in 1992 with the 77th pick by Toronto after spending the first nine years of his career in Russia. The speedy winger was a hit with 74 points in 78 games as a rookie and another nine in 16 postseason contests. But after that, he couldn’t catch a break. Borschevsky scored 34 points the next season in 45 games as he missed a good chunk of it with injuries. He was traded to the Flames at the trade deadline and played just 27 games combined with Toronto and Calgary in 1994-95 without scoring a goal. Borschevsky ended up in Dallas the next year, but went back to Europe after just 12 games. He played 162 NHL regular season games with 122 points, but just 48 of them came in his last three seasons with a lone goal in his final two years.
8 Robb Stauber
Goaltender Robb Stauber was taken in the 1986 draft by the Los Angeles Kings with the 104th pick ad spent the next three seasons at the University of Minnesota. Stauber was called up in 1989-90 for a couple of games with the Kings, but wasn’t ready and posted a 7.95 GAA and a 74.4 save percentage. The Kings sent him down to the AHL before calling him back up in 1992. Stauber was given decent playing time as he appeared in 31 games. He had a fine record of 15-8-4 even though his GAA and save percentage were a little below par. Stauber appeared to have an NHL future though even if it was as a backup. But he played just 22 games the following season and his record slipped to 4-11-5. Ironically, his GAA and save percentage got better. Stauber would play just one more game with the Kings the next season before ending up in Buffalo the same year. He appeared in just six more NHL outings with the Sabres before they sent him down to the minors. Stauber spent the last seven years of his career down there until retiring in 2006.However, he played just 13 games in total in his last four campaigns.
7 Rocky Saganiuk
Let’s get back to the Maple Leafs now with right winger Rocky Saganiuk, who was another small player at just 5-foot-9. Saganiuk had a pretty good junior career and scored 60 goals and 108 points in his final season with the Lethbridge Broncos. He was drafted by the Leafs in the second round with the 29th pick in 1977 and the Edmonton Oilers took him 42nd in the WHA Draft. Saganiuk scored 105 points in his first 103 games in the minors and posted eight points in 16 games when brought up for a trial by Toronto in 1978-79. Saganiuk wore number eight when he came up, but shortly after the Leafs traded away Lanny McDonald to the Colorado Rockies. Saganiuk agitated a lot of his teammates when he asked for McDonald’s old number seven, but still enjoyed a fine rookie season in 1979-80 with 24 goals and 23 assists in 73 games. Saganiuk could never recreate those numbers and posted seasons of 30 and 33 points the next two campaigns. He found himself back in the minors in 1982-83 and was dealt to the Penguins. He scored four points in 27 contests with Pittsburgh and that was the end of his NHL career.
6 Steve Penney
Steve Penney was drafted 166th overall by Montreal in 1980 after the goaltender played junior hockey in Quebec. Like Ken Dryden before him, Penney made a name for himself in the playoffs with the Habs before his official rookie season. Penney appeared in 15 postseason contests in 1983-84 after playing just four times in the regular campaign. He went 26-18-8 as a rookie the next year in 54 games and had a solid 3.04 GAA for the high-scoring era. Penney suffered an injury the next season though and lost his starting job to somebody called Patrick Roy, appearing in just 18 games. The goalie asked to be traded and ended up with the Jets in Winnipeg. He played just 15 games in two seasons there and was sent to the minors in 1987. Penney tended net 28 times in Moncton of the AHL and then hung up his skates for good.
5 Ken Hodge Jr.
It’s hard to live up to your father’s name if he was an NHL star. However, Ken Hodge Jr. gave it a good shot, at least in his rookie year. His father Ken Hodge skated from 1964 to 1978 as a winger with Chicago, Boston, and the New York Rangers and racked up 800 points along the way in 800 outings. Ken Jr. was drafted by the Minnesota North Stars with the 46th pick in 1984 and then played three years at Boston College. The centre was a star in college hockey and scored 224 points in 218 games in the minors. Hodge was brought up by the North Stars for five games in 1988-89 and chipped in with a couple of points. He was traded to Boston in the summer of 1990 for a draft pick which was used to select winger Jere Lehtinen. Hodge had a great rookie season in 1990-91 with 30 goals and 29 assists and he made the All-Rookie Team. He spent the next season between Boston and the minors though and had just 17 points in 42 outings with Boston. The Bruins dealt him to Tampa Bay before the 1992-93 season, but he spent most of it in the minors with nine points in 25 games for the Lightning. Hodge never played another NHL game and spent the last six years of his career in the minors and Europe.
4 Blaine Lacher
Goaltender Blaine Lacher enjoyed a fine college career with Lake Superior State and led his team to the 1992 NCAA title. However, he wasn’t chosen in the NHL Draft. The Boston Bruins needed a goalie though in 1994-95 and they signed Lacher to an NHL deal. Lacher got a bit of a break since the campaign was shortened to just 48 games due to a lockout. He posted a fine record of 19-11-2 with four shutouts and a 2.41 GAA. Lacher looked to be a keeper with a bright future. He played just 12 games with Boston the next season and was sent to the minors. Lacher gave it one more shot in 1996-97,but he once again ended up in the IHL and the Bruins bought him out. The goalie believes his career went down the tubes soon after Bruins’ coach Brian Sutter was fired. Either way, his pro career lasted just three years.
3 Chris Valentine
The NHL Draft lasted a lot longer back in 1981 and centre Chris Valentine found himself being called up to the podium shortly before it ended when Washington took him in the 10th round with the 194th pick. Many fans felt he should have been taken a lot earlier since he scored 270 points in his 144 junior games in Quebec. He has also chipped in with 71 points in 34 games before that with St. Louis University. Valentine had 21 points in 19 AHL games in 1981-82 and earned a call up with the woeful Capitals, who would go 26-41-13 that season. Valentine was a hot pick as he scored 30 goals and 37 assists in 60 games. For some reason he was back in the minors the next year where he put up 69 points in 51 games at Hershey. He did play 23 games with Washington as well and contributed 17 points. It was déjà vu the next season with Valentine scoring 59 points in 47 AHL contests and 11 in 22 games with Washington. Valentine thought enough was enough and he moved to Germany and played 12 seasons with Dusseldorf. I’m not sure what the Capitals were thinking by sending him to the minors as Valentine scored over 900 points in less than 600 games in Germany.
2 Warren Young
It was easy putting the puck in the net when playing with Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux. Winger Warren Young found that out in 1984-85 when he scored 40 goals and 32 assists as a rookie. However, he was down in the minors just two years later. Young was drafted 59th overall by the old California Golden Seals franchise in 1976 and taken 74th by the New England Whalers of the WHA. After playing four years at Michigan Tech, Young spent the first six years of his pro career in the minors. He was acquired by the Minnesota North Stars by then and had two points in five NHL games when called up by them. Young was a 28-year-old rookie with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1984-85 after scoring eight points in a 15-game call up the previous campaign. Young might have thought he was better than he actually was though and signed with Detroit the next season. Without Lemieux by his side he scored 46 points with the Wings in 79 games. Young was sent to the minors in 1986-87 and then back to Pittsburgh. He played just 57 more games with the Penguins with 21 points to his name before being sent back to the IHL for good. Young retired following the 1987-88 season at the age of 32.
1 Brit Selby
The NHL was a different era in 1965-66, but it’s still hard to believe Maple Leafs’ forward Brit Selby won the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year with just 27 points in 61 games. Winning such a prized trophy with those numbers meant Selby didn’t really have anywhere to go but down. Many hockey people thought he would easily eclipse his point total in the upcoming seasons, but the most he ever scored after that was 30 points in a year. Selby had scored 140 points as a junior with the Toronto Marlboros in 105 contests and scored twice in three games during a 1964-65 call up. The Leafs were expecting goals and assists from him and were as surprised as anybody when he won the Calder with 27 points. He was injured and sent to the minors the next season and the Leafs didn’t protect him the year after when the NHL expanded from 6 to 12 teams. The Flyers claimed him, but sent him back to Toronto after a season and a half. The Leafs then traded him to St. Louis a year later. By 1971 Selby was in the minors and he jumped to the rival WHA for his last three seasons. Selby retired in 1975 with 117 points in 347 NHL games.
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