Playing in an NHL fantasy pool is always an exciting prospect as you can never predict how players will do. Even something as simple as expecting a player to score more than they did when they were a teenager is impossible to predict. A sophomore jinx is very common, but most of these guys had a career jinx!
How does this happen? What would cause a player to produce less when they are supposedly getting older, stronger, and more experienced?
Perhaps it’s because they surprised the league and once the scouting report was out, they were neutralized. Playing on a lower scoring line against second and third defense pairings also helps. The pressure to produce nightly while facing the best defenders in the league can be enough to derail many promising NHL careers.
The NHL is the best hockey league in the world and demands certain skills. Countless players excel in junior, exploiting the massive skill-gap and much softer physical play, only to flop in the big show. If you can skate fast and dipsy-doodle that can be enough to dominate in other leagues, but cute plays rarely work in the NHL. Plays that were automatic goals before get pushed to the outside and rubbed out on the boards.
Take Pat Falloon and Ray Whitney for example, whom the Sharks drafted second and 23rd respectively. Falloon was rated much higher but his terrible work ethic and poor conditioning washed him out of the league in a few years. Whitney on the other hand – passed over during his first year of draft eligibility – went on to play over 1,000 games and score 1,000 points. It takes true dedication to continually put together successful seasons and a lengthy career.
So let’s take a look at this remarkable list of players who peaked in some way as rookies.
15. Teemu Selanne
Trust me, he’s here purely on a technicality! Selanne is Hall of Fame material and one of the all-time greats.
Selanne scored 1,457 points in 1,451 games, and won a Stanley Cup along the way. He is the pride of Finland as well, winning an Olympic Silver and three Bronzes, a World Championship Silver and Bronze, and tying the record for most Olympic appearances at six.
But the record we’re talking about today is the one he set as a rookie. His 76 goal debut performance was never matched by himself or anyone else since. And unless the NHL encounters drastic changes it will likely stand forever.
This is a long list of disappointment and failed potential and I wanted to start it off light.
14. Andrew Raycroft
A trade that stung Toronto for years involved Raycroft and current Boston starter Tukka Rask.
Raycroft surprised the league with his stellar start as he was drafted way back in the fifth round in 1998. He stuck with the big club at 23 and posted elite stats of a 2.05 GAA and .926 save percentage. He was even given Hart and Vezina consideration that year.
Ex-Leaf GM John Ferguson Jr. pulled the trigger that sent the unproven Rask to Boston for recent Calder-winner Raycroft. He was desperate to replace veteran Ed Belfour and thought Raycroft was more of a sure thing. It’s not certain whether Boston would have accepted Justin Pogge in the swap but Toronto had both him and Rask in the system at the time of the deal.
After Boston, Raycroft appeared on four different teams in his last six seasons: Toronto, Colorado, Vancouver, and Dallas.
After a journey-man career, he retired at 34.
13. Blaine Lacher
Lacher excelled in College hockey at Lake Superior State. He won the NCAA Championship in 1992 and set the all-time consecutive scoreless streak of 375 minutes. Even with these accomplishments, he would still go undrafted.
The Boston Bruins had recently lost starter Jon Casey before the 1995-96 season and took a chance on Lacher. He initially paid off with his fantastic play in the lockout-shortened year, going 19-11-2 with a 2.41 GAA (good for the time) and four shutouts.
He couldn’t replicate the success the following season however and soon found himself in the AHL, even playing a stint in the IHL. The Bruins bought him out and Lacher retired in 1996.
Lacher blamed the coaching change for his fall from grace.
“I felt my first year I had so much support with the coaching staff and was a little shocked that [coach] Brian Sutter got fired,” said Lacher. “He was probably my biggest supporter. When things went south the next year I didn’t get the support and I didn’t get played once things starting going bad. Once you get going down it was hard to reverse it.”
12. Patrick Eaves
Eaves notched 20 goals in only 58 games for Ottawa in 2005-06. The Senators must have been excited to see how he would grow from there but they failed to notice the biggest warning sign. Although Eaves scored 20 goals, he only managed 9 assists, which is almost always a red flag. David Clarkson had a similar season right before Toronto parked a money truck in front of his house and we know how that turned out.
Eaves would beat his rookie point totals by three the following season but also took 15 more games to do it. The rest of his career has been plagued with injury and a high of just 27 points, which he scored last year with Dallas. He managed those 27 in only 47 games however, so perhaps he’ll beat his rookie totals before time runs out.
11. Chris Valentine
Chris Valentine tore up the QMJHL with 270 points in 144 games but still had to wait until the 10th round to be drafted by Washington.
After 20 games in the minors, he got his NHL chance and ran with it, exploding for 30 goals and 67 points in 60 games.
Although he still scored a respectable 17 points in 23 games the following year he wound up playing the majority of the year in the AHL. Washington only gave him 22 NHL games for his third campaign.
Valentine left his NHL woes behind and went on to a stellar career in… Germany! He led Dusseldorfer EG in scoring seven times and won five championships, including four in a row.
He retired with 903 points in 525 German League games and had his no.10 retired by the club.
10. Warren Young
Warren Young was a late bloomer in Pittsburgh, with his rookie season coming at the age of 28. After stints in the EHL and CHL, he finally managed to crack the North Stars lineup for a game in the 1981-82 season. Young played 15 games for the Penguins in 1983-84 but his rookie season was 1984-85, after the arrival of one Mario Lemieux. The Penguins were still a bad team, but Young managed to take advantage of the phenom’s arrival, scoring 40 goals and 32 assists in 80 games, although he was still a minus-20. He signed with Detroit the following offseason, but was dealt back to the Pens after one year. He would retire in 1988 at the age of 32, finishing his career with 72 goals in 236 games.
9. Fabian Brunnstrom
Although Brunnstrom went undrafted he became one of the hottest free agents with his dynamite play in Sweden. At 21, he recorded 79 points in 49 games for Boras HC in the Swedish Third Division, and continued to impress with 37 points as a rookie in the Swedish Men’s League.
Dallas won the sweepstakes (or so they thought) and signed him for two years.
Brunnstrom would peak in his very first game, scoring a hat trick against Nashville. He managed 17 goals and 29 points in 55 games but also dealt with several injuries.
Injuries would follow him into the next season and he mustered just two goals and 11 points in 44 games. Dallas waived him and he ended up on the Texas Stars of the AHL.
Toronto and Detroit would both give him a chance but by 2011-12 he was out of the NHL.
8. Nikolai Borschevsky
Borschevsky arrived with a flood of Russian players following the fall of the Soviet Union. He was drafted 77th by Toronto in the 1992 Entry Draft and paid immediate dividends, scoring 77 points in his first 78 games. His finest moment of the year was a Game 7 (enough sevens already!) overtime winner for Toronto, eliminating the Detroit Red Wings.
Injuries would limit him to 45 games in his sophomore year, yet he still posted a respectable 35 points. Alas, it would be his last respectable NHL season.
His final seasons in the NHL saw only 19 games for Toronto, eight for Calgary, and 12 for Dallas. In that time he scored only a single goal.
7. Steve Mason
Mason debuted for Columbus in 2008, replacing injured starter Pascal Leclaire. He defeated the Edmonton Oilers in his very first game and recorded his first shutout just a few games later against the Atlanta Thrashers. He held onto the starter position and was named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month in November and December with a 12-7-1 record and five shutouts. He completed his great rookie year with a 33-20-7 record, 2.29 GAA, and a .916 save percentage, winning the Calder Trophy and a Vezina nomination in the process.
His next three seasons in Columbus were nowhere near his stellar debut. He posted a GAA over 3.00 for the next three seasons and was eventually traded to Philadelphia, where he’s currently battling Michal Neuvirth for the starter position.
6. Ian Laperriere
‘Lappy’ – as he’s affectionately known – had a fantastic career as a useful utility player, providing toughness, leadership, and solid two-way play.
Although he broke out for 45 points in his Colorado Avalanche debut years later, he actually had the highest PPG average during his rookie season. While playing for St.Louis in 1994-95, Laperriere scored 27 points in 37 games for a 0.72 PPG.
Laerriere was never counted on for scoring, but he was always loved by fans and teammates wherever he played, winning the Bill Masterson Trophy in 2010-11.
5. Petr Prucha
A late-round draft pick at 240th overall, Prucha wowed the fans with 30 goals and 17 assists in his 2005-06 rookie season. Like I mentioned earlier, the relatively small amount of assists should always be a warning sign. His wonky goal-assist ratio had a lot to do with his ridiculous success on the power play, where he notched 16 of those goals.
With Brendan Shanahan taking his spot on the first PP unit, Prucha scored eight less goals. He still managed 40 points however, and earned a new two-year deal for $3.2 million.
Unfortunately, after signing the big contract, Prucha dropped way off with only seven and four goals the next two seasons. He was then shipped off to Phoenix with Dmitri Kalinin and Nigel Dawes for Derek Morris.
His best season for the Coyotes saw him score 13 goals and 9 assists (there’s that ratio again), but after a miserable goal-less outing he was waived and assigned to the AHL. He refused and went to the KHL instead.
4. Pat Falloon
The San Jose Sharks’ long history of disappointment started with their first ever draft pick, Pat Falloon, taken immediately after Eric Lindros and four picks ahead of Peter Forsberg.
Falloon reached the 25-goal mark just once in his career, and it happened during his rookie year, finishing with a career high 59 points in 1991-92. He would have one more 50 point season in San Jose over the next four years before stints in Philadelphia, Ottawa, Edmonton, and Pittsburgh.
Conditioning became an issue and he was cruelly dubbed ‘Fat Balloon’.
Falloon was out of the NHL by 2000 and spent one season with HC Davos before playing as a ringer for his hometown team the Foxwarren Falcons in the North Central Hockey League of Manitoba (helping them to six Championships!).
3. Marek Svatos
Yet another entry on our list who debuted with the red flag of far more goals than assists.
Svatos came out firing in his rookie season, potting 32 goals in just 61 games, spending time alongside Joe Sakic on the top line. Burnaby Joe was apparently doing all the dishing as Svatos only recorded 18 assists that season.
Injuries consistently prevented him from ever cracking the 70-game barrier, and although he scored an impressive 26 goals in his third season, he still only managed 37 points.
Svatos attempted comebacks with Nashville and Ottawa but would only play nine and 19 games respectively. His most recent brush with the NHL was a PTO with Florida but he failed to make the team.
2. Sam Gagner
Sam Gagner was the youngest player in the league when he scored 49 points in 2007-08. Edmonton fans were thrilled with Gagner and his ‘Kid Line’ mates Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson. This of course was followed by seven disastrous ‘rebuilding’ years.
Unfortunately, 49 points was the high-water mark for Gagner as he would average just 41 points over the next six seasons in Edmonton.
Gagner was most recently traded to Philadelphia for the grand prize of Nicklas Grossman and Chris Pronger’s contract!
1. Joe Juneau
Not many rookies score 100 points, and for that reason Juneau takes our top spot. He did however, have 84 games to do it, in the wacky days of 1992-93.
How did he do it? Well he rode ultimate shotgun on a line with Adam Oates and Cam Neely. With linemates like those, 70 of those points were all assists, and I’m wondering how many of them were secondary helpers.
He wouldn’t come close to triple digits for the rest of his career, hitting 72 in his sophomore year and 64 a few seasons later. In most of his highest scoring seasons, his assist totals tripled his goal output.
Oh and by the way, he literally has a degree in Rocket Science (aeronautical engineering).
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