In professional sports, the norm is for players to earn playing time and the trust of their coaches. It’s not often a rookie comes into the league and is a dominant force, unless your name is Sidney Crosby, LeBron James, Dak Prescott, or Bryce Harper. There are other examples, but you get the point – it takes time for young players to develop into the stars – or busts – they eventually become. In the NHL, even first overall picks such as Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos, Joe Thornton, and others, had fewer than 50 points in their rookie season. Most of those players, however, waste little time in becoming superstars. Stamkos, for instance, scored 51 goals and added 44 assists in his second season.
While that is the norm for high-profile young players, it certainly isn’t the rule. A lot of players find themselves in the right circumstances in their rookie season and can never replicate the success they had that season. Some flatten out as fringe players, while others are out of the league within a few years. It’s strange to see, not to mention disappointing from a fan’s perspective, but it’s one of the reasons we love sports – nothing is guaranteed. These 15 players, however, wish that wasn’t the case.
15. Aaron Ekblad
The first overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, Aaron Ekblad was a dominant force in junior hockey. The 6-foot-4, 216-pound blueliner recorded 53 points in 58 games for the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) in his draft year and was a no-brainer first-overall pick for the Florida Panthers, which needed a puck-moving defenseman. Ekblad presented just that; he could play a physical, stabilizing game, while also providing offensive capabilities.
He did just that in his rookie season, scoring 12 goals and adding 27 assists for the upstart Panthers. He won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie and appeared poised to take the league by storm the following season. Ekblad scored a career-high 15 goals in 2015-16, but had just 21 assists and finished the year with three fewer points. It wasn’t totally disappointing, but his production in 2016-17 was. Ekblad had just 21 points in 68 games and battled injuries that may affect his potential moving forward.
14. Tyler Myers
A native of Houston, Texas, Tyler Myers appeared poised to be on his way to becoming a Hall of Fame defenseman after just one season. That isn’t even hyperbole. The 6-foot-8, 229-pound blueliner was a physical presence who had tremendous mobility for a man his size not to mention a long reach capable of knocking the puck free from oncoming defenders. Oh, and he also scored 11 goals and added 37 assists.
Myers didn’t necessarily go through a sophomore slump in 2010-11, but his offensive production dropped from 48 to 37 points. He had just 23 points in an injury-shortened campaign the following year. Since 2011-12, he has failed to top 27 points and played only 11 games last season due to injury. He’s already 27 years old and, unless he has a bounce back year this season, it seems unlikely he’ll ever replicate his tremendous rookie year.
13. Steve Mason
Steve Mason was a quality goaltender in junior hockey for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and he even played for the Canadian World Junior Team. But nobody expected he would have had the rookie season he did in 2008-09, not even the Columbus Blue Jackets, who didn’t select him until the third round of the 2006 NHL Draft.
Mason played just three games in the AHL in his first professional season before earning the starting job in Columbus due to injuries. He posted a 33-20-7 record to go along with a 2.29 goals against average (GAA) and a .916 save percentage, while leading the Blue Jackets to its first playoff appearance. He has yet to improve upon those numbers, at least consistently. He has a career GAA of 2.68 and save percentage of .911.
12. Bryan Berard
A first overall pick by the Ottawa Senators in 1995, Bryan Berard didn’t play a single game for the team as he demanded a trade and was then sent to the New York Islanders, where, in his rookie season, he scored eight goals and added 40 assists. The 48 points he tallied that season would end up being a career high, although he came close to the mark on a few occasions.
Berard recorded 46 points the following year and had 47 as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2003-04. He had tremendous promise as a young player, but he was dealt a serious setback in 2000 when he was hit in the eye by a high stick from Marian Hossa of the Ottawa Senators. He was left partially blind and appeared as though he would never play again. He missed the entire 2000-01 campaign but returned in 2001-02.
11. Nathan MacKinnon
Another first overall pick, Nathan MacKinnon has played four seasons for the Colorado Avalanche, but none have been as productive as his rookie season. Part of that is due to the fact the Avalanche wasn’t an organization is complete disarray back in 2013-14, but it was also the year in which he averaged the least amount of ice time in his career. He had career-highs in goals (24), assists (39), and points (63) that season and won the Calder Trophy.
MacKinnon had just 38 points the next season and has posted 52 and 53 points in each of the past two seasons. Despite being Colorado’s go-to offensive option and averaging a career-high 19:57 per game last year, he scored just 16 goals. He won’t turn 22 until September 1, but it’s clear as of now that he’s on a downward trajectory.
10. Sergei Makarov
The Calder Trophy winner in 1989-90, Russian sniper Sergei Makarov was 30 years old when he won the award, which couldn’t happen in today’s NHL due to the 25 year old age restriction. Nonetheless, Makarov, a 12th round pick of the Flames in 1983, came to North America after 11 seasons in Russia and recorded 86 points in 80 games.
He continued to be a productive player in the league, but, because he was already in the midst of his prime, his production dipped as the years went on. Makarov’s point totals in his next four seasons were 79-70-57-68-24. He was still a quality player for a few years, but set the bar a little too high as a rookie. He played four games in 1996-97 with the Dallas Stars before retiring.
9. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
If we’re talking busts or players who peaked in their first year, it’s only right that we discuss at least one Edmonton Oiler. You could take your pick of any of the team’s recent first overall picks, but Ryan Nugent-Hopkins certainly deserves consideration. The Burnaby, British Columbia native scored 106 points in his draft year for Red Deer of the WHL and, despite being a skinny babyfaced kid, recorded 52 points in only 62 games as a rookie with the Oilers. It appeared as though “The Nuge” was going to live up to expectations as a first overall pick.
Yet, he struggled out of the gate the following season and finished the year with only four goals and 20 assists in 40 games. He was event sent to the AHL for 19 games to gain his confidence back. He posted back-to-back 56 point seasons for a miserable Oilers team after that, but his ice time has dropped since Connor McDavid arrived and it seems unlikely he’ll reach that mark again unless he’s traded. He had only 43 points in 82 games last season.
8. Trent Hunter
The average hockey fan might not even remember Trent Hunter, but he was a Calder Trophy finalist in 2004 and played 497 career games before retiring in 2012. He was a decent two-way, checking winger for much of his career, but in his rookie season Hunter scored a career-high 25 goals and accumulated a career-high 51 points. He finished tied for first in team scoring with Oleg Kvasha that year, so that’ll tell you how good that team was, yet they still somehow made the playoffs.
Hunter may have been impacted by the lockout the following year as he left to play in Sweden. Regardless, he only recorded 35 points in his second season in the NHL. He had 41 points in 2007-08, but beyond that didn’t come close to reaching the 51 points he had as a rookie.
7. Peter Mueller
A native of Bloomington, Minnesota, Peter Mueller was a high-profile prospect who played his junior hockey with the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League (WHL). He was selected eighth overall by the Arizona Coyotes in the 2006 NHL Draft and, after one year of junior, made his debut with the team in 2007. Playing alongside an in-his-prime Shane Doan and Radim Vrbata, Mueller looked to have the makings of a future franchise player that year as he finished third in team scoring with 54 points in 81 games.
Unfortunately, he struggled the following season and ended the year with only 36 points. He was even worse in 2009-10 with only 17 points through 54 games. He was dealt to the Colorado Avalanche, which thought they could revitalize his career. It worked briefly as he had 20 points in 15 games with the team near the end of the season. Yet, two years later, Mueller was playing in Switzerland. He attempted a comeback in 2016-17, playing 56 games with the Providence Bruins of the AHL.
6. Nicklas Bergfors
A first-round pick of the New Jersey Devils in 2005, Nicklas Bergfors was a two-way forward with a strong skating stride and an ability to chip in offensively. In fact, in his rookie season, he even received votes – albeit only a few – for the Lady Byng and Calder Trophy. He recorded 27 points in 54 games with the Devils in 2008-09 before being dealt at the deadline to the Atlanta Thrashers as part of a package for Ilya Kovalchuk. In 27 games with the Thrashers, he had 17 points, giving him a rookie season total of 44.
That was easily the pinnacle of the young Swede’s career as he played only two more seasons in the league and was traded once again during that time. His NHL career ended with only 83 points, 44 of which were recorded in his rookie season.
5. T.J. Galiardi
A second-round pick by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2007 NHL Draft, T.J. Galiardi looked to have cemented himself as part of the Avalanche’s young core in 2009-10, when he recorded 39 points in 70 games. He finished fifth on the team in scoring, ahead of players like Ryan O’Reilly and Peter Mueller, who appeared earlier on this list.
Yet, instead of building upon an impressive 21 year old rookie season, Galiardi failed to maintain any sort of momentum in the league. He played just 35 games the following year due to injury and, in 2011-12, recorded only 14 points in 55 games. He played briefly for San Jose, Calgary, and Winnipeg before heading for Sweden in 2015. The Calgary native finished his career with 105 points in 321 games.
4. Michael Grabner
Although he is still an effective player and had a renaissance year this past season with the New York Rangers, Michael Grabner will never equal his impressive rookie season. Blessed with blazing speed, the Austrian-born winger and Vancouver Canucks first-round draft pick was dealt to the New York Islanders in 2010 after playing just 20 games with the Canucks, which still qualified him as a rookie in 2010-11.
That season, Grabner scored a team-high 34 goals for the Islanders and added 18 assists for a total of 52 points. He has never been a pronounced playmaker and, as such, has had to rely on his speed to create space and goals for himself. Yet, in each of the following seasons he recorded goal totals of 20-16-12-8-9 before scoring 27 this past season with the Rangers.
3. Andrew Raycroft
Arguably one of the most hated goaltenders in Toronto Maple Leafs history because he was acquired from Boston for Tuukka Rask, Andrew Raycroft actually had a decent first season in Toronto, winning a franchise-record 37 games, but his underlying numbers showed reason to believe he wasn’t a guy to trust between the pipes going forward. He was acquired by Toronto general manager John Ferguson Jr., who bought into Raycroft’s rookie season in Boston, during which time he had an incredible 2.05 GAA and .926 save percentage.
He never came close to replicating those numbers later in his career. In fact, he lasted just 19 games in Toronto after his first year with the team as he had an abysmal 3.92 GAA and .876 save percentage in those games. He completed his career as a backup in Colorado, Vancouver, and Dallas.
2. Jim McFadden
The only player you likely haven’t heard of on this list is Jim McFadden. And you can be forgiven for that as McFadden was born in Belfast, Ireland and died 15 years ago. During his heyday, he was one of the league’s most prolific scorers, which seems odd to say given his career high in goals was 24, but the NHL was a different, low-scoring league back then. McFadden reached that total in 1947-48 as a member of the Detroit Red Wings. He won the Calder Trophy that year as the league’s best rookie after recording 48 points in 60 games. By comparison, he had four more points than a 19 year old Gordie Howe that year.
Like Makarov, McFadden was an older rookie – he was 27 years old when he joined the Red Wings. As such, his production dropped in the following years as he recorded point totals of 32, 30, 32, and 34. He had a renaissance year in 1952-53 with the Chicago Blackhawks, but was never as good as he was as a rookie.
1. Nail Yakupov
Say what you will about Nugent-Hopkins, but at least he’s still a productive player, and it appears he should at least be able to carve out a lengthy career, even as a third-line center. That doesn’t appear to be the case for Russian winger Nail Yakupov, who the Oilers selected first overall in the 2012 NHL Draft. Upon being drafted, Yakupov had to wait a half of a season to make his NHL debut thanks to the lockout, but he appeared as advertised, recording 31 points in 48 games. He didn’t set the league on fire, but consistently flashed the ability that made him a dynamic player in junior.
A full 82-game schedule did not benefit Yakupov the following season. Instead, he missed 19 games due to injury and healthy scratches and recorded just 24 points, seven fewer than his rookie total, which he recorded in 15 fewer games. He reached 33 points in his third season in the league, which would be decent for a third-line winger taken later in the draft. He was even worse in 2015-16 and, if he hadn’t established himself as a bust by that point, he did this past season as he played in just 40 games with the St. Louis Blues and recorded only nine points.
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