Top 5 rookie seasons in NHL history

Wayne Gretzky won the Hart Trophy in his first NHL season.  (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)
Wayne Gretzky won the Hart Trophy in his first NHL season. (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)

Written by Staff

Hockey fans love to scout new talent during the NHL draft, speculating how each new player will fit into their favourite teams. Some players take time to polish their skills, while others burst onto the scene, impressing everyone in their rookie seasons.

NHL rookies come and go, but these five became etched in history with truly impressive first seasons.

1. Teemu Selanne (1992-93)

When Teemu Selanne joined the Winnipeg Jets, he stood out as one of the best offensive players of the year. Selanne scored 76 goals in his rookie season, which still stands as an NHL record. He went on to win the Calder Trophy that year. Selanne was a little older than the typical NHL rookie at 22 since he spent some time playing in his native Finland before joining the Jets.

However, his successful debut season was no fluke. Throughout his career, he scored 687 goals and 773 assists. He was a member of the Stanley Cup-winning Anaheim Ducks in 2007, played in 10 All-Star games, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2017.

2. Wayne Gretzky (1979-80)

Like Selanne, Wayne Gretzky wasn’t technically a rookie, having spent a season in the WHA before joining the Edmonton Oilers during the 1979-80 season. Gretzky scored 51 goals and 86 assists in his debut year and won the Hart Memorial Trophy as a rookie.

To this day, Gretzky is still known as “The Great One” and is revered as the best player ever. He scored nearly 3,000 points in his career and still holds the record for most all-time goals. He won the Hart Trophy a record nine times. Gretzky has his name on the Stanley Cup four times and scored 10 playoff hat tricks, which still stands as the league record.

Gretzky’s talent has withstood the test of time. His stunning rookie season showed the world that he was in a league of his own.

3. Sidney Crosby (2005-06)

After being selected first overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2004 draft, Sidney Crosby debuted the following year. During his rookie season, Crosby netted 39 goals and 63 assists in 81 games, making him the youngest player to hit 100 points.

After more than 15 years in the league, Crosby is still considered one of the best players in the game. His career has had some shining spots including three Stanley Cup championships and a game-winning "Golden Goal" in the 2010 Olympics.

Crosby is one player whose game lived up to the hype, consistently producing year after year. He has scored over 500 goals and has won the Hart Memorial Trophy twice while finishing in the top five of voting nine times.

Sidney Crosby found immediate success in the NHL. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Sidney Crosby found immediate success in the NHL. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

4. Mario Lemieux (1984-85)

Mario Lemieux made his debut for the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 1984-85 season. Although he was only 19, Lemieux stood out as an offensive powerhouse. That season, he played on the team’s first line and scored 43 goals, earning him the nickname “Super Mario.”

Lemieux went on to spend 17 seasons with the Penguins, scoring 690 goals with 1,033 assists. He won the Art Ross Trophy six times, the Hart Trophy three times, and the Conn Smythe Trophy twice.

When Super Mario made his debut in 1984, Pittsburgh was a middle-of-the-road team. By 1990, Lemieux helped bring the team to the Stanley Cup playoffs, winning back-to-back titles in 1991 and '92.

Since his retirement in 2005, Lemieux's jersey has been retired, and he now owns the team. He and Sid the Kid played together during Crosby’s rookie season, which serves as a poetic end to a famed career.

5. Steve Mason (2008-09)

It’s easy to forget about goaltenders when evaluating rookies, but great goaltending is essential and it’s fun when a rookie dominates out of the gate given the steep learning curve of the position.

Steve Mason debuted for the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2008 and finished with a 33-20-7 record. He posted 10 shutouts, had a 2.29 goals-against average, and had a save percentage of .916. Following his rookie season, Mason earned the Calder Trophy and was the runner-up for the Vezina Trophy.

After six seasons with the Blue Jackets, Mason played for the Philadelphia Flyers and ended his career with the Winnipeg Jets in 2017-18. Throughout his career, he had a goals-against average of 2.70 and a save percentage percentage of .911.

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