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2014 NHL Draft

A look at some of the NHL's best teenage debuts

Tuesday, 07.14.2009 / 9:40 AM / Columns

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

The New York Islanders are hoping that John Tavares, the No. 1 pick in last month's NHL Entry Draft, will give their offense an instant boost -- something they desperately need after finishing 29th in goal-scoring last season.
But as last year's No. 1 pick, Steven Stamkos, found out, the jump from juniors to the NHL is an enormous one. Stamkos struggled through the first half before finishing with 23 goals and 23 assists for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Not a bad season -- but not exactly Gretzkian, either.
Tavares was granted a waiver to play in the Ontario Hockey League as a 14-year-old, so he's used to meeting challenges. He broke the OHL career record for goals late last season, topping the mark set by Peter Lee in the mid-1970s.
Never heard of Peter Lee? He was drafted by Montreal in 1976, played two seasons with the Canadiens' farm team in Nova Scotia, was dealt to Pittsburgh and played five seasons with the Penguins before spending more than a decade p laying in Germany.
Tavares, who will turn 19 during training camp in September, is expected to become a star. But while expectations for him will be high, he'll have a tough time matching some of the best first seasons by players coming right out of junior hockey after being drafted.
Here's a look at some of the best debut seasons ever by players who made their debut as 18-year-olds or in the first season immediately after being drafted:
Wayne Gretzky
Birthday: Jan. 26, 1961
Signed with Indianapolis (WHA) for 1978-79 season
1978-79 in WHA: 46-64-110
1979-80 in NHL: 51-86-137

The Indianapolis Racers of the WHA are largely a footnote in hockey history these days. But they'll be always remembered forever for one thing: signing a skinny 17-year-old from Brantford, Ontario, named Wayne Gretzky. The NHL wouldn't touch players that young, but the WHA, then in its dying season, was more than willing to do so. Gretzky played just eight games with the Racers before being sold to Edmonton and helping the Oilers to the last WHA final. Edmonton was able to keep him when the NHL absorbed four WHA teams, and though skeptics were sure he'd be banged around in the bigger, tougher NHL, he kept right on scoring. By the time Gretzky turned 19 midway through the season, he was already terrorizing goaltenders. He finished with 137 points, tying L.A.'s Marcel Dionne for the scoring lead (Dionne won the Art Ross Trophy by scoring more goals). The Oilers made the playoffs in their first NHL season.
Because he had played a pro season in the WHA, Gretzky was ineligible for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's best rookie. Though it's not listed as the rookie record, Gretzky 137 points are still the most ever by a player who was 18 for any part of a season -- just another of his innumerable records.
Dale Hawerchuk
Birthday: April 3, 1963
Drafted: No. 1 in 1981 by Winnipeg
1981-82: 34-58-103

Hawerchuk came into the NHL after an incredible season with Cornwall of the Quebec League, scoring 81 goals and 183 points in 72 games while leading his team to the Memorial Cup and earning Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year honors.
Not surprisingly, the Jets -- coming off a season in which they won just nine times in 80 games -- took the talented center with the first pick in the 1981 draft and put him into the lineup. He fit right in and became the first NHL rookie to record 40 goals and 100 points in the same season.
Hawerchuk's spectacular rookie season not only earned him the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie, but helped the Jets to a 43-point improvement and a second-place finish in the Smythe Division. He led the Jets in scoring for nine consecutive seasons on his way to a Hall of Fame career.
Sidney Crosby
Birthday: Aug. 7, 1987
Drafted: No. 1 in 2005 by Pittsburgh
2005-06: 39-63-102

Crosby was the most heralded junior player in decades, and the Penguins won a lottery after the work stoppage to obtain the No. 1 pick in the 2005 Entry Draft they used to take him.
Crosby quickly showed why he was so highly regarded, becoming one of only seven players to reach the 100-point mark in his rookie season -- and only the fourth to do so as an 18-year-old (the third to do it in his first season after being drafted). Given the reduction in scoring that had taken place since the 1980s, it can be argued that Crosby's rookie season was the most impressive by a first-year player of any age since expansion.
Though the Penguins had finished last in the overall standings in 2003-04 before landing Crosby, they were only marginally better (29th overall) with him in the lineup. But three years later, Crosby and the rebuilt Penguins finished their season as Stanley Cup champions.
Mario Lemieux
Birthday: Oct. 5, 1965
Drafted: No. 1 in 1984 by Pittsburgh
1984-85: 43-57-100

The Penguins' reward for finishing last in 1983-84 was the chance to draft Lemieux, an immensely talented center from Laval of the Quebec League. He showed his skills immediately, scoring on his first career shot during the first shift of his NHL career.
Despite missing seven games with injuries, Lemieux became the youngest 100-point scorer in NHL history and earned the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. The Penguins improved by 15 points -- though they were still next-to-last in the League with 53.
Lemieux continued to pile up points, though the Penguins needed five years after his arrival to get into the playoffs. He led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in 1991 and 1992, and won a third Cup as an owner this spring.
Steve Yzerman
Birthday: May 9, 1965
Drafted: No. 4 in 1983 by Detroit
1983-84: 39-48-87

Hard as it may be to believe today, Yzerman wasn't the player the Detroit Red Wings had hoped to draft. They really wanted Pat LaFontaine, who had played in the Detroit area and (they felt) might help sell tickets. But when LaFontaine was taken by the New York Islanders with the No. 3 pick in the draft, the Wings had to "settle" for Yzerman, a high-scoring center with Peterborough of the OHL.
Though Yzerman had the best scoring numbers of any rookie in 1983-84, he finished second in voting for the Calder Trophy to Buffalo goaltender Tom Barrasso, a fellow 18-year-old. His presence helped the Wings improve by 12 points and make the playoffs. Yzerman became the Wings' captain when he was 21, went on to score as many as 155 points in a season and became one of hockey's greatest leaders while leading the Wings to three Stanley Cups and earning a berth in the Hall of Fame.
Jimmy Carson
Birthday: July 20, 1968
Drafted: No. 2 in 1986 by Los Angeles
1986-87: 37-42-79

The Los Angeles Kings were in disarray after finishing 1985-86 with the second-poorest record in the NHL (54 points, ahead of only the Detroit Red Wings). And after the Wings took Joe Murphy with the No. 1 pick, the Kings grabbed Michigan native Jimmy Carson, a high-scoring center with Verdun of the Quebec L eague, with the No. 2 choice.
As an 18-year-old, Carson stepped right into the Kings' lineup and began producing. He finished second on the team in goals (behind fellow rookie Luc Robitaille, a 20-year-old) and third in points, helping the Kings improve by 16 points and make the playoffs. Carson was even more spectacular as a 19-year-old, scoring 55 goals and 107 points.
In the summer of 1988, he was part of the package the Kings sent to Edmonton for Wayne Gretzky. Carson scored 49 goals and 100 points in his first season with the Oilers -- but he was not Gretzky, and quickly became uncomfortable in Edmonton. He was traded to Detroit in 1991 but never reached the heights he'd hit in his early years.
Ray Bourque
Birthday: Dec. 28, 1960
Drafted: No. 8 in 1979 by Boston
1979-80: 17-45-62

Much to the delight of the Boston Bruins, seven teams chose someone else before their turn came in the 1979 Entry Draft. The Bruins chose Bourque, a=2 0Montreal native coming off back-to-back 22-goal seasons with Verdun of the Quebec League.
Most of the 18-year-olds who were able to make an impact did so largely because they were chosen by weak teams. However, Bourque was joining a team that had come within two minutes of making the Stanley Cup Final the previous spring. Despite joining such an established team, Bourque showed he was more than up to the task, putting up 17 goals and leading the team's defensemen in scoring. The Bruins improved to 105 points from 100, though they finished second in the Adams Division and were upset in the preliminary round of the playoffs.
Bourque went on to a Hall of Fame career, finally winning a Stanley Cup with Colorado in 2001 after two decades with the Bruins. He was a star from the day he stepped on the ice to the day he hung up his skates.
Larry Murphy
Birthday: March 8, 1961
Drafted: No. 4 in 1980 by Los Angeles
1980-81: 16-60-76

Since the expansion era began, no defenseman has had a bigger effect on his team in the first season after he w as drafted than Larry Murphy did with Los Angeles in 1980-81.
The Kings, who historically had struggled defensively, took Murphy with the fourth choice in the 1980 draft and wasted no time putting him into the lineup. They were rewarded with a 16-goal, 76-point season -- still the most assists and points by a first-year defenseman in NHL history -- and a 25-point improvement in the standings.
The Kings dealt Murphy to Washington in 1983-84, and he went on to win Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh and Detroit on the way to the Hall of Fame.
Tom Barrasso
Birthday: March 31, 1965
Drafted: No. 5 in 1983 by Buffalo
1983-84: 26-12-3, 2.84 GAA, 2 shutouts

Rookies just don't step out of U.S. high schools into the NHL -- especially rookie goaltenders. Someone forgot to give that message to Tom Barrasso after the Buffalo Sabres took him with the fifth selection in the 1983 draft.
Barrasso had been spectacular at Acton-Boxboro in Massachusetts, piling up 17 shutouts in 46 games in his last two seasons. He quickly showed those numbers were no fluke by coming to a veteran team, earning a regular job by beating out two veterans (Phil Myre and Jacques Cloutier) and winning 26 games with a 2.84 goals-against average while helping the Sabres improve from 89 to 103 points.
Not only did Barrasso win the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie, he took home the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender and was named a First-Team All-Star. No teenage goaltender has come close to his accomplishments.
He went on to win two Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh in the early 1990s and retired six years ago with 369 victories, now the second-highest total by a U.S.-born goaltender.
Quote of the Day

Not only is it a great idea, but if you don't [start using analytics] you're going to fall behind. You have to be on the cutting edge. It was [Arizona Coyotes assistant general manager] Darcy Regier who said, 'If you didn't invent it, you have to be the second- or third-best copier, because if you're fourth or fifth you've got no chance.'

— Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock on his interest in advanced statistical analysis