Washington left wing Alex Ovechkin
obliterated quite a bit of the Capitals’ rookie record book in 2005-06, and he made quite a bit of headway on the rest of the team’s record book, too. In the three-plus decades of the Capitals’ existence, Ovechkin is far and away the best rookie the team has ever had. With some of the earlier achievements of Caps’ rookies being erased by Ovechkin’s Calder Trophy-winning dominance, we take a chronological look back at some of the deeds of previous Washington freshmen in the NHL.
Tony White was the first Capitals rookie to score more than 20 goals in a season; he netted 25 in 1975-76. Hartland Monahan was the first Capitals freshman to record more than 20 assists in a season; he totaled 29, also in 1975-76.
In 1976-77, rookie blueliner Gord Lane established a Washington rookie record that stood for more than a decade when he logged 207 penalty minutes.
The first rookie defenseman to break through for Washington was Robert Picard, who totaled 10 goals and 37 points in 75 games during his inaugural NHL campaign in 1977-78. Not only was Picard the first freshman Capitals blueliner to reach double-digit level in goals, he still holds the franchise records for most goals and points by a rookie defenseman in a single season nearly three decades after he established them.
Also in 1977-78, goaltender Jim Bedard became the first Caps rookie to reach double-digits in wins. Bedard posted a record of 11-23-7 to go along with a shutout and a 3.66 goals against average.
Walter, the second overall choice in the 1978 Amateur Draft, totaled 28 goals and 56 points despite missing 11 games with a knee injury. He finished second in the Calder balloting, trailing only Minnesota’s Bobby Smith, the first player chosen in the 1978 draft. It is the only time in league history that the first two players drafted finished 1-2 in Calder voting in the subsequent season. Until 2005-06, no Capital had ever won the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie, and Walter was one of only two Capitals to be named runner-up to the Calder winner. Jim Carey was second in Calder balloting in 1995.
Forward Rolf Edberg and defenseman Leif Svensson were both signed out of Sweden in the summer prior to the 1978-79 season. Both had solid seasons in their first forays into North American professional hockey. Edberg racked up 14 goals and 41 points in 76 games, while Svensson totaled 29 assists and 31 points in 74 games. Edberg’s plus-11 led the Capitals; he was the first player in Washington history to record a double-digit plus mark. Svensson’s 29 assists is a record for rookie Capitals defensemen that still stands.
Bengt Gustafsson had a solid season (22 goals, 60 points) in 1979-80, his rookie season in the NHL. He established single-season franchise marks for Capitals rookies in assists and points.
Defenseman Darren Veitch was the team’s best rookie in 1980-81. The team’s first pick (fifth overall) in the 1980 Entry Draft, Veitch had four goals and 25 points in just 59 games as a rookie. Tim Tookey, a fifth-rounder (88th overall) from 1979, spent 29 games with Washington after starting his pro career with a flourish at AHL Hershey earlier that season. Tookey, whose No. 9 was later retired by the Bears and now hangs from the rafters at Giant Center in Hershey, showed a lot of promise in his short stint with Washington in 1980-81. He piled up 10 goals and 23 points in those 29 games.
The 1981-82 season was one of the best in Caps history as far as rookie performances go. Eighteen-year-old schoolboy sensation Bobby Carpenter played in all 80 games, totaling 32 goals and 67 points. Playing in only 60 games, 10th round afterthought Chris Valentine virtually matched him, putting up 30 goals and 67 points. Until Ovechkin came along in 2005-06, Carpenter held the team rookie record for goals and he and Valentine shared the franchise standard for points in a season by a rookie.
Ninth-rounder Gaetan Duchesne also made the team as a teenager in 1981-82 and proved to be a solid checking line winger. Tough guy Torrie Robertson played in only 54 games, but still came within just three PIM of matching Lane’s club mark for penalty minutes by a rookie.
In 1982-83, two Caps draftees made the team and performed well as rookies. Veteran Czech Leaguer Milan Novy scored 18 goals and put up 48 points in his only season with Washington. The homesick 30-year-old returned to his native country at season’s end. Teenaged defenseman Scott Stevens joined the Caps that season, too. Stevens totaled nine goals, 25 points and 195 PIM in his freshman campaign. He also posted a fine plus-14 defensive rating.
Defenseman Kevin Hatcher got into a couple games with the Caps at the end of the 1984-85 season, but his true rookie campaign was 1985-86. He came within a goal of matching Picard’s rookie record for goals by a defenseman, finishing up with nine goals, 19 points and 119 PIM in 79 contests.
Center Michal Pivonka began his long NHL run with the Capitals in 1986-87, posting solid totals of 18 goals and 43 points in his rookie season. Although goaltender Bob Mason saw action with Washington in each of the three previous campaigns, he retained rookie status in 1986-87, and led the Caps with 20 wins (he was 20-18-5) and 45 games played. Mason was 2-2 with a shutout, a 1.75 GAA and a .937 save percentage in the 1987 Stanley Cup playoffs as a rookie. Mason’s club rookie record of 20 victories has stood for nearly two decades now.
After brief trials with Boston and Edmonton, enforcer Alan May racked up 339 PIM as a rookie with Washington in 1989-90, a team rookie record that still stands today. May also chipped in with seven goals and 17 points in 77 games that season.
Pat Peake’s star-crossed NHL career started with the Caps in 1993-94. The gifted winger showed flashes of greatness, posting 11 goals and 29 points in just 49 games with Washington. A series of serious injuries eventually derailed what looked to be a promising NHL career for Peake.
In the lockout year of 1994-95, it was goaltender Carey who burst onto the NHL scene with a flourish. In his first month in the league, he became the first Capital in more than eight years to win the NHL Player of the Month award and the first Cap in more than five years to take league Player of the Week honors. Carey went 18-6-3 with a 2.13 GAA and four shutouts in 28 games. The Caps were 3-10-5 when Carey was summoned from AHL Portland in March, and they went 19-8-3 the rest of the way. Jeff Halpern
’s rookie season was 1999-00. The lone rookie on a team laden with veterans, Halpern put up modest totals of 18 goals and 29 points, but his plus-21 defensive rating was the best among all Washington forwards. In March of his rookie season, Halpern became the first Capitals rookie since Carey to earn NHL Rookie of the Month honors.
Then came Ovechkin. He was the best of the NHL’s freshmen in 2005-06, heading one of the strongest rookie classes in league history. He rewrote the Capitals’ rookie record book and became the first Capital ever to cop the prestigious Calder Trophy. Ovechkin erased Washington rookie standards that had stood for decades, and his new marks are likely to last even longer. The Calder won’t be the last NHL trophy Ovechkin takes home.