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A Look at Some of the NHL's Best Teenage Debuts

Thursday, 08.12.2010 / 4:47 PM / Features
By John Kreiser  - NHL.com Staff Writer
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A Look at Some of the NHL\'s Best Teenage Debuts
The Edmonton Oilers are hoping that Taylor Hall's success in junior hockey carries over as he prepares for his NHL career.

The Oilers took Hall with the No. 1 pick in the Entry Draft, and he's expected to step right into a regular role at age 18. Edmonton opted to select Hall even though center Tyler Seguin was rated slightly higher by NHL Central Scouting; the Boston Bruins, picking second, were more than happy to scoop him up.

Last year's No. 1 pick, John Tavares, had an up-and-down season, but finished with 24 goals and a team-leading 54 points for a team that struggled offensively. The Oilers and Bruins both would likely be happy to see those kinds of numbers from their prized rookies.

Both Hall and Seguin are expected to become stars. But while expectations will be high, they'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 turning pro:

FORWARDS

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 WHA's Indianapolis Racers are little more than a footnote in hockey history. But their memory will live on for one thing: signing a skinny 17-year-old from Brantford, Ont., 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 make it to the last WHA final (they lost). No NHL team owned Gretzky rights, so Edmonton was able to keep him when the League absorbed four WHA teams in the summer of 1979, 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 1979-80 season, he was already terrorizing goaltenders. He finished his first season with 137 points, tying L.A.'s Marcel Dionne for the scoring lead (Dionne won the Art Ross Trophy by scoring two more goals) and leading the Oilers to the playoffs.

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's 137 points are still the most ever by a player who was 18 for any part of a season. It's just another of the Great One's catalog of records.

Dale Hawerchuk
Birthday: April 3, 1963
Drafted: No. 1 in 1981 by Winnipeg
1981-82: 45-58-103


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.

It was no surprise when 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 score 40 goals and finish with 100 points in the same season.

Hawerchuk's spectacular rookie season not only earned him the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie, it 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.

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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 in the 40-plus years 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 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 in 2009.

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 for a team that was having trouble at the box office. But when the New York Islanders took LaFontaine 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. Yzerman's 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 Kings were in disarray after finishing 1985-86 with the second-poorest record in the NHL (54 points, ahead of only the Red Wings). And after the Wings took Joe Murphy with the No. 1 pick, the Kings grabbed Carson, a Michigan native who was a high-scoring center with Verdun of the Quebec League, with the No. 2 choice.

As an 18-year-old, Carson stepped right into the Kings' lineup and began putting up points. 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. Carson was traded to Detroit in 1991 but never reached the heights he'd hit in his early years.

DEFENSEMEN

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 Montreal native coming off back-to-back 22-goal seasons on the blue line 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 ready for a full-time NHL job, putting up 17 goals and leading Boston'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 was 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.

Bobby Orr
Birthday: March 20, 1948
Not drafted; signed by Boston in 1962
1966-67: 13-28-41


For much of the pre-expansion 1960s, the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers staged a battle to avoid last place in the six-team NHL. But both teams finally dug themselves out, and the arrival of Orr was a big reason for Boston's improvement.

Orr was a sensation almost from the time he began playing hockey at age 4. The Bruins discovered him at a bantam tournament and paid to sponsor his team, then signed him at age 14. He played for Oshawa of the Ontario League at 15, and in his final season led the Generals to the league title with 94 points in 47 games.

Teenagers didn't get NHL jobs in the Original Six era, but Orr did -- and promptly showed what all the fuss was about by scoring 13 goals and 41 points in 61 games as a rookie playing for a last-place team. That was more than enough to earn him the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie -- and generate one of hockey's most famous quotes. Rangers defenseman Harry Howell, who had a career year and won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman, said "I'm glad I won it now, because it's going to belong to that Orr from now on."

It did -- for the next eight years. Orr was the game's greatest player through the first half of the 1970s before knee problems did what opponents never could -- shut him down. He played only 36 games after 1974-75 and hung up his skates for good at age 31.

GOALTENDER

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 top goaltender and was named a First-Team All-Star. No teenage goaltender has come close to his accomplishments.

Barrasso went on to win two Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh in the early 1990s and retired with 369 victories, now the second-highest total by a U.S.-born goaltender.
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