Friday, October 9, 2020

Ranking every all-rookie team in NHL history

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The NHL draft has come and gone, and now you’ve had time to absorb the decisions your favorite team made. In the moment, sure, all those prospects they drafted seemed great. But after a few days of sober analysis? Now, your more realistic side takes over, and you come to realize: They’re really great. Like, all of them. There’s a non-zero chance that next year’s all-rookie team will be made up entirely of players your favorite team just drafted.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that just making the all-rookie team isn’t necessarily a guarantee of success. The all-rookie selections – three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie – have been part of the annual awards since 1983. But in the 37 seasons since, some of the picks have held up better in hindsight than others.

That hindsight part is going to be the key to this ranking, since we can judge every year’s team by how well everyone’s careers turned out (or at least, for the most recent ones, which way they’re headed). It’s worth remembering that’s not what the actual voters are trying to do, though. The all-rookie teams are meant to recognize the best rookie seasons, not the rookies with the best long-term potential. So the fact that some of these teams don’t hold up well doesn’t mean the voters were wrong, so much as that the fates and the hockey gods had other ideas. (Or that the voters were wrong. Honestly, it’s probably that.)

We’ll start from 37 and work our way down from the underwhelming squads to the best all-rookie team ever. I’ll be using a strict set of objective criteria which consists of me looking at the six names and deciding whether they were good or not. As always, appeals are welcomed and can be filed through the official process of yelling at Mirtle on Twitter.

37. 2004

Forwards: Trent Hunter, Ryan Malone, Michael Ryder

Defense: John-Michael Liles, Joni Pitkanen

Goalie: Andrew Raycroft

As you’ll see, there aren’t many all-rookie teams that are flat-out bad. But this one … woof. It was a rough year for rookies, with nobody scoring more than 25 goals or cracking 65 points. The best you could say for this group is that one of them got traded for Tuukka Rask, but I can’t remember which one and it’s probably not important. Meanwhile, an 18-year-old Patrice Bergeron was ignored by the voters, and the whole team was so bad the league decided it needed to take a year off and regroup.

36. 2000

Forwards: Simon Gagne, Scott Gomez, Mike York

Defense: Brian Rafalski, Brad Stuart

Goalie: Brian Boucher

These guys all had reasonable NHL careers to at least some extent, but Gomez is the only one who was ever much of a star, even as Rafalski developed into an underrated contributor. The only name that really stands out as a potential snub is Alex Tanguay, whose 51 points trailed only Gomez among rookies.

35. 1996

Forwards: Daniel Alfredsson, Eric Daze, Petr Sykora

Defense: Ed Jovanovski, Kyle McLaren

Goalie: Corey Hirsch

No Hall of Famers yet, although I still think Alfredsson probably gets there someday. That will save a year that was otherwise pretty underwhelming, although Daze’s back issues may have kept him from having a bigger impact. One weird note: Sykora got the last forward spot even though he finished well back of Saku Koivu in Calder voting.

34. 2001

Forwards: Martin Havlat, Brad Richards, Shane Willis

Defense: Lubomir Visnovsky, Colin White

Goalie: Evgeni Nabokov

It’s a group that won’t produce any Hall of Famers, although Nabokov was in the best goalie conversation for a good chunk of his career and Richards won a Conn Smythe. Willis scored 20 goals for the Hurricanes, then only 11 more in his career. Other rookies this year: Marian Gaborik, Roberto Luongo and the Sedins.

33. 1998

Forwards: Patrik Elias, Mike Johnson, Sergei Samsonov

Defense: Derek Morris, Mattias Ohlund

Goalie: Jamie Storr

It’s a solid enough group, but one without any Hall of Famers unless Elias can squeeze his way in. Storr only played 17 games, but there just weren’t any rookie goalies that year. Other notable rookies include Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, who debuted with a meagre seven point season and didn’t get so much as a single Calder vote.

32. 2003

Forwards: Tyler Arnason, Rick Nash, Henrik Zetterberg

Defense: Jay Bouwmeester, Barret Jackman

Goalie: Sebastien Caron

Yeah, apparently we just stopped making prospects in the early 2000s. This class did give us Nash, who seemed like he’d become a Hall of Famer, and Zetterberg, who still might. Bouwmeester had a long and successful career. But Caron only played two more full seasons and was never a full-time starter. And unlike most of these years, there aren’t even any obvious misses from a year where Zetterberg’s 44 points led all rookies.

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