Kukla's Korner

What Do You Expect From A Rookie Season?

I know we live in a “Win now!” era, but it seems kind of ridiculous for the media to be getting on John Tavares for an extended slump in his first NHL season. These must be the same folks that called Steven Stamkos a bust because he didn’t have 90 points in his rookie year.

Tavares is 19 and hit the first long slump (one point in eight games) of his career. When I was 19, I spent my days pondering which of my college neighbors would have the best house party, not how I could revive an entire franchise from the money pit that is the Nassau Coliseum. Give the guy a break. He’s a rookie, and rookies hit slumps. Isn’t it a bit unrealistic to expect absolute consistency out of a teenager in the NHL?

What would be considered a successful rookie campaign for Tavares? Do we expect every #1 pick to be another Alexander Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby? That seems a bit far-fetched. Look at the point totals for previous forward Calder winners NOT named Ovechkin or Crosby:

Sergei Samsonov: 22 goals, 25 assists
Chris Drury: 20 goals, 24 assists
Scott Gomez: 19 goals, 51 assists
Dany Heatley: 26 goals, 41 assists
Patrick Kane:21 goals, 51 assists

Obviously, part of those totals took place in the dead-puck era, but I think it’s reasonable to project a Calder winner (by today’s standards) would get between 65 and 75 points, and a lot of that relies on linemates, coaching style, and league trends. And hey, it could be much worse; some guys take years to develop. I think in most cases people would be happy if their team’s #1 pick played in the NHL in his first year and put up 20 goals and 20 assists.

If you look back on this past decade (and it seems like everyone is doing that right now), Joe Thornton has logged the most points of any player. Reaching back into the memory banks, Thornton’s rookie season was far from stellar. In fact, plenty of people would call it a disaster of epic proportions: three goals and four assists in 55 games.

Ouch. You think rookie Thornton would have been happy with Tavares’ numbers? And sure, Thornton’s playoff career leaves him open for jokes about “Wait until April”, but I think it’s hard to argue that he’s had a hell of a career.

On the other side, you could take Marc-Andre Fleury, who was thrown right into the trenches when the Penguins featured stellar players like Kris Beech. Fleury’s GAA was an unsightly 3.64 in his rookie campaign, and it certainly took him a while to hit his stride.

In short, just about every great player started with a few rough patches here or there. Garth Snow and crew have to realistically understand that they’re in a rebuilding year, and that the real dividends will come in a year or two. That being said, let the kids take their lumps now; they’ll be better for it down the road. And hey, Tavares has already beat out Thornton’s rookie total, and that guy did alright for himself, didn’t he?

Filed in: NHL, | Mike Chen's Hockey Blog | Permalink
  Tags: john+tavares, rookies

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