by PuckStopsHere on 03/09/09 at 02:51 AM ET
On average about three hockey players are inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame annually. Thus in any rookie class about three players will go on to have Hall of Fame careers. Of course some years will produce more Hall of Famers and other years less, but three is the number we should expect to see in any given season.
Can we look at the rookie crop and try to predict those three from this season? Of course we can try, but the process is not very exact. It is a lot like trying to predict which dog is the biggest by looking only at the end of its tail. One certainly can make those projections, but they are imprecise at best.
Projecting rookies to Hall of Fame careers is different from picking the Calder Trophy winner or nominees (for the record Steve Mason is the likely Calder winner). An older rookie (say 23 years old) may be a better player today than a younger rookie (for example an 18 year old), but the younger player is more likely to have a great career. In five years when he catches up in age to the older player he should be a far better and more accomplished player.
That means that Kris Versteeg might be the top scorer among rookies this year, but since he is 22 I wouldn’t project him to be as likely to have a Hall of Fame career as some of the younger rookies.
This season’s three rookies that are the best bets for Hall of Fame careers are probably Steve Mason of Columbus, Steve Stamkos of Tampa Bay and Drew Doughty of Los Angeles. I would be surprised if all of those picks turn out to be accurate if we look back on this post in the future. There is too much uncertainty in the projections. It is clearly possible that some of these players may fail and a Bobby Ryan or a Derick Brassard (or any other rookie) might exceed his current expectations.
Mason has been a very good player from his arrival in the NHL. He is the Columbus Blue Jackets MVP. He is a Vezina Trophy candidate (though Tim Thomas of Boston is my pick to win it. That is a tremendous season for a rookie. That is a tremendous season for a goalie of any age. If Mason can improve upon his rookie year he has a legitimate shot to be considered the best goalie in the history of hockey. Of course it is more than likely he will fall below that level, but he has been brilliant so far. A player like that is a Hall of Fame player if he can keep up that level of play for a significant portion of a career.
Steve Stamkos was the first pick overall in the 2008 draft. He stepped into a bad situation in Tampa Bay. The team was a very poorly run bottom feeder that pushed him to play a much bigger role than he was ready for. This season has been a learning experience for him but he has made some big strides. Since February began, he has been the top scorer among rookies with 13 points. Stamkos has a lot of potential and he is improving at a fast rate. Given a couple years, he could be well onto a Hall of Fame track.
Drew Doughty leads the Los Angeles Kings in ice time this year. It is rare that an 18 year old defenceman can handle that kind of ice time. He has been a very important part of the Kings defence. Doughty should become one of the better defenceman in the NHL in the near future. If he can do that he is well on his way to a Hall of Fame career.
Projecting Hall of Famers from their rookie season is hardly an exact science. There are many reasons that these projections could turn out to be off-base. The rookie class in an average season tends to produce about three Hall of Famers and projecting this class, it looks like Steve Mason, Steve Stamkos and Drew Doughty are the most likely people to have Hall of Fame careers. Of those three, Mason should win the Calder, Doughty should receive Calder consideration and probably miss out on a nomination and Stamkos is an also ran this year. There are certainly many other candidates in the rookie class who might have great careers and there are players who will disappoint as well. These three are the ones I think will most likely one day be in the Hall of Fame.
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