Toronto’s Trio Of Top Rookies Is Historically Unique

You’ve probably heard by now that the Toronto Maple Leafs have an unusually talented crop of rookies.  As of Monday night the Leafs had three of the four highest scoring rookies in the NHL, as well as three more in the top 15.  But as much as the Leafs rookies have been talked about, I think a lot of people don’t realise just how unusually good the trio has been.

Here’s one example: Last season’s highest scoring rookie was Jack Eichel with 56 points (I’m not including Artemi Panarin, who’s barely a year younger than Nazem Kadri and had significant KHL experience).  With 15 games to go, Auston Matthews is only one point behind Eichel and Mitch Marner is only two back.  William Nylander is on pace to pass that total before the season is done.  So the Leafs have three rookies on pace to outscore every single rookie last season.

And that’s just the beginning of how unusual it is to do what the Leafs trio are doing.

Let’s start by taking a look at how the numbers for these three player shake out:

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Player GP G A P P/GP Pace
Matthews 67 31 24 55 0.82 67
Marner 62 17 37 54 0.87 67
Nylander 66 18 30 48 0.73 59

In the past decade only two rookies have scored more than 67 points: Patrick Kane and Nicklas Backstrom.  If you go by points per game so players with injuries aren’t penalized, we get a handful of other players: Bobby Ryan, Anze Kopitar, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Jonathan Toews.  If you extend the timeframe to the entire salary cap era, looking only at truly young rookies (22 years old or younger), which is what I’m going to do for the rest of this post, you add in some pretty impressive names: Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Paul Stastny.  No other rookie has scored as many points as Matthews and Marner are on pace for.

Since Nylander is the lowest scoring of the group, let’s take a look at all the rookies to score at least 59 points in the salary cap era:

Player Team Season Age GP G A PTS P/GP
Alex Ovechkin WSH 2005-06 20 81 52 54 106 1.31
Sidney Crosby PIT 2005-06 18 81 39 63 102 1.26
Evgeni Malkin PIT 2006-07 20 78 33 52 85 1.09
Paul Stastny COL 2006-07 21 82 28 50 78 0.95
Patrick Kane CHI 2007-08 19 82 21 51 72 0.88
Nicklas Backstrom WSH 2007-08 20 82 14 55 69 0.84
Johnny Gaudreau CGY 2014-15 21 80 24 40 64 0.8
Mark Stone OTT 2014-15 22 80 26 38 64 0.8
Filip Forsberg NSH 2014-15 20 82 26 37 63 0.77
Nathan MacKinnon COL 2013-14 18 82 24 39 63 0.77
Jeff Skinner CAR 2010-11 18 82 31 32 63 0.77
Anze Kopitar LAK 2006-07 19 72 20 41 61 0.85
Ondrej Palat TBL 2013-14 22 81 23 36 59 0.73

One thing you’ll notice is that there are no instances of two players on the same team doing it in the same season, let alone three!  The Leafs are quite unique in that regard.

59 points is kind of a weird cut-off, though.  Let’s expand the list a bit and add in everyone with at least 55 points in their rookie season:

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Player Team Season Age GP G A P P/GP
Bobby Ryan ANA 2008-09 21 64 31 26 57 0.89
Logan Couture SJS 2010-11 21 79 32 24 56 0.71
Jack Eichel BUF 2015-16 19 81 24 32 56 0.69
Jussi Jokinen DAL 2005-06 22 81 17 38 55 0.68
Matt Duchene COL 2009-10 19 81 24 31 55 0.68

A couple bounces gets any of these players up to Nylander’s pace, so I think we can call this group the comparables for Toronto’s trio.  That gives us 18 players over 12 seasons, an average of 1.5 per season.  Just this year alone the Leafs have three rookies on pace to do something that isn’t done league-wide by more than two players in an average NHL season.  No team in the salary cap era has had two players, let alone three, do it in the same season.

In order to try and find a comparison, I decided to expand the list again, this time including all the players with at least 50 points in the rookie campaign.

Player Team Season Age GP G A P P/GP
Jonathan Toews CHI 2007-08 19 64 24 30 54 0.84
Peter Mueller PHX 2007-08 19 81 22 32 54 0.67
John Tavares NYI 2009-10 19 82 24 30 54 0.66
Kris Versteeg CHI 2008-09 22 78 22 31 53 0.68
Max Domi ARI 2015-16 20 81 18 34 52 0.64
Gabriel Landeskog COL 2011-12 19 82 22 30 52 0.63
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins EDM 2011-12 18 62 18 34 52 0.84
Adam Henrique NJD 2011-12 21 74 16 35 51 0.69
Wojtek Wolski COL 2006-07 20 76 22 28 50 0.66

By dropping the cut-off to 50 points, we now have two examples of teams with two high-scoring rookies in the same season.  The first one is the 2007/08 Chicago Blackhawks.  Things have turned out pretty well for them!  The other is the 2006/07 Colorado Avalanche.  Things didn’t turn out as well for them, but it’s worth noting that Wolski was a very good player whose career was derailed by concussions.

One complaint you might have of what I’ve presented so far, and I think this is a fair criticism, is that other teams may have had similarly impressive rookies spread out over two or three seasons.  After all, Matthews, Marner, and Nylander were all taken in different draft years.

As it turns out, that doesn’t really make much difference.  The Chicago Blackhawks are the only team to have three rookies with 50+ points in a three season span: Toews, Kane, and Kris Versteeg.  Versteeg has won two Stanley Cups with the Hawks, while Toews and Kane have each won three, so if that’s the comparison for what the Leafs are putting together, that’s quite good.

Taking three consecutive seasons into account brings the Washington Capitals into the conversation, as Ovechkin and Backstrom debuted two years apart.  And that’s it.  In the entire salary cap era only three teams have had two or more rookies score 50 or more points within a three season span.

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This all got me wondering if there had ever been an NHL team with three rookies aged 22 or younger to score above 50 points in the same season.  I looked back 30 years, to the 1987-88 season, and I couldn’t find any team that had done it.  If I relax the criteria to just 40 points, I get two examples:

The Boston Bruins in 1988-89 had Craig Janney (62), Bob Joyce (49), and Greg Hawgood (40).  The 1987-88 Buffalo Sabres had Ray Sheppard (65), Calle Johansson (42), and Pierre Turgeon (42).  That’s it.  In 30 years of NHL history I couldn’t find another example of an NHL team having three rookies score 40 or more points in the same season.  What the Toronto trio are accomplishing this year appears to be unprecedented over the past three decades of NHL hockey.

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  • Gary Empey

    Last year as a rookie, Artemi Panarin had 30 goals and 47 assists last year for a total of 77 points.

    Oh! you also left out 18 year old Patrik Laine who has 33 goals 27 assists for 60 points already this year.

    • ACLeafs

      Learn to read, he clearly mentions Panarin and states multiple times he is looking 22 years or younger. As for Laine, not sure why he would be mentioned an analysis of a team having 3 or more rookies high scoring rookies, when winnipeg doesn’t have another let alone two other high scoring rookies.

      • Bob Canuck

        The 2013-2014 Avalanche had only one rookie skater meeting the age-22 threshold. Therefore, if MacKinnon is on the list, Laine should have been included.

          • Don’t worry. I’m not even sure what the point would have been. I would have just been one extra player on the list. There are no other WPG players here so, even if Laine was on it, it’s not like they would have even made your “two players over 50 point over a three year span” list either. I swear, some people just read the articles on this website to nitpick…

          • Bob Canuck

            The first point I would like to make is that I think it is reasonable to expect Laine’s name to be included given that you wrote this:

            “Since Nylander is the lowest scoring of the group, let’s take a look at all the rookies to score at least 59 points in the salary cap era:” This statement does not preclude this season from the analysis; however, I recognize that the omission of Laine is not material.

            Second, I thought ACLeafs condescending response to Gary Empey deserved a rebuttal. ACLeafs dismissed the idea of including Laine because he is not part of a high-scoring rookie trio; I noted that neither was MacKinnon.

            Third, and more importantly, I don’t want my reply to ACLeafs to be a distraction from my opinion of your post. I thought it was a well-presented analysis of the uniqueness of the Leafs rookie trio. I appreciated the effort to put their achievement into historical perspective. The inclusion or exclusion of Laine does not change my opinion of your piece.


          • Bob, I appreciate your viewpoint. I was simply replying to DragLikePull about Laine, etc.. I noted myself that Laine was not on the list but I assumed he wasn’t included because he would need an asterisk, much like the Leaf trio would since we don’t know where they will finish. In hindsight, if you are going to prorate the Leafs players, you might as well prorate any other players in the ballpark for this season.

            My criticism toward people who nitpick about stuff like Laine’s omission was more directed to Gary (not you) because I’ve seen him and a few others comment within a few hours of an article submission with some kind of contrarian viewpoint. Maybe he just likes playing the devil’s advocate and I’m not stating that sometime his viewpoints don’t have merit, but it just gets tiring with the constant “well actually’s” on an otherwise solid article.

  • Stolpoz

    It s a bit ridiculous to just discount Panarin, and say the leafs three rookies are on pace to pass every single rookie last season in points. Especially since the author says we have six rookies in the top 15 scoring, but that includes Hyman and Zaitsev who are the same age as Panarin in his rookie year.

    he also omits McDavid as a rookie on pace for over 67 points. Fails to mention the penguins as a team who had 2 rookies over 50 points in Malkin and Crosby (and if we include pacing, Colby Armstrong).

    Islanders had Tavares and Grabner both go over 50 points a year part.

    Tyler Johnson and Palat both got 50+ points the same year.

    Article needs more research and editing I think before it is published.

    • Ya, I’m not sure how Malkin and Crosby got missed in “3 teams with … two or more rookies score 50 or more points within a three season span” list. The paragraph order/structure gets a little misleading but I think he implies the three teams are Colorado (Wolski/Stastny), Washington (Backstrom/Ovi), and Chicago (Kane/Toews). Looking now though, I think Landeskog/Mackinnon also fit within the three year criteria, however, I only noticed that by trying to look across the three separate tables to find the pair for Wolski.

      As for Armstrong, I can see how he’d get omitted. Think about the research it would take to look at each roster within 3 years of each previously listed rookie’s season and then doing the math to account for scoring rate rather than raw scoring. If you are going to go by scoring rate, then you need to include players who got, like, 4 points in their first season that consisted of a mere 5 games.

      Grabner getting omitted is probably just a matter of the previous 20 game he played in Vancouver. It’s 5 games short of the 25 game cut off to be eligible for rookie-of-the-year. I think that’s the confusion though: how are we defining rookie seasons? By their rookie-of-the-year eligibility or by their first season in the league? I’d say it’s strictly first season because do we now have to open the can of worms of adding multiple season together for players who played less than the 25 minimum in their first year?

      Of course, after writing all that, I realize that your example of Palat (and Johnson) means that Palat’s rookie season was his “second” season because his 14 game first year was ignored but Johnson’s wasn’t included even though he played the same amount.

      So ya, I don’t know. More than anything, I want to give DragLikePull the benefit of the doubt and I just question what the source of the data was. If it was NHL.com, I could see how things would get missed. I did a quick online search for “top NHL rookie season” and I didn’t really get much other than a link to the top-50 all time rookie scoring seasons and NHL.com’s rookie scoring for this year. Of course, there doesn’t appear to be a way to change the year because why would people want to know that Bettman?

  • killerkash

    I’ve been a player/fan for over 60 years and I have never seen a trio of rookies on the same team and in the same year like the 3 young guns the Leafs have this year. All of the years prior to my memory would be the original 6 teams and it would be unheard of for any team to have 3 rookies in their lineup. So I don’t think the NHL has EVER been able to boast of this phenomenon happening before. I do believe we are witnessing history in the making. Great article!