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Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Matthews, Marner, Nylander a historic NHL rookie trio

Sorry in advance, Jim Matheson, but the Leafs’ rookies are really, really good. So good, in fact, that Toronto’s ‘Big Three’ may be the best trio of rookies to ever play for the same team at the same time.

The ‘Big Three’ refers to Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner. If you follow hockey, you know how well these three have performed this season. Matthews is all but a lock for the Calder, Nylander has won rookie of the month twice, and Marner has proven to be one of the most exciting players in the NHL.

Had Marner, Matthews, and Nylander all come into the NHL at the same time for different teams, hockey fans would have considered themselves spoiled. The fact that they all play for the same team, when you think about it, is absolutely mind blowing.

Jeff Veillette wrote a great piece a few weeks ago comparing Toronto’s three rookies to those of the 1992/93 Winnipeg Jets. Of course, that Jets rookie class was one that included Teemu Selanne, Alexei Zhamnov, and Keith Tkachuck, and is touted as being one of the best ever.

That got me thinking… How do Matthews, Nylander, and Marner stack up historically against some of the other best single-team rookie trios?

As of April 3rd, Matthews has 67 points, with Marner and Nylander tied with 60 each. Before I get into how these three stack up against some of the best ever, here’s just how impressive those point totals are: From 2008/09 to 2015/16, only six rookies hit the 60-point mark. Those six would be Artemi Panarin, Mark Stone, Johnny Gaudreau, Jeff Skinner, Filip Forsberg, and Nathan MacKinnon.

Three players on a team with 60 points is impressive. Three rookies on the same team with 60 points is a miracle. Here’s how they stack up historically against other single-team rookie classes.

TEAM WITH AT LEAST 3 ROOKIES W/ 50+ POINTS

Note: Players in bold/italics accomplished 50+ points for the same team in 1979, the same year as the NHL-WHA merger.

  • Brett Callighen, Blair MacDonald, Wayne Gretzky (1979 Oilers)
  • Jordy Douglas, Mark Howe, Mike Rodgers (1979 Whalers)
  • Ron Wilson, Peter Sullivan, Morris Lukowich (1979 Jets)
  • Peter Stastny, Anton Stastny, Dale Hunter (1980 Nordiques)

Only four times has a team had three rookies score 50+ points in the same season. Only once has that happened outside of 1979, when a year later, Peter Stastny (109), Anton Stastny (85), and Dale Hunter (63) accomplished the feat.

When looking at teams with at least two rookies who scored at least 50 points, the number of times rises to 20, which is still an incredibly small total. Even with the lowered bar, though, two rookies have only scored 50+ for the same team five times since 1990, and only twice since the turn of the century. Those two times include Danny Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk for the Thrashers in ’01, and Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane for the Hawks in ’07.

Matthews, Marner, and Nylander are just the fifth trio of rookies in NHL history to score at least 50 points for the same team in the same season, and the first since 1980.

TEAM WITH AT LEAST 3 ROOKIES W/ 60+ POINTS

  • Peter Stastny, Anton Stastny, Dale Hunter (1980 Nordiques)

Yup. That’s it.

Last night in Buffalo, the Leafs’ trio became only the second threesome of rookies in NHL history to hit at least 60 points each.

Furthermore, when lowering the bar to just two rookies instead of three, this has only happened nine times, with four of those times coming in the 1979/80 season. The last time two rookies hit 60 points for the same team was the Jets in 1992.

Essentially, two rookies putting 60 points is unheard of. Three is historic.

MATTHEWS, MARNER, & NYLANDER VS. STASTNY BROS & DALE HUNTER

Since we’ve established that these are the two best single-team rookie trios, why not (roughly) compare them?

Here’s Matthews, Nylander, and Marner’s pace over an 82 game season:

Matthews: 70 points
Nylander: 64 points
Marner: 67 points
Combined age: 59-years-old

And, just for fun, here’s how both Stastny’s and Hunter’s point totals look, adjusted for era:

Peter Stastny: 84 (109 actual points)
Anton Stastny: 66 (85 actual points)
Dale Hunter: 48 (63 actual points)
Combined age: 65-years-old

Leafs rookie total: 201
Nordiques rookie total: 198 

So, there you have it.

Is this conclusive proof that Toronto’s trio is better than Quebec’s? No, not exactly (although Toronto’s rookies are six years younger and would be on pace to put up three more points). Still, Leafs fans should only hope that Matthews, Marner, and Nylander turn out to be as productive as both Stastny’s and Hunter were throughout their career.

However, what this does show is that what Leafs fans (and hockey fans in general) are witnessing is something historic, and something that may never happen again.

Sorry, Jim, but I get the feeling that you’ll be hearing about these kids for years to come.

  • The Russian Rocket

    Love it. I know the big three are getting a ton of coverage already but it’s important that we as Leafs fans understand how lucky we are right now. A historic rookie trio is what this historic franchise deserves.

    The years of crappy trades, ludicrous contracts and and quick-fix attempts are finally over.

    • Petersversion

      I’m not a statistician, so I don’t really believe in any of these equivalency stuff (era adjusted or NHL e or what not), it’s attempting to tear a hole in the fabric of time and space. But it’s amazingly awesome that it’s only happened once before and our group is (on average) 2 years younger. At their age, that’s a pretty significant margin. This has probably been my favourite season ever.

    • Petersversion

      I don’t think that’s a fair statement. Just because Hunter knew Marner better doesn’t mean it wasn’t a tough call between him and Hanifin. Regardless, early returns on that choice look good. I agree though, you can’t judge who is going to have the better career because of one year. Regardless, Marner certainly seems like a worthwhile pick.

    • ChasinSF

      Hunter wasn’t hired till Oct 2014, Nylander was drafted in June of 2014 – so Hunter had nothing to do with that, he drafted Marner over Hanafin, we’ll see how that turns out in four years if the Leafs still don’t have a #1 D-man, and a blind duck could have drafted Matthews 1st overall. Where Hunter will (or will not) show his value will be in how well the later round picks pan out.

  • Let’s not forget three important points:
    – the Leafs rookies aren’t linemates with superstars and aren’t riding their contrails
    – the haven’t played much with each other (Nylander and Matthews were separated for large portions of the season) so they aren’t riding their own point productions
    – their TOI is pretty reasonable (ATOI for AM, MM, and WN are 17:38, 16:44, and 15:57, respectively, compared to most top forwards playing closer to 20 minutes a night)

    I can’t speak much for the Nordiques trio and the details of the 1980 season, but I assume there was a bit more talent on the Nordiques compared to this year’s Leafs considering this was a year after the aforementioned WHA merger. For instance, the Nordiques had a 103 point Jacques Richard as well as near point-per-game/70 point players in Robbie Ftorek and Michel Goulet. Suffice to say, I think these Leafs just might be kind of good…

  • MartinPolak

    what is more amazing then the rookies scoring performance was how jeffler was saying all along these kids would be breaking all kinds of scoring records