When most players are drafted into the NHL, it’s expected that they won’t make the NHL until their 20s, but every now and then, you get either a generational talent, or a surprise in a player who is remarkably capable to play in the big leagues at such a young age. These players were some of the best to play in the NHL before the age of 20. As a side note, a fair bit of weight was put into the number of games played, so players who started at 18 tended to get a bit of a leg up on players starting their careers at 19.
10. Larry Murphy
One of only three players to start their career at 19 on this list, Murphy’s rookie season was so amazing that he had to get consideration for this list. After being drafted at 4th overall by the Los Angeles Kings, Murphy’s 76 points in 80 games during the 1980-81 season put him at third in the NHL among defensemen and 7th in Norris voting. If he hadn’t been facing off against Peter Stastny’s incredible rookie year, he would’ve won the Calder trophy too. Instead, he finished 2nd in the Calder voting.
9. Mario Lemieux
Drafted 1st overall by the Penguins, Lemieux turned 19 just before the start of the season. Lemieux’s season was by far the best rookie season of the 1984-85 year, winning him the Calder trophy by a country mile. The Penguins were still a bad team, but Lemieux’s 100-point season provided hope.
8. Ron Francis
Drafted at 4th overall by the Whalers in the 1981 NHL Draft, Francis was 18 years old at the start of the 1981-82 season. He played in just 58 games, but had 68 points, earning him 10th in Calder voting. After turning 19 late in the season, Francis had another strong year in his sophomore year, this time without serious injuries. He scored 31 goals and 90 points to lead the Whalers in scoring at just 19 years old.
7. Steve Yzerman
Steve Yzerman was never one to let age be a factor in his career. At 18 years old, he led the Detroit Red Wings in scoring with a 39-goal, 87-point season. Yzerman stepped it up even more in the 1984-85 season, upping his total to 89 points and 59 assists, helping John Ogrodnick become a 55-goal scorer. Yzerman would later become the youngest captain in NHL history, though that record would later be taken from him.
6. Wayne Gretzky
Of course, the player who’s ranked highest with only one season has to be Gretzky. Gretzky’s 18-year old season was spent in the WHA, so he only had one teenage year in the NHL, but it was a good one. Gretzky scored 51 goals and 137 points to tie Marcel Dionne for points in the NHL. While Gretzky was ineligible for the Calder due to his WHA time, he came away with both the Lady Byng and the Hart Trophy in his first NHL season.