The top five players surpassed all expectations by not only being great players in their teen years, but being amongst the NHL’s best, despite their lack of experience.
5. Jimmy Carson
Jimmy Carson is perhaps the quintessential example of a player who had sky-high potential, but was unable to fully live up to it. Being picked 2nd overall in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft by the Kings, Carson fully lived up expectations by jumping straight into the NHL at 18, scoring 37 goals and 79 points in 80 games, finishing third on the team in points as an 18-year old. In Carson’s 19-year old year, he improved even more, scoring 55 goals and becoming the first American to score 50 goals in a season. Carson’s 107-point season put him just behind Luc Robitaille as the team-leader in points. Carson’s numbers would later drop after being traded away from the Kings and he was never fully able to return to his elite form.
4. Phil Housley
Like most players on this list, Housley was a high draft pick, being selected 6th overall by the Sabres in the 1982 draft. Amazingly, Housley not only jumped to the NHL as a defenseman in his 18-year old season, but he also dominated. Housley scored 19 goals and an amazing 66 points in 77 games. He finished 2nd in Calder voting to Steve Larmer, who was 21 years old at the time. Housley somehow improved even more in his sophomore season, shooting up to 31 goals and 77 points in 75 games, good for fourth in the league among defensemen. Housley finished 5th in Norris voting in that year.
3. Tom Barrasso
Most goaltenders don’t find full-time jobs until their mid-20s, or maybe their early 20s if they’re really good. Barrasso not only nailed down a starting job at 18, but he nailed it down hard. One season after Housley joined the Sabres at 18, Barrasso became the new netminder for the Sabres at 18 years old himself in the 1983-84 season. Despite playing in just 42 games, Barrasso not only won the Calder trophy, but Vezina as the NHL’s most outstanding goaltender. In the 1984-85 season, Barrasso kept up the good work, playing in 54 games leading the league in GAA with 2.66 and in shutouts with five. He helped his team win him the William Jennings trophy and he finished second in Vezina voting, nearly winning twice in a row.
2. Dale Hawerchuk
Drafted as the very first pick of the 1981 draft, Hawerchuk was touted as the saviour of the Winnipeg Jets and he did not disappoint. Hawerchuk exploded out of the gate in his first season, scoring 45 goals and 103 points, winning the Calder and finishing 5th in Hart voting, a testament to his value to the Jets. In Hawerchuk’s second season, his number took a slight dip, but he still led his team in scoring by a large margin, and would prove to be a consistently dominant offensive force for the Jets for many years to come.
1. Sidney Crosby
Unlike his predecessor, Mario Lemieux, Crosby played two seasons as a teenager in the NHL, and boy was he pretty dang good. In Crosby’s first season, he finished 6th in the entire NHL with 39 goals and 102 points. Amazingly another generational player began his career in the same year and beat him in the Calder race, 20-year old Alex Ovechkin. However, Crosby would get the edge over “Ovie” the next year, as he led the entire NHL in points with 120 points and an amazing 84 assists. Since that 2006-07 season, no NHL player has managed to hit the 120-point level that Crosby hit at just 19 years of age.
Honourable Mention: Ted Kennedy
Kennedy is worth mentioning here because he actually played two games and managed an assist as a 17-year old, when the NHL relaxed their age restrictions due to the war. Kennedy had a point-per-game in his rookie season and was Toronto’s best forward by the time he was 19 years old.
Honourable Mention: Steven Stamkos
Stamkos’ rookie year started out very lacklustre, but he quickly picked up speed towards the end of the season. By the 2009-10 season, Stamkos had developed into a 19-year old superstar, leading the NHL in goals with 51 goals.