Thursday, September 19, 2013
Thursday Morning Cupcheck - The Top 10 Rookies in Dallas Stars History
#1 on this list may shock and appall you.
Good morning, hockey fans! Last week we took an up-close look at Behind the B to see just how a top-notch professional organization like the Bruins works over its former employees. This week, rather than write another article on Who Will Be The Stars Next Captain -- (pro tip: not Sean Avery) -- we're going to see what all the hub-bub is about with promising Stars rookie Valeri Nichushkin.
We've already covered his vital information here: barring injury, the kid looks pretty legit to have a great rookie season. But could he be the best of all time? To answer this, we took a look back at the best rookie seasons in Dallas Stars history, purposefully ignoring their years in Minnesota because eff Minnesota those guys don't even deserve a team. We've also taken out the two great rookie goaltender seasons of Marty Turco and Mike Smith, and pared it down to the top ten overall, using the hot Swedish twins of Science and Reason.
Rookie Season #10: Matt Niskanen
2007-08: While Nisky might be one of the league's worst defensemen now, he actually had a very impressive rookie season in 2007-08. Thrown into the Stars' D along with fellow rookies Mark Fistric and Nick GrossmanN, Niskanen led the three promising young defenders in scoring --no doubt helped out by his defensive partner, Sergei Zubov. Niskanen put up 7 goals and 26 points in 78 games, skating to a +22 and looking exactly like the mythical Young Offensive Defenseman that every NHL GM looses sleep over. He only had three assists in 16 playoff games that spring, but hey, it's not like that was a foreshadowing or anything.
Since Then...?: After Niskanen put up 35 points in his sophomore season, Zubov retired for funnier-smelling pastures out East, and Nisky's game completely fell apart. Not only could he no longer score, but he could never defend all that well in the first place, knocking him into healthy scratch territory. Looking like he was terrified of the puck knocked him straight to Pittsburgh, where he continues to give false hope and empty numbers to Penguins fans to this day.
Rookie Season #9: Niko Kapanen
2002-03: Following a long period of Hitchcockian hockey where rookies were buried in a steel box buried in the backyard and fed once daily through a tube, Kapanen stormed out of his rookie season with 29 assists and 34 points in 82 games. He was even better in the playoffs, scoring seven points in 12 playoff games while playing excellent defense. Kaps was the forerunner of the Stars' mid-2000s Finnish Movement, which saw them bring in half the country's lightning-fast, defensively-sound Olympic team onto the roster.
Since Then...?: Kaps scored a career-high 35 points the next non-lockout season, then was traded to the Thrashers for Patrick Stefan, where he instantly regressed to the point where he was put on waivers by the Thrashers. He played one-plus seasons for the Phoenix Coyotes, then left for the KHL for good in 2008, where he's done quite well, putting up 163 points in 264 games and gone on three deep playoff runs in five seasons. Five seasons, incidentally, where the Stars have not exactly had much postseason success.
Rookie Season #8: Todd Harvey
1994-95: The Stars had just moved to Dallas from some no-name northern market that couldn't financially support an entire NHL team, but they had a long way to go before becoming successful. Harvey came in when the team was still a local novelty and rattled off 11 goals and 20 points in 40 lockout-shortened games, while also bringing a physical edge that marked him as a promising young power forward --magic words to rival GMs. Harvey was a non-factor in the playoffs that year, going scoreless in five games.
Since Then...?: Harvey never quite lived up to Neely-esque expectations, putting up 29 and 31 points in his next two seasons, which turned out to be his career high. While the Stars could have traded him for Nieuwendyk at the time (instead sending over some scrub with an obviously made-up last name), Harvey did manage to make himself useful by getting traded to the Rangers for Brian Skrudland and Mike Keane, two grizzled vets who were essential pieces to the Stars' 99 Cup run.
Rookie Season #7: Fabian Brunnstrom
2008-09: Brunnstrom was a hot commodity coming out of Sweden, and the Stars somehow managed to win the protracted bidding war for his services. Right off the bat he seemed like the real deal, scoring a hat trick in his first game (nearly a pants trick, but his fourth goal was disallowed) and finishing the year with 17 goals and 29 points in just 55 games. While he was bounced around the lineup, it would only be a matter of time before he became the team's leading scorer and a doe-eyed replacement for a slowing, apathetic Modano.
Since Then...?: The wheels came off just as quickly as they were bolted on, as Brunnstrom managed just 11 points in 44 games in his sophomore season, then was sent down to the AHL before being traded to Toronto. He never managed to break the Maple Leafs' scoring-deprived roster, and was claimed off waivers by one of his original suitors in Detroit... where he put up one assist in five games. He's been banished back to the Swedish league, where he continues to look dreamy while underwhelming for Frolunda.
Rookie Season #6: Brenden Morrow
1999-00: Morrow was the lone rookie ever to crack the regular lineup under Ken Hitchcock, for obvious reasons. He was tough, smart, did the hard work in the corners and around the net, and scored. Even as a rookie he had a veteran's attitude, and wowed Stars fans by scoring 14 goals and 33 points in 64 games. Morrow also put up 6 points in 21 playoff games that year, though his minutes seemed to decrease as the Cup run went on.
Since Then...?: Morrow quickly grew into a fan favorite, taking the captaincy from Modano a half-decade later and putting up nine goals and 15 points in his legendary 2008 playoff run. Morrow was that rare breed --a successful first round draft pick for the Stars-- who ended up playing 835 games for Dallas, scoring 528 points and sitting in the box for 1203 penalty minutes. His style of play caught up with him recently, though, and the Stars traded him to the Pens this season for former first-round pick Joe Morrow, who himself was used as a sweetener to acquire Tyler Seguin from the Bruins.
Rookie Season #5: Brenden Dillon
2012-13: The undrafted rookie began the season as a 6/7 d-man, but by the midpoint of the lockout-shortened season he was logging top-pair minutes alongside Stephane Robidas. Dillon is a defensive defenseman who took on some of the toughest minutes of any Stars d-man while also chipping in three goals and 8 points over 48 games. His size, vision and toughness has earned him comparisons to former Stars captain Derian Hatcher, with many fans seeing Dillon as the lone bright spot on an otherwise dismal season.
Since Then...?: While some fans would like to see Dillon named Stars captain before he's even played his 50th NHL game, it's far more likely he'll grow into an 'A' instead, as well as the top-pairing shutdown defenseman Dallas hasn't had since Matt Norstrom retired. Either that, or he's a one-season flash in the pan who will become a local punchline until the next turkey stumbles along.
Rookie Season #4: Jamie Benn
2009-10: After some impressive playoff showings in the minors, the unheralded 5th rounder quietly slipped onto Dallas' third line in his rookie season. Benn's highlight-reel goals and physicality were impossible to ignore, however, even for Marc Crawford, and by season's end Benn had put up 21 goals and 41 points in 82 games, pushing the enigmatic James Neal for a top-line winger spot alongside Brad Richards.
Since Then...?: Benn's been nothing short of remarkable, putting up 193 points in his first 263 games for Dallas. In just four seasons his highlight reel collection of goals rivals any Star in history, and he's the shoe-in for the next Stars captaincy. After a down year in 2013, partially thanks to a broken wrist he decided to play through anyways, his future on Seguin's wing seems fairly bright.
Rookie Season #3: James Neal
2008-09: Neal exploded onto the scene like few others in Stars history, scoring 24 goals and 37 points in 77 games in his rookie season. Neal also added a dimension of Cam Neely-esque toughness, essentially ending Derick Brassard's career in a single, one-sided, involuntary fight. Power forwards are a rare commodity in the NHL, and Neal jerseys were flying off the shelves at the AAC gift shops.
Since Then...?: Neal became enigmatic with a capital "E," starting off seasons strongly before completely disappearing when his team needed him the most. While he did manage to score more goals over his next 137 games in Dallas, he seemed to lack the spark that drove him as a rookie, settling for easy snipes, failing to work the corners and relying entirely on perfect passes from Brad Richards for all of his stats. With Benn charging at his heels, Neal was deemed expendable, and traded to the Pens for Alex Goligoski. The trade looks bad in hindsight provided you know literally nothing about hockey, as Neal continues to rely entirely on one of the game's best centers in a generation for 98% of his production, still doesn't play defense and is a huge liability when Malkin isn't on the ice.
Rookie Season #2: Jere Lehtinen
1995-96: Jere Lehtinen came on board at a dark, playoff-less time for Dallas and immediately had a huge impact, putting up six goals and 28 points in just 57 games. More importantly, Lehts was one of the most defensively brilliant forwards on the team, using his superior quickness and positional strength at a time when "defense" was synonymous with "hittin'." While possession numbers like Corsi and Fenwick did not yet exist, it's pretty safe to assume that when Jere was on the ice the puck was going to end up in the offensive zone, and for a long time. Lehtinen's smart, three-zone tenacity quickly came to define the Stars and transform them from a directionless husk to a Cup contender and winner.
Since Then...?: Lehtinen would go on to play 875 games for Dallas, scoring 514 points, putting up a +176 and winning three Selke awards for best defensive forward. While Modano was the Face of the Franchise and Zubov was the Best Player, Lehtinen was the Soul of the Stars, defining the team via his quiet, insane work ethic on and off the ice.
Rookie Season #1: Jussi Jokinen
2005-06: Jokinen, along with fellow Finns Kapanen, Antti Miettinen, Nick Hagman and Jere Lehtinen formed a fast, defensively-sound core that helped define Stars hockey for much of the mid-2000s. Jussi was more of a scorer than a checker, putting up 17 goals and 55 points in 81 games as a rookie, a Stars record that no other rookie has ever even come close to threatening. He even put up 3 points in 5 playoff games that year, far more than any of the Canadian forwards that completely failed to show up in the postseason. More importantly, Jokinen was the NHL's top shootout sniper, directly responsible for more ill-earned points than any other player in the league.
Since Then...?: Jussi continued to be one of the team's top scoring threats, scoring 48 points in his sophomore season and 28 in half a season after that before getting traded to Tampa Bay along with Mike Smith for Brad Richards. Jokinen failed to impress in Tampa but had great numbers in Carolina, where he was a playoff hero in 2009 and put up 65 points the following season. He's now a faceoff guru as well, winning almost 60% of his draws in Carolina before being traded to Pittsburgh last season (where he won 55%).
Dishonorable Mentions: Jason Botterill, Ric Jackman, Tobias Stephan, Ivan Vishnevskiy
So there you have it: For Nichushkin to be the Best Rookie in Stars History, all he has to do is score more than 27 goals and/or 55 points. Really, thats ... not ... impressive. Still, we'll see if Valerian Steel can manage it.