The NHL's greatest teen sensations include Gretzky, Lemieux, Crosby

wayneasaking.jpgSince the NHL finally allowed speed and skill to usurp groping and grinding after the lockout, the league has seen wave after wave of instant sensations straight from the draft. From Sidney Crosby to Alex Ovechkin to Drew Doughty and beyond, it almost seems like hockey players are hitting their primes the second their skates hit the professional ice.

That doesn’t mean sensational teen seasons are totally unprecedented, though, even if the Dead Puck Era made those campaigns more or less impossible. John Kreiser spotlights some of the NHL’s “best teenage debuts” in this article and I’ll highlight some of the best bits.

Forwards

Wayne Gretzky

The WHA’s Indianapolis Racers are little more than a footnote in hockey history. But their memory will live on for one thing: signing a skinny 17-year-old from Brantford, Ont., named Wayne Gretzky. The NHL wouldn’t touch players that young — but the WHA, then in its dying season, was more than willing to do so. Gretzky played just eight games with the Racers before being sold to Edmonton and helping the Oilers make it to the last WHA final (they lost). No NHL team owned Gretzky rights, so Edmonton was able to keep him when the League absorbed four WHA teams in the summer of 1979, and though skeptics were sure he’d be banged around in the bigger, tougher NHL, he kept right on scoring. By the time Gretzky turned 19, midway through the 1979-80 season, he was already terrorizing goaltenders. He finished his first season with 137 points, tying L.A.’s Marcel Dionne for the scoring lead (Dionne won the Art Ross Trophy by scoring two more goals) and leading the Oilers to the playoffs.

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Mario Lemieux

Despite missing seven games with injuries, Lemieux became the youngest 100-point scorer in NHL history and earned the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie. The Penguins improved by 15 points — though they were still next-to-last in the League with 53.

Of course, Lemieux isn’t even the highest scoring teen in Penguins history, as Sidney Crosby narrowly edged him with a 101-point debut in the NHL. Other forwards who made the list include Dale Hawerchuk, Steve Yzerman and victim of the Wayne Gretzky Trade Jimmy Carson.

Defensemen

While better overall players Ray Bourque and Bobby Orr also made Kreiser’s list, one very good defenseman had an even better debut season than those two Bruins legends.

Larry Murphy

Since the expansion era began, no defenseman has had a bigger effect on his team in the first season after he was drafted than Larry Murphy did with Los Angeles in 1980-81.

The Kings, who historically had struggled defensively, took Murphy with the fourth choice in the 1980 draft and wasted no time putting him into the lineup. They were rewarded with a 16-goal, 76-point season — still the most assists and points by a first-year defenseman in NHL history — and a 25-point improvement in the standings.

tombarrasso.jpgGoalie

Finally, the teenage goalie performance stands alone.

Tom Barrasso

Not only did Barrasso win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie, he took home the Vezina Trophy as the top goaltender and was named a First-Team All-Star. No teenage goaltender has come close to his accomplishments.

Barrasso went on to win two Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh in the early 1990s and retired with 369 victories, now the second-highest total by a U.S.-born goaltender.

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    No hearing scheduled for Abdelkader after Barkov hit

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    There’s no disciplinary hearing scheduled for Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader following his big check on Florida’s Aleksander Barkov last night, an NHL spokesman has confirmed.

    The incident, which occurred early in the second period, left Barkov woozy and forced him from the game entirely. Abdelkader wasn’t penalized on the play — that, along with the hit itself, infuriated the Panthers and head coach Gerard Gallant.

    “It was a cheap hit, I don’t know how the ref didn’t call it,” Nick Bjugstad told the Miami Herald.

    “I thought it was a cheap shot but the referees didn’t see it that way,” Gallant added, noting that Abdelkader “left his feet a little and got [Barkov] in the jaw.”

    Abdelkader has run afoul of the Department of Player Safety before. He was suspended two games during the ’13 playoffs for a hit on then-Ducks defenseman Toni Lydman.

    The Panthers are back in action tonight, as they take on the Sabres in Buffalo.

    Detroit doesn’t play again until Wednesday, when it hosts the Sens at Joe Louis.

    Dion Phaneuf traded to Senators

    LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 07:  Jordan Nolan #71 of the Los Angeles Kings is knocked off balance by Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the second period at Staples Center on January 7, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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    And this is why we listen when Bob McKenzie says something.

    The Ottawa Senators have acquired defenseman Dion Phaneuf, forwards Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey, and Ryan Rupert and undrafted defensive prospect Cody Donaghey from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for defenseman Jared Cowen, forwards Colin Greening, Milan Michalek and Tobias Lindberg, plus Ottawa’s second-round pick in the 2017 draft.

    No salary will be retained by either team.

    From the Leafs’ perspective, the trade provides even more cap flexibility for their rebuild. Phaneuf is signed through 2020-21 for a cap hit of $7 million; he’s entirely on Ottawa’s books now. As for the guys coming to Toronto, Michalek, Cowen, and Greening are only under contract through next season, for a combined cap hit of around $10 million. And according to the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch, both Cowen and Greening could be bought out by the Leafs this offseason.

    The Sens, meanwhile, get to add a workhorse defenseman to a blue line that already includes Erik Karlsson. Plus, they rid themselves of some onerous contracts.

    Report: ‘Lots of Dion Phaneuf trade chatter’

    Dion Phaneuf
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    This isn’t the first time Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf has come up in trade rumors — far from it — but since it’s TSN’s Bob McKenzie putting it out there, we should probably listen.

    “Hearing lots of Dion Phaneuf trade chatter,” McKenzie tweeted this morning. “Starting to think he could actually be dealt before the deadline.”

    Phaneuf has three goals and 21 assists in 51 games this season, while logging an average of 22:02 in ice time. The big factor in trading the 30-year-old is his contract — he’s signed through 2020-21 for a cap hit of $7 million. 

    Responding to McKenzie on Twitter, TSN’s Darren Dreger seemed to suggest Ottawa as a potential landing spot. The Sens, as we’ve noted recently, have had all sorts of defensive issues this season.

    In the past, Detroit has come up as a potential destination for Phaneuf, though the Wings reportedly withdrew their interest in June.

    NHL on NBCSN: Slumping Wild look to get back on track against Stars

    Dallas Stars left wing Antoine Roussel (21), from France, scores a goal past Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk (40) in the third period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Dec. 21, 2015, in St. Paul, Minn. The Stars won 6-3. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
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    NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2015-16 campaign tonight when the Minnesota Wild host the Dallas Stars at 8:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

    If you’re a fan of the Minnesota Wild, the last few weeks probably haven’t been pleasant.

    The team has been slumping badly since the beginning of the new year, and late January/early February has been no different.

    The Wild come into tonight’s game having dropped five straight decisions to the Sharks, Coyotes, Islanders, Rangers and Blues.

    Minnesota has just 10 goals during the losing streak, which means their top offensive players aren’t producing.

    Head coach Mike Yeo tried to shake things up on Saturday night by scratching Thomas Vanek and Jason Zucker, but that didn’t work. The Wild were thumped, 4-1, by the St. Louis Blues.

    After playing their last three games on the road, Minnesota hopes to get a boost from their home crowd.

    “One thing for sure, [there are] mixed feelings about coming back home,” Yeo said on Monday, per the Star-Tribune. “Right now, obviously, a little home cooking would be nice for us. But I’d be lying if I wasn’t a little nervous for tomorrow. Certainly I think our fan base is a little restless — more than a little restless right now. And they expect more from us. And they deserve more of us.”

    Things haven’t been as bad in Dallas, but the Stars are coming off an embarrassing 5-1 home loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

    “It was a huge game,” forward Vernon Fiddler said, per the Morning News. “We talked about it before the game, what it means, and then we lay an egg. It’s unacceptable. There’s a lot of disappointed guys in here.

    “After a big loss like that, you want to respond. We all have to be better and take a look in the mirror and expect more of ourselves.”

    Prior to Saturday’s loss, the Stars had won three straight games.

    Could this be a trap game for Dallas?

    They won’t have to wait long to get another crack at the Blackhawks, as they’ll be shipping out to the United Center on Thursday, but they have to take care of business in Minnesota first.

    The Stars are five points behind Chicago for top spot in the Central Division. Dallas has three games in hand.