Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Rookies - Can't Live With Them, Can't Shoot Them

Hihowarya? Good summer? That's terrific.
Me? Haven't had one as good as this in ten years, the summer I lived in PEI, met my wife to be and convinced myself I was still a young lion. Before that ... well when I was a young lion. Turning forty this winter and I have been living it up. I'm on a roll.
With training camp justaroundthecorner I was thinking about rookies. Last season the Oilers broke in a ton - some by choice - some, um, not so much. This year things figure to be a little quieter on that front. Of course the clamour once again grows for Ye Olde Hockey Jesus, never mind that the kid is rehabbing a torn up knee and was a healthy scratch a number of times in the AHL last winter. Nope. Put him with Penner and Hemsky and we're talking thirty goals. Piece of cake.
Of course it doesn't work this way. For kicks I put together the following list. With the exception of one player they are all playing for Canadian teams this season. With the exception of one player (not the same guy) they are all established players in the NHL. Some are amongst the best players in the league. All are famous. All would probably be considered good NHL players.
These are the years they put together as rookies. The ages are approximate. For example Mats Sundin was born in 1971 and his first NHL season was 90/91 so I have him as 19 for simplicity's sake.
Daniel Alfredsson - 23 years old, 82 GP, 26G-35A, -18
Martin Havlat - 19 years old, 73 GP, 19G-23A, +8
Marian Hossa - 19 years old, 60GP, 15G-15A, +18
Jarome Iginla - 19 years old, 82 GP, 21G-29A, -4
Saku Koivu - 21 years old, 82GP, 20G-25A, -7
Alex Kovalev - 19 years old, 65 GP, 20G-18A, -10
Dustin Penner - 24 years old, 82 GP, 29G-16A, -2
Daniel Sedin - 20 years old, 75GP, 20G-14A, -3
Henrik Sedin - 20 years old, 82GP, 9G-20A, -2
Ryan Smyth - 19 years old, 48GP, 2G-9A, -6
Mats Sundin - 19 years old, 80GP, 23G-36A, -24
The point of this list? Well, first of all it is just neat to look at these names and see what they did in the first years of some pretty solid careers, excepting the Sedins who are likely on their way, and Penner, who hopefully (oh please God make it so) is as well. The problem is that I cannot give you context. I don't know who they played with (except for the Sedins and Penner) or who they played against, how much time they spent on the PP and so on. And yes, that even includes Smyth, who came along when I had no TV and a heart hardened against hockey by Bill Wirtz. I figure someone out there may be able to fill us in on his story that season. Hopefully others can do the same for some of these other guys.
Kovalev played for a team that would win the Cup the following season. Penner won the Cup as a rookie. By the time Havlat came along the Sens were pretty solid I think. A lot of these guys played for some real sad sack outfits as rookies, iirc. Sundin and Alfredsson for certain.
As a side note, the following year Smyth would score 39 and add 22 helpers in 82 games. Not so bad a sophomore season.
Secondly, its to point out that Penner, despite his detractors, put together some pretty decent numbers as a rookie. Yes, against soft opposition and with some nice linemates. And he is the oldest player on this list. But twenty nine goals is nothing to sneeze at, especially considering he had little time on the PP, I believe.
Finally it is just to show that the idea of a rookie coming in and putting up huge numbers is usually a pipe dream. It happens but in most cases it is either a special talent or a guy who gets a ton of opportunity because he is on a crap team. Quite often it is a combination of both. The Oilers as presently constituted are mediocre but not terrible. Marc Pouliot (a sophomore I know), Rob Schremp or Andrew Cogliano isn't going to play with Hemsky and Penner. It will be Horcoff who was the number one centre of a team that was a goal away from winning the Cup two years ago and who is a damned good NHL player. Trukhno or Jacques is not going to supplant Torres or Penner. Tom Gilbert is not going to get a shot at the top pair on the backend.
Someone at HF argued that Lowetide was full of it for using Desjardins equivalents to try and figure out what Schremp's numbers at the NHL level would be. Well, lets start by saying that Rob Schremp would not have gone in the first round if he scored six goals in his draft year. Numbers are a part of the game, a big part. They do not tell the whole story but a kid who didn't dominate the AHL (which Penner did) and brings little in "intangibles" (physical play and play without the puck for starters) isn't going to get his shot because he has charisma and some fancy tricks.
If I am an Oilers fan I am hoping for the following - a couple of guys to break in as fourth line guys who maybe inch up the depth chart as the season progresses. Seasons like what Pouliot and Thoresen had last year - two guys who did not do a lot offensively but handled themselves alright. That's a good start. By the way, if Pouliot and Thoresen put together numbers this year like Hossa or Havlat did as rookies I think we have to be pretty damn pleased. If a rookie does that I'd be over the moon.
But I doubt it happens although I can picture two scenarios and two guys. First of all Penner or Torres goes down. The guy to step in - Trukhno. This is based on nothing more then the kid apparently is reasonable with and without the puck. Is he anywhere near ready to play in the NHL? Hell if I know. I guess we will find out. This is a total pipe dream but who the hell was expecting Jordan Stall or Paul Stastny to do what they did last year. These guys have to come from somewhere.
The second possibility and one that I actually could see happen - Cogliano making the team and then getting a shot as a third or, if he can handle it, second line RW. The kid has speed and once again seems to have a head for the game and what to do without the puck. A few things have to fall into place for him and of course he has to be ready. He may not be. But if MacT goes with a shutdown line that includes Moreau and Pisani then someone has to step up on the RW to play with Stoll or Pouliot and Torres. If Sanderson is not up to it, the kid may get a chance.


Anonymous said...

Big Cogs fan, can't wait to watch his season unfold.

uni said...

Schremp is just lowering expectations, so it'll be even more surprising when he pulls a Selanne haha.

Jonathan said...

Completely agreed, especially about Schremp. Anybody who is a healthy scratch at the AHL level is at least a couple of steps away from first-line NHL duty. End of story.

Anonymous said...

hi, Its looooob here and I cannot remember my blogger log in ever.

because you asked I'm pretty sure Jarome Iginla player with veteran Dave (Dad of Sam) Gagner and fellow (older euro-)rookie Jonas Hoglund that year. likely this would have been the Flames 'second' line by most defintions. no clue what sort of opponents they faced, but Fleury would have been the 'big dog' at the time

uni said...

Maybe it's the Rib Fest, maybe it's the red ale I started pounding back at work, maybe it's the amaretto I'm drinking now, but the more I look at this current Oilers training camp team, all a full of potential and pixie dust, the warmer and fuzzier I feel.

Only I still think Tarnstrom is stealing Gilbert's spot...and part of the fuzziness is the expectation of a lean, gaunt, 205lb Pouliot at camp, and Nilsson discovering the 'Secret of Torres Fury' TM.

Black Dog said...

loooob - thanks for that - would guess that this would have been the line they tried to get out against softer opposition then - pretty good numbers for Iginla but then again Dave Gagner was a pretty good player

jonathan - I can't think of a guy who was a scratch in the minors who suddenly was ready for prime time the next season; for that matter I can't think of a guy who did little in the minors who became a star in the NHL - in baseball you seem to see a lot of guys with pedestrian minor league numbers suddenly emerge but not so much in hockey

Juan Guzman was one, iirc, who had iffy minor league stats, came up to the majors and just blew everyone away.

Not to say that Schremp may not become a player - I think any Oiler fan hopes that - but coming off last season he is still not ready. And with the injury he is likely a step behind starting camp.

uni - more Rickards!