Ducks’ Top 5 Rookie Seasons

With the Anaheim Ducks beginning, at least, a partial rebuild, there’s an increased focus on their rookies. That scrutiny will continue as general manager Bob Murray approaches a crucial draft, possibly with a top-three pick. Anaheim has twice had the No. 2 pick: first in 1994 when they selected Oleg Tverdovsky, and again in 2005 when they picked Bobby Ryan.

The Ducks have had players who had fantastic rookie seasons, and not all of them were picked early in the first round. With that in mind, let’s take a look the players who have had the top-five rookie seasons in Ducks history.

Criteria for Rookie Excellence

The Ducks have had a lot of successful rookies in their relatively short existence, including Paul Kariya, Cam Fowler, Elias Lindholm, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Joffrey Lupul, Chad Kilger, Matt Cullen and Stanislav Chistov. In this case, each player had to be in their official rookie season which means they had to have played at least 25 games to officially qualify as a rookie, and without having played 25 games in any preceding season or six games in any two previous seasons.

Goalies, defensemen and forwards are included and each skater was not strictly judged by points, although it was a significant factor. The era they played in and what they meant to the franchise also played a role.

5. Gibson Shines in 2015-16

This list wouldn’t be complete without a goalie. Of all the netminders in Ducks history, John Gibson, their franchise goalie, had the most impactful rookie season. Gibson had only played in three games in 2013-14 and 23 in 2014-15 so his rookie season actually came in 2015-16.

John Gibson in goal.
John Gibson’s 2015-16 performance was a sign of things to come. (Gary A.Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports)

Between Gibson, Frederik Andersen and Jonas Hiller, Andersen’s rookie winning percentage in games he started (.833) was far better than Jonas Hiller’s (.605) and John Gibson’s (.619). However, Gibson finished his rookie season with a goals-against average (GAA) and save percentage (SV%) of 2.07 and .920, respectively, which earned him some Vezina and Calder Trophy votes.

He landed a spot on the 2016 Pacific All-Star team and the NHL All-Rookie Team. Gibson and Andersen also combined to win the William M. Jennings Trophy as the goaltenders who played in over 25 games and allowed the fewest goals against.

Gibson had another critical impact — he made Andersen expendable. Once Gibson showed Murray that he would be the goalie that everyone had hoped, the Ducks’ GM traded Andersen to the Toronto Maple Leafs. In return, Murray received Toronto’s 2016 first-round pick and one of their two 2017 second-round picks. Those picks became Sam Steel and Maxime Comtois, who the Ducks hope will join Troy Terry, Max Jones and Isac Lundestrom as Anaheim’s new offensive core.

Related: Blues Score Late to Down Ducks

4. Fowler Explodes Onto the NHL Scene in 2010-11

Cam Fowler has already cemented himself as one of the most productive defensemen ever to play for the Ducks. Just over a month ago, Fowler tied Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer’s record for most assists by a Ducks defenseman in franchise history.

Fowler hasn’t put much distance between himself and Niedermayer since Feb. 2 (it took him over a month to break the record), but he went a long way toward getting there in his 2010-11 rookie season. The No. 12 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft had a fitting welcome to the league. After Murray called Fowler’s name, Niedermayer, Fowler’s favorite player, handed the rookie his first Ducks jersey on the draft stage.

Fowler didn’t take long to impose his will on the league. He made the roster out of training camp and notched an assist in an away loss to the Nashville Predators. Eight days later, Fowler scored his first NHL goal in a Ducks win over the Phoenix Coyotes.  Fowler had seven multi-point games in his rookie season, including a three-assist effort in a 6-0 Ducks victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. He also added four points in Anaheim’s opening-round defeat to the Predators.

Fowler Makes History

Fowler’s 40 points (10 goals, 30 assists) are still the most in franchise history by a rookie defenseman and ranks 45th all-time among rookie NHL defensemen. It’s also one point fewer than Bobby Orr’s 41-point rookie campaign for the Boston Bruins in 1966-67.

Cam Fowler
Cam Fowler had one point fewer than Bobby Orr did in his rookie season. (Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIRE)

Though Fowler is nearing the end of a disappointing 2018-19 season, he is still only 27 years old and plays on one of the least offensive teams in the league, which has likely hampered his production. Expect a bounce-back season in 2019-20.

3. Chris Kunitz’s 2005-06 Standout Rookie Season

The 2005-06 season was a ridiculous one for Mighty Ducks youngsters as Getzlaf, Perry, Francois Beauchemin and Ilya Bryzgalov were all rookies that season. Even Dustin Penner, who didn’t play enough games to qualify as a rookie, made an impression.

There was one who stood out the most — Chris Kunitz.

In 2005-06 Kunitz was the Mighty Ducks’ most impactful rookie because he outplayed expectations by such a large degree. The Mighty Ducks signed the undrafted Saskatchewan native out of Ferris State University, where he was a Hobey Baker finalist in his senior year in 2002-03. The following season, his first in the NHL, he notched six assists in 21 games in Anaheim.

After spending the 2004-05 lockout in the AHL, the team waived Kunitz before the 2005-06 season. The Atlanta Thrashers claimed him, only to waive him after two games. The Ducks reclaimed him and he excelled, scoring 19 goals and 22 assists in 67 games, good for fifth in team scoring. He also contributed eight points in 16 playoff games on the way to the Western Conference Final.

Kunitz Among Elites

So, what makes Kunitz’s season better than Perry, Getzlaf, Beauchemin and Penner when Beauchemin had more playoff points and Getzlaf and Perry also had stellar rookie seasons ? As first-round draft picks, Getzlaf and Perry were expected to produce (and they did).

Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry
Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf were rookies with Chris Kunitz in 2005-06, but Kunitz had the biggest impact. (Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports)

Though Beauchemin hadn’t shown a lot of promise early in his career, he did come at a higher cost. Due to the new salary cap imposed after the 2004-05 lockout, Anaheim had to trade all-star Sergei Fedorov to give themselves more cap space. The Mighty Ducks received Beauchemin as part of the return for Fedorov, which was a far higher cost than it took to add Kunitz.

The Mighty Ducks gave up nothing in the way of NHL talent or draft capital to get Kunitz so Anaheim got a lot more bang for their buck. During his rookie season, Kunitz contributed more than first-rounders Perry and Getzlaf in both the regular season and the playoffs. In addition to point production, Kunitz provided Anaheim a lot of versatility. He fit in well with a rotating cast of linemates, while also spending time on the power play and the penalty kill. All of this from an undrafted player claimed off waivers.

2. SoCal Boy Breaks Ducks Rookie Record in 2008-09

Bobby Ryan, a Cherry Hill, New Jersey native moved to El Segundo, California with his family while his father was a fugitive from the law. Continuing his amateur hockey career with the Junior Kings, Ryan was one of the most successful youth hockey players to come out of California. He went on to play in the OHL for the Owen Sound Attack and in 2005 became the No. 2 pick at the NHL Draft (one behind Sidney Crosby).

Bobby Ryan Ducks
A decade later, Bobby Ryan still holds the record for most points by a rookie in Ducks history. (Icon/SMI)

Ryan’s rookie season was spectacular. During the 2008-09 season (he appeared in 23 games for Anaheim in 2007-08), he scored 31 goals and 26 assists, good for the most points scored by a Ducks rookie all time.

To achieve that record, Ryan had two red-hot stretches. Between Dec. 7 and Jan. 31, he scored 28 points in 25 games including a natural hat-trick, which brought the Ducks back from a three-goal deficit against their rival Los Angeles Kings. Ryan’s third goal still stands as one of the most spectacular in Ducks history.

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The Ducks lost that game, but Ryan announced himself as a star. His seven playoff points in 13 games placed him No. 5 on the team in playoff scoring. He played another four seasons for the Ducks before being traded to the Ottawa Senators.

1. Kariya Sets the Standard

What hasn’t already been written about Paul Kariya? He put the Mighty Ducks on the map. The team drafted him out of the University of Maine, where he scored 100 points in his first season and became the first freshman to win the Hobey Baker Award. This success made him the No. 4 selection in the 1993 NHL Draft.

The hype surrounding Kariya attracted fans to the Mighty Ducks in hoards. According to the Sun Journal of Lewiston, Maine, 9,000 people showed up to Kariya’s first practice in Anaheim and the team drew nearly 16,000 fans for his first exhibition game.

Kariya’s rookie season was significant because of the timing. The NHL locked out its players on Oct. 1, 1994, which could’ve been a crushing blow for the young franchise. The Mighty Ducks had already achieved a surprising level of commercial popularity before they’d even played a game, and that continued into their debut season. Remarkably, they sold out every home game from Dec. 22, 1993 until the end of the 1993-94 season, but the 1994-95 lockout threatened that commercial momentum.

Thanks to Kariya, fans maintained interest in the fledgling Mighty Ducks and that home sellout streak continued through the 1994-95 season.

Paul Kariya
Paul Kariya helped maintain interest in the Anaheim Mighty Ducks during the 1994-95 NHL Lockout. (Brian Bahr/Getty Images/NHLI)

Kariya lived up to expectations. In the lockout-shortened season, he scored 18 goals and added 21 assists in 47 games. That quickly set the Mighty Ducks’ rookie scoring record. The next season, he, along with Teemu Selanne, took over the duty of growing hockey in Southern California as the Kings traded Wayne Gretzky to the St. Louis Blues that February. Kariya and his new Finnish teammate were now the big fish in the California pond.

Each of these players broke out during their rookie season, and whether it was at the ticket office, on the scoresheet or both, they played a key role in the success of the Ducks franchise. Fans can only hope that a Ducks prospect or future draft pick can have as much of an impact as the players on this list did.

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