Extraordinary rookies are hard to come by. Hockey players who cannot legally drink yet are being asked to perform at the highest level night in and night out. It becomes overwhelming for many.
The Nashville Predators have had just two prominent players stand out in their respective first career NHL seasons — Alexander Radulov and Filip Forsberg. Neither won the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year, but both made major impacts offensively with their highlight reel plays.
With the offseason in full swing for the Predators, there is not a better time to have a debate on who had the better rookie year.
The paths to Nashville were different for Forsberg and Radulov.
Forsberg was drafted eleventh overall by the Washington Capitals in 2012 prior to being acquired by the Predators in a trade deadline deal involving Martin Erat and prospect Michael Latta on April 3, 2013. The Ostervala, Sweden native saw NHL time before the 2014-15 campaign but not enough to have his rookie status taken away from him. He played five games in 2012-13 and thirteen in 2013-14. It was not until last season the 20-year-old was able to stay in Nashville’s lineup for all 82 games.
Radulov, on the other hand, went the traditional route to Nashville. The native of Nizhny Tagil, Russia was drafted fifteenth overall by the Preds in 2004 and began his professional career with their AHL-affiliate the Milwaukee Admirals in 2006-07. After spending much of the early part of the season in Milwaukee, Nashville re-called him for good in late November and remained on the Predators’ roster for the rest of the season.
Forsberg led Nashville in scoring in 2014-15 with 63 points (26 goals, 37 assists) and a +15 rating in 82 games, and Radulov placed tenth in scoring on the team in 2006-07 with 37 points (18 g, 19 a) and a +19 rating in 64 games.
Forsberg set rookie records in games played, goals, assists, points, most power play points (19) and shots on goal (237) leaving only Radulov’s rookie plus/minus record intact.
At first glance, it would be easy to say Forsberg had the better rookie year. However, Radulov may have been capable of producing better numbers had he played in as many games and logged as much ice time as Forsberg. Radulov averaged just 11:38 of average time on ice per game, and Forsberg averaged 17:19.
According to War-on-Ice.com, in five-on-five situations, Forsberg had 2.21 points per sixty minutes, and Radulov had 2.85. In all situations (including even strength, man advantage and shorthanded), Forsberg had 2.65 points per sixty minutes, and Radulov had 3.16. Radulov was more productive in the time allotted.
Beyond statistics, both are undoubtedly gifted snipers but are different players. Forsberg has a deadly accurate snap shot and better puck control, while Radulov is a smoother skater and has slicker hands to make impressive moves.
Honestly, Radulov was more entertaining to watch. Had Radulov stayed in the NHL, he would be one of the league’s many major offensive threats. It is just too bad for the Predators — and his legacy — Radulov bailed for the KHL after his second NHL season.
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Colin Fitts is a Nashville Predators staff writer and is a credentialed media member of the Chicago Wolves. From Nashville, Tennessee, Colin majors in journalism and public relations at Columbia College Chicago. Follow him on Twitter, @FittsTHW. Email: 22fitts [at] gmail [dot] com.