Best of the Books: Most goals by a rookie

Adam Proteau
Teemu Selanne (Denis Brodeur/NHLI via Getty Images)

Because hockey players are some of the most humble athletes in all of sport, you won’t find too many of them willing to suggest the record they hold will take an extremely long time to be broken.

But veteran star right winger Teemu Selanne – one of hockey’s best ambassadors and a man who would brag only if forced to at gunpoint – will tell you the mark he is most famous for won’t be challenged in the next couple years – if ever.

That’s because a fresh-faced Selanne scored a whopping 76 times for the now-defunct Winnipeg Jets in 1992-93, setting the standard for goals in a season by a rookie. On second thought, “setting” is too delicate a word for what he accomplished. Selanne demolished the previous record of 53 in a season, established by Islanders Hall of Famer Mike Bossy during the 1977-78 campaign.

For some perspective, Alex Ovechkin scored 52 times in his rookie season. The leading rookie scorer in the 2010-11 season was Islanders right winger Michael Grabner, who had 34 goals, less than half of what Selanne netted in his first year. More perspective: only three NHLers in history have ever scored more than 76 goals in any season – Brett Hull and Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky, who did it twice.

None of this is to say Selanne is some superhuman specimen scientifically engineered in his homeland of Finland to be an unstoppable force. The truth is, like so many of the greats, Selanne was beneficiary of fate. He entered the NHL just prior to the dawn of the defense-first, obstruction-heavy, Dead Puck Era (which lasted roughly from 1994 to 2004). As such, the man known as the Finnish Flash had the type of creative license and opportunities on offense that no player has had ever since.

“Absolutely, I was in the right time and the right place to get that,” Selanne said. “The game was totally different when I started in the NHL. The biggest difference now is the attitude of the teams. Now, teams say, ‘there’s no way we’re going to give up more than two or three goals a game.’ But in my time, it was, ‘whoever scores more goals wins.’ The whole mindset was different and that’s why there was so many high-scoring games back then.”

After that record-breaking freshman campaign – which (surprise, surprise) won him the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie – Selanne’s goal total never again reached the same staggering heights. He did have 50-goal seasons for two straight years with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 1996-97 (51) and 1997-98 (52), but then settled in as a consistent scoring threat averaging nearly 30 goals per season. In the more modern, defense-focused NHL, that’s quite the accomplishment.

“It was a lot of fun in my first year, because there was a lot of goals – not just for me, but for the whole league,” said Selanne, who by the end of 2010-11 had career offensive totals of 637 goals and 1,340 points in 1,259 games. “Even in the games we didn’t score that many goals, there was nearly double the number of scoring chances we have now. That’s a big difference from the way it is today.”

This is an excerpt from THN’s 2011 book, Hockey’s Most Amazing Records.