Igor Larionov, Slava Fetisov, Slava Kozlov (Ezra O. Shaw /Allsport)
Though Rob Zepp’s story is fantastic, he’s not the first player to debut in the NHL after celebrating his 30th birthday. From Hall of Famers to journeyman record setters, we look at the five best players to enter the NHL after age 30.
Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Rob Zepp’s incredible journey to the NHL was capped off yesterday with a 4-3 overtime victory over the Winnipeg Jets, but he isn’t the first player to make their NHL debut after the age of 30.
Goaltender Viktor Fasth is one such player, as he made his debut with the Ducks at 31 and 171 days. Nearly a year later, he’s signed himself a big money deal, been shipped from Anaheim to Edmonton, and has 50 NHL starts under his belt. Though he doesn’t make the top five, he’s part of the new generation of first-year players that could be considered elder statesmen.
Here are the top five players to make their NHL debuts after their 30th birthday:
5. Ross Brooks, Boston Bruins
Brooks’ name likely wasn’t one many people had heard before this season began. When Frederik Andersen became the second goalie in NHL history to win 25 of his first 30 starts, people started mentioning the one-time Bruins goaltender again, however.
Brooks was the first netminder to accomplish the feat, and he only ever suited up in 54 NHL games, posting an incredible record of 37-7-6. There are many other players who suited up after their 30th birthday, but not many who performed in such a way that their name is etched in the record books. Brooks makes the top five on account of his almost unfathomable play in the few games he saw.
4. Sergei Makarov, Calgary Flames
Makarov was an absolute star for CSKA Moscow, racking up 322 goals and 710 points in 519 games for the club during his playing days. When he came over to North America for the 1989-90 season, he made an immediate impact.
In 80 games with the Flames, the 31-year-old rookie tallied 24 goals and 86 points, finished in the top 30 for points, and won the Calder Trophy. In total, Makarov would only play seven short years in North America, spending time with the Flames, Sharks, and a four-game stint with the Stars. He finished his NHL career with 134 goals and 384 points in 424 games.
3. Georges Vezina, Montreal Canadiens
Technically Vezina debuted much earlier in the NHA, but the Canadiens were part of the formation of the NHL, meaning the legendary goaltender didn’t make his NHL debut until the 1917-18 season as a 31-year-old. He quickly became the best goaltender in the league. He would play for eight seasons and suit up for a single period of a ninth. During that first frame of the Nov. 28 game, Vezina stopped every shot he faced, but collapsed in his crease during the second period.
Vezina was diagnosed with tuberculosis and didn’t play for the remainder of the season. He passed away on March 27, 1926, still a member of the Canadiens. His name has since been engrained in NHL lore through the awarding of the Vezina Trophy to the NHL’s most outstanding goaltender.
2. Slava Fetisov, New Jersey Devils
Much like Makarov, Fetisov made his name while playing for CSKA Moscow and both players made the jump to the NHL in 1989-90. The biggest difference, however, is that Fetisov has his name in the Hall of Fame, while Makarov will likely never be inducted.
At 31, Fetisov debuted with the Devils and finished eighth in Calder voting, tallying eight goals and 42 points in 72 games with New Jersey. Over the course of a 546-game NHL career, Fetisov only scored 36 goals and 228 points, but he was an integral part of the Detroit Red Wings teams that won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1996-97 and 1997-98.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.
1. George Hainsworth, Montreal Canadiens
Considered one of the best goaltenders to ever play in the NHL, Hainsworth pretty much took over where Vezina left off. Though there was a gap between Vezina and Hainsworth – Herb Rheaume manned the Canadiens goal in 1925-26 – the two netminders made for a nearly seamless transition from world-class goaltender to world-class goaltender.
Hainsworth debuted at 31 and, in his first three seasons as a Canadien, won the Vezina Trophy for posting the league’s lowest goals-against total each season. He also led the Canadiens to consecutive Stanley Cups in 1929-30 and 1930-31. Four times in his career he was the NHL’s winningest goaltender and he posted an outrageous 22 shutouts in 1928-29, an NHL record that stands today and will almost certainly never be broken.
The Toronto, Ont. native was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1961, and posted a career record of 246-145-74 with a 1.93 GAA and 94 shutouts, the third most in NHL history.