As NHL teams increasingly rely on young stars, we’ve become accustomed to seeing some elite talent put up considerable numbers at a young age. Of the top 10 NHL scorers this season, Patrick Kane is the only player who wasn’t a rookie at some point in the past 10 years. We were blessed with seeing some game’s best start their big-league careers over the past several years and begin to take some of the spotlight away from the Sidney Crosbys and Alex Ovechkins.
Let’s take a look at the most memorable debuts of the decade, whether it be for a unique accomplishment or a dominant performance:
10. Will Butcher stings former team – Oct. 7, 2017
Colorado Avalanche fans must have some disdain for Butcher. He refused to sign with the Avs, the team that drafted him and held his rights until his NCAA career ended in 2017, so it was only that his first game with the New Jersey Devils was one for the ages against Colorado. Butcher had three assists in just 12:45 of ice time in a 4-1 victory and stole the spotlight from 2017 No. 1 pick Nico Hischier. Butcher has since evolved into a reliable top-four defenseman capable of putting up 40 points per season, exactly what the Devils were hoping for when they inked the highly sought-after college free agent.
9. Troy Grosenick’s record-setting shutout – Nov. 14, 2014
Grosenick’s NHL career has spanned only two games, but it couldn’t have started off much better. Back in 2014 with the San Jose Sharks, Grosenick became the 22nd goalie to record a shutout in his first NHL appearance, but his 45 saves against Carolina were the most in a donut debut in the modern era. His shutout came as a surprise, too, as he had only average numbers in the AHL and didn’t appear to be a top-tier NHL prospect. Grosenick allowed three goals on 13 shots two nights later in his only other NHL start and has since been stuck in the AHL.
8. Kellan Lain’s brief hello – Jan 18, 2014
Lain’s debut with the Vancouver Canucks was notable not for what he put on the scoresheet, but instead what he posted in the penalty column. Two seconds into his first game as a member of the Canucks, Lain was involved in the infamous brawl between Vancouver and Calgary. After picking up 15 penalty minutes two ticks after puck drop, he was ejected from the game in one of the most bizarre debuts in NHL history. Lain scored his first NHL goal three nights later against Edmonton – his only career goal – and played a career-high 7:36 against St. Louis in his most recent NHL game the following month. With just six minutes in penalties in the eight games following his debut, he couldn’t really be classified as a goon, but his first impression said otherwise.
7. Matt Hackett’s shutout time record – Dec. 6-8, 2011
Hackett’s debut was absolutely Wild. On Dec. 6, 2011, Josh Harding fell injured 1:11 into the game, forcing Hackett to fill the gap. He stopped all 34 shots he faced, but because Harding allowed a goal in his minute of action, Minnesota left with a 2-1 victory. Hackett then shut the Los Angeles Kings out until the 43:59 mark in the next game, earning the record for the longest continuous shutout by a goaltender to start an NHL career. Hackett only won four of the 26 games he’s played in his NHL career, but he does have another unique record: he’s the only goalie to play for two teams in a single Spengler Cup when he suited up for the Rochester Americans and Team Canada in 2013.
6. Ryan Poehling goes from classroom to The Show – April 6, 2019
One day removed from being eliminated from playoff contention. the Montreal Canadiens had nothing to lose heading into the team’s final game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Poehling had signed an NHL contract just days prior, allowing him to turn pro after a three-year run with St. Cloud State University. And what a debut he had. Poehling posted three goals and the shootout winner at the famed Bell Centre – the night of Bob Cole’s final broadcast with Hockey Night in Canada – and Habs fans were given a glimpse of the future in the most exciting way imaginable. The 2019-20 season hasn’t been so kind to Poehling, though. He has zero points in 10 games this season.
5. Derek Stepan joins an elite group – Oct. 9, 2010
Ten months removed from winning gold and earning MVP honors at the 2010 World Junior Championship with the United States, Stepan became the fourth player in NHL history to score a hat-trick in his debut, potting three against Buffalo. Given his status as a bubble guy without a clear role with the Rangers, Stepan did everything possible to ensure there was no AHL in his future. In fact, his play was good enough to earn him a spot in the rookie competition at all-star weekend. He ultimately finished fourth in Rangers scoring with 45 points.
4. Connor McDavid: the next generation – Oct. 8, 2015
It took three games for McDavid to record his first goal and five games before Edmonton finally won a game, but the emergence of No. 97 gave Oilers fans hope for the future. McDavid, centering Edmonton’s first line alongside Taylor Hall, had a few good opportunities against St. Louis, but he couldn’t generate anything off of his two shots. Still, it was evident immediately that the hype was real and McDavid was going to be the future of the NHL. Hopefully the Oilers can win something for him soon.
3. The unlikely appearances of Jorge Alves and Scott Foster – Dec. 31, 2016 and March 30, 2018
Two emergency netminders saw the ice in the 2010s. Alves kicked New Year’s Eve off in style with a seven-second debut for the Carolina Hurricanes against the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2016. With the Hurricanes trailing by two, Eddie Lack fell sick and couldn’t back up, so Alves, the team’s equipment manager, did his normal duties during intermission before making his debut at the age of 37. In 2018, Scott Foster was forced to play the final 14 minutes of a game against the Winnipeg Jets after Anton Forsberg and Collin Delia both went down with injuries. Foster, 36, stopped all seven shots he faced in what one of the craziest moments of the decade. The funny part? Foster, an accountant, wasn’t the only Hawks goalie to make their debut that night. It was Delia’s first NHL start.
2. Andrew Hammond channels the ‘Hamburglar’ – Feb. 18–April 11, 2015
Hammond’s inclusion breaks the rules here, but only slightly. Hammond had an 11-save effort on Feb. 27, 2014, but that didn’t count towards his record as it was a relief appearance. As such, we’ll have some leniency here and instead look to Feb. 18, 2015, when Hammond made 42 stops in his first NHL start for the Ottawa Senators. After that point, he didn’t look back, finishing the season with three shutouts and a 20-1-2 record to propel the Senators to the post-season. The most memorable part? The nickname. He became known as the ‘Hamburglar’ and fans responded by throwing hamburgers on the ice. Unfortunately, Hammond’s 7-14-4 record over his next 31 games weren’t as glowing. Eventually, he was relegated to full-time AHL duty. The run was still something truly special.
1. Auston Matthews, welcome to the NHL –Oct. 12, 2016
The future of the Maple Leafs’ franchise made his debut in the Battle of Ontario and Toronto faithful couldn’t have asked for a better night for Matthews to make NHL history. He became the first player in modern NHL history to score four goals in an NHL debut, including a goal with three seconds left to force overtime. Kyle Turris won the game for the Senators in the extra frame, but Matthews scored all of Toronto’s goals. Ever since, Matthews has become one of Maple Leafs’ – and the NHL’s – elite forwards. He’s still waiting for that first playoff series victory, however.
Over the next two weeks, The Hockey News will be wrapping up the 2010s with a look back at the best – and worst – of the decade. Find more here.
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.