Advice For Aspiring Hockey Writers: Don’t Label Rookies As A ‘Bust’

Advice For Aspiring Hockey Writers:  Don’t Label Rookies As A ‘Bust’&h=235&w=320&zc=1

Here’s some free advice for aspiring hockey writers: quit trying to make a case that a rookie is a ‘bust’. In particular, quit labeling players a ‘bust’ 25 games or fewer into their NHL career.

There’s no upside to it. Best case scenario–you’re a miserable human being that is essentially cheerleading for an 18 year old kid to fail at his lifelong dream. Worst case scenario–the ‘bust’ in question is going to make you look really, really stupid. I’ve been seeing some articles and comments lately insinuating that 2016-2017 #1 draft pick Auston Matthews is a ‘bust’. True, he hasn’t exactly lit up the score sheets for the Toronto Maple Leafs since his insane four goal NHL debut. Then again, after a 2 goal 1 assist performance in a 5-4 Toronto shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils he’s got 6 goals and 7 assists for 13 points. That definitely pales in comparison to the Calder Cup front runner pace being set by 18 year old Winnipeg rookie Patrik Laine who is tied with some guy named ‘Crosby’ for the NHL goal scoring lead with 12. But here’s something that may come as a shock to you–playing hockey at the NHL level is really, really hard. Becoming a dominant player in the league is even more difficult and particularly for a first year player that is still a teenager. Matthews might not be tearing up the league with 13 points but after 18 games that’s well ahead of ‘bust’ status.

There were a few of these stories last year about the 2015 #1 draft pick–a kid named Connor McDavid. If you’ll think back you’ll remember that not only did #97 fail to impress in his first four games in the NHL he looked downright lost. At times he looked overwhelmed by the speed and skill of the NHL games. It’s one thing to dominate on those snuff film quality AHL highlights from McDavid’s time with the Erie Otters. It’s another thing entirely to make NHL players look foolish. So after four games McDavid looked like a deer caught in headlights and had scored only one goal–a not particularly impressive tip in. There’s nothing wrong with tip ins–they count as much as other goals and guys have made careers out of their ability to redirect a teammate’s shot. Even so, it was a far cry from the pre-draft hype that McDavid was a ‘generational player’ on the level of Crosby, Gretzky, Lemieux, etc.


It was about this time that the ‘McDavid a bust?’ speculation started to appear here and there. He was an easy target with the unprecedented hype, the slow start and his team at 0-4. Plus he came off as a real nice kid–almost ‘too nice’. And as ridiculous as it sounds now after four games at least a few hockey writers started second guessing the Oilers #1 pick and trying to pick apart McDavid’s game to suggest that he was ‘all sizzle, no steak’. The most mind boggling take I saw was one that suggested that while McDavid had shown ‘decent positional awareness’ he gave the appearance of having a ‘limited skill set’. Yep, that’s Connor McDavid’s problem. A limited skill set.

It often seems like this kind of premature criticism starts a karmic backlash in motion. A couple of these critiques came out the day of McDavid’s fifth game, against the Oilers’ hated rivals the Calgary Flames. You remember the scene at the end of ‘The Matrix’ where Neo gets up after getting his ass kicked by Agent Smith and is seeing everything in binary code? At this point, Neo starts doing all of the dodging and deflecting bullets stuff and Agent Smith is toast. That’s what McDavid’s game against Calgary was like. He was a different player and looked for all the world exactly like you’d expect a ‘generational talent’ to look five games into his NHL career. He scored two goals, added an assist and had a couple more insane plays that didn’t end up on the scoresheet. The one that convinced me was a ridiculous shot on goal where McDavid demonstrated a half dozen or so absurdly high level hockey skills only to be stoned by the best save that Jonas Hiller will ever make.


I’m not really sure why it took McDavid four games to look like he belonged in the NHL, let alone demonstrate how good he could be. I’ve never heard him talk about it and since he’s a one man highlight reel now leading the NHL in scoring while getting raves from opposing players and comparisons to Wayne Gretzky from the media I guess it doesn’t really matter. It’s obvious that McDavid sees the rink in ‘zeroes and ones’ and that makes him a blast to watch, even if you’re not an Oilers’ fan.

The thing I hate the most about sports media types is their lack of accountability. They’ll rant about some stupid ‘take’ and never own up to it. And this is the lesson for aspiring hockey writers–don’t be ‘that guy’. You don’t get a cookie for being the first to label a highly touted rookie as ‘a bust’. Maybe at some point you’ll think that you’ll be vindicated for being right. At that point, no one will care. The more likely scenario–you’ll be the punchline of a joke like the good sized percentage of Utah Jazz fans that booed when the team picked a scrawny white point guard out of Gonzaga with the #16 pick in the 1984 NBA draft. A few writers went to far as to suggest that Utah had ‘wasted’ their pick. Spoiler alert–John Stockton went on to have a pretty good NBA career. At least the fans wised up and didn’t boo the following year when the Jazz took a raw and unheralded power forward named ‘Karl Malone’ with the #13 pick.

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