Sharks lead league in NHL debuts

Who gets kicked out of his NHL debut?

“My first game, I got thrown out for a third man in,” Bob Boughner recalled, laughing. “I probably only lasted seven, eight minutes.”

It was February 3, 1996. The 24-year-old defenseman had just been traded to the Buffalo Sabres and was debuting in Boston. A minute into the middle frame, Boughner interceded after Dean Chynoweth’s stick met teammate Brian Holzinger’s face.

“I remember all my family, my parents, aunts and uncles, getting together at a restaurant. Back in those days, they had the big satellite dish, the only place you could get the game,” Boughner said. “Before their drinks got to the table, I was already out of the game.”

Luckily for the San Jose Sharks, they haven’t experienced any NHL debuts this year as colorful as Boughner’s. Perhaps unluckily, they’ve experienced an unusual volume of debuts.

Eight Sharks — Lean Bergmann, Joachim Blichfeld, Mario Ferraro, Noah Gregor, Joel Kellman, Maxim Letunov, Alexander True and Danil Yurtaykin — have made their NHL debuts this season. That’s tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the injury-ravaged Columbus Blue Jackets for most in the league. (Note: Egor Korshkov made his debut for Maple Leafs on Feb. 16th, so Toronto is now up to nine NHL debuts)

Eight is the most since nine San Jose players (Steve Bernier, Matt Carkner, Matt Carle, Ryane Clowe, Marcel Goc, Josh Gorges, Douglas Murray, Nolan Schaefer, Grant Stevenson) debuted in 2005-06.

2005-06, of course, was an outlier because of the previous year’s lockout, which wiped out the entire 2004-05 campaign. An NHL-record 211 players debuted in 2005-06, two seasons’ worth in one.

The previous high was 203 in 1979-80, when the NHL-WHA merger introduced four franchises into the league. A better comparison — the number of NHL debuts in a non-outlier campaign — would be 171 in 2008-09, third-most in league history. Since 2007, not including lockout-shortened 2012-13, an average of 149 players have debuted each season.

But back to the Sharks: Nine players (Jonathan Cheechoo, Rob Davison, Niko Dimitrakos, Jim Fahey, Jesse Fibiger, Ryan Kraft, Lynn Loyns, Chad Wiseman, Miroslav Zalesak) also made their NHL debuts in 2002-03. Not so coincidentally, San Jose missed the playoffs.

Naturally, however, it’s the expansion team that takes the cake. 13 players (Michael Coleman, Ed Courtenay, Dale Craigwell, Pat Falloon, Wade Flaherty, Arturs Irbe, Mikhail Kravets, Jeff Odgers, J.F. Quintin, Claudio Scremin, Mike Sullivan, Ray Whitney, David Williams) made their NHL debuts for the 1991-92 Sharks. But again, not so coincidentally, San Jose missed the playoffs.

A sea of fresh faces is often a sign of a rudderless squad, searching for answers, whether due to injuries or incompetence or both. That sums up this year’s Sharks up front — seven forwards (Bergmann, Blichfeld, Gregor, Kellman, Letunov, True, Yurtaykin) have made their NHL debut, the most since eight (Courtenay, Craigwell, Falloon, Kravets, Odgers, Quintin, Sullivan, Whitney) in 1991-92.

But that’s enough with the doom and gloom. Sure, Doug Wilson probably didn’t plan for this many debuts to patch up holes this season, but as Boughner noted, it’s a joyous occasion for players and families alike. In a lost year, these are rays of light.

Ferraro, for example, had his parents, two sisters and cousins at his NHL debut in Las Vegas. But his lasting memory from the season opener won’t be T-Mobile Arena’s electric atmosphere or sharing the ice with a handful of future Hall of Famers.

“The biggest thing was just having my family there to witness it. It’s something I’ve been working for, for a long time. Without them, I couldn’t have been able to do that,” Ferraro said. “That’s going to be the biggest thing, something I’ll never forget.”