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The Oldest Rookies in NHL History & How They Defied The Odds

One player took 15 years to reach the league, but only 6 seconds to score his first NHL goal.

Tim Thomas and all of the oldest NHL rookies of all time
Credit-AP/NHL/Joker Mag

Let’s face it, professional sports is a young man’s game.

Whether it be hoops, football, baseball, or hockey, trying to make it as a professional is not something for guys who are halfway to getting their senior citizen discount.

Yet most of the following individuals made their debuts at a time when many players start planning for life after hockey.

These are the stories behind the oldest NHL rookies of all time.

Tim Thomas – Boston Bruins (28)

The inspiring story of NHL goalie Tim Thomas
Credit-Boston Globe/Joker Mag Illustration

One would think that a collegiate career ending in an 81-43-15 record, 2.70 GAA, and .934 save percentage, and the third-best record in NCAA Division I history for saves would get you more than a sniff in the NHL.

But for Flint, Michigan native Tim Thomas, that was not the case.

After backstopping the University of Vermont Catamounts to a pair of NCAA Tournaments, including an appearance in the 1996 Frozen Four, Thomas filed his passport with stamps to continue his hockey career.

Following brief stops in the ECHL and the IHL, Thomas signed with the SM-liiga, suiting up for HIFK and helping the team capture the Finnish Championship. 

Although he signed a free-agent deal with the Edmonton Oilers in 1998, Thomas spent the next four years playing in the AHL, SM-Liiga, IHL, and the Swedish Hockey League before inking a contract with the Boston Bruins.

On October 19th, 2002, at the age of 28 and five years after leaving Vermont, Thomas found himself between the pipes for his NHL debut, helping the Bruins defeat the Oilers, saving 31 of 34 shots.

Thomas played just four games during his rookie season, posting a 3-1 record. Sandwiching his fourth stint in the SM-Liiga, Thomas returned to the Bruins for the 2005-06 season.

Throughout his nine-year NHL career, Thomas helped the Bruins capture the 2011 Stanley Cup while collecting two Vezina Trophies, a Conn Smythe, two NHL First Team All-Stars, and four All-Star Game appearances.

Not bad for a guy who struggled to get into the league out of college.

READ MORE: The Incredible Story of Tim Thomas

Pat Cannone – Minnesota Wild (30)

It may have only been three games and a total of twenty-four minutes of ice time, but for Bayport, New York forward Pat Cannone, he can at least say he made it to the “Chel”.

Two years with the New England Jr. Falcons (EJHL), followed by a one-year run with Cedar Rapids Roughriders (USHL), led to the center joining the Miami University Redhawks for four years of NCAA Division I hockey.

At the end of his college career, Cannone embarked on a six-plus-year run in the AHL, playing three seasons for the Binghamton Senators (Ottawa) and the Chicago Wolves (St. Louis).

Then on December 20th, 2016, Cannone finally heard his name called by the Minnesota Wild to make his NHL debut against the Colorado Avalanche. While he did not tally a point, Cannone made an impact in his nine minutes of ice time, recording two shots on net and winning 5 of 7 faceoff battles. 

Unfortunately for Cannone, his run in the NHL was limited to just four nights, returning to the Iowa Wild until the end of the 2018 season and then finishing his career in the ECHL.

Ľubomír Sekeráš – Minnesota Wild (32)

What is it about Minnesota and older players? Trencin, Czechoslovakia defenseman Ľubomír Sekeráš is the second player who made his NHL debut with the Wild to make this list.

To be fair to the Wild and Sekeráš, the international veteran was signed during the team’s inaugural season, one in which they needed some experience on the ice. 

Selected in the eighth round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, Sekeráš already had thirteen years of professional experience between the CSSR, SVK, and ELH on his resume.

Although he would play 29 shifts and record 23:43 minutes of ice time in his first game, he had to wait until the fifth game of the 2000-01 season before recording his first NHL goal.

Over three years in Minnesota and a four-game stint in Dallas, Sekeráš finished his NHL career with 213 games and 71 points.

Magnus Johansson – Chicago Blackhawks (34)

Magnus Johansson: He started his senior hockey career at age 17, but didn't reach the NHL until two decades later.

He may have begun his senior hockey career at the age of 17, playing with Linkoping HC of the Swedish Hockey League, but it wouldn’t be until nearly two decades later that defenseman Magnus Johansson made his NHL debut.

After seven years of playing for his hometown team of which he was named captain in just his second season, Johansson signed with Vastra Frolunda HC, helping the team win the SEL Championship in his sixth and final season.

Following a one-year run with SC Langnau of the NLA, Johansson returned home to Linkoping for three more years.

On June 4th, 2007, Johansson signed a free-agent contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, making his debut four months later on October 4 in a 1-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild.

The blueliner spent just 18 games in Chicago before being traded to the Panthers for a future seventh-round draft pick. After just 27 games with Florida, Johansson returned home to play for Linkoping once again.

Bob Barlow – Minnesota North Stars (34)

After 15 years in the minors, it took Bob Barlow just 6 seconds to score his first NHL goal.

Surprise! Another old-timer suiting up to play hockey in Minnesota. Long before the team became the Wild, they were known as the North Stars, and on October 12th, 1969, the left winger from Hamilton, Ontario took to the ice against the Philadelphia Flyers.

After fifteen years in the minor leagues, it took Bob Barlow just six seconds to record his first NHL goal, firing a 30-foot slapshot past Bernie Parent into the Flyers’ net at the 1:08 mark of the first period. 

“I took the puck to the bench and told Coach Wren Blair, ‘What’s so hard about this league?’”

Barlow finished the night leading the North Stars to the 4-0 victory with a goal, an assist, and four shots on net. 

To this day, Barlow’s six-second goal remains an NHL record.

“I tell them dreams do come true if you work hard,” he said. “I tell them I finally realized my dream at 34.”

Jim McLeod – St. Louis Blues (34)

Before suiting up for the St. Louis Blues, goaltender Jim McLeod spent over a decade in the WHL split between the Seattle Totems and the Portland Buckaroos. 

During the 1971-72 NHL Interleague Draft, the Blues gave the Thunder Bay, Ontario native an opportunity between the pipes.

Making his NHL debut on October 17th, McLeod found himself on the losing side of a 5-3 battle against the Detroit Red Wings, giving up two goals on nine shots in just twenty minutes of ice time after filling in for Peter McDuffe.

McLeod remained with the Blues for all of sixteen games, recording a 6-6-4 record with a 3.01 GAA and .890 SV%.

Lars-Erik Sjoberg – Winnipeg Jets (35)

It might be a bit of a stretch to include Lars-Erik Sjoberg on this list of oldest NHL rookies as technically he had been playing with the Winnipeg Jets for five seasons while they were a part of the WHA before they migrated to the NHL. 

One of the best players from Sweden at that time, Sjoberg helped the Jets win the Avco World Trophy three times.

Upon their inaugural NHL season, Sjoberg was named the team’s first captain, becoming the league’s first non-North American-born player to carry such an honor. 

Playing in 79 of the team’s 80 games, he finished with 34 points, which would amount to the only 34 points of his NHL career as he retired following the season.

Jim Anderson – Los Angeles Kings (37)

Jim Anderson: American Hockey League Hall of Fame Class of 2009
Credit-AHL Hall of Fame

If you look at Jim Anderson’s career stat sheet you will see a lot of AHL, specifically with the Springfield Indians/Kings. His 943 games and 821 points were worthy of a sport in the AHL Hall of Fame.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t carry the same level of success to the next level. 

When the NHL decided to expand to a dozen teams in for the 1967-68 season, the Los Angeles Kings were among the six new franchises to join the league, using the Springfield Indians (renamed the Kings) as their minor league affiliate. 

On January 6th, 1968, the left winger from Pembroke, Ontario made his NHL debut with the Kings in a 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues. While he finished the night with three shots on net, it would take Anderson until his seventh and final NHL game to record his first big league goal.

After two more years in the AHL, Anderson would go on to spend one notoriously horrid season as the head coach of the 1974-75 Washington Capitals.

Helmut Balderis – Minnesota North Stars (37)

Selected at 36 years of age, Helmut Balderis is the oldest player ever drafted in NHL history.

It’s been three entries since we have seen a Minnesota player on this list. 

Selected in the 12th round in the 1989 NHL Draft, Helmut (respectfully one of the greatest hockey names ever) Balderis, at the age of 36, holds the honor of being the oldest player to ever be drafted.

A prolific score for Dinamo Riga, CSKA Moscow, and the Soviet National Team, Balderis made his NHL debut on October 5, 1989, and four games later would become the oldest NHL player to score his first goal in a 4-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. 

Balderis would only play 26 games with the North Stars, tallying 9 points, before finishing his career in Latvia. 

Connie Madigan – St. Louis Blues (38)

Upon entering the league at 38 years old, Connie "Mad Dog" Madigan became the oldest rookie in NHL history

Upon entering the league at 38 years old, Connie Madigan became the oldest rookie in NHL history.

While we too are disappointed to see a team other than Minnesota hold down the honor of having the oldest NHL rookie on their roster, the spot does go to a player with a great hockey nickname. 

Cornelius “Mad Dog” Madigan is the poster boy for a rink rat.

For nineteen years, Madigan played in the TBJHL, WJHL, OSHL, WIHL, WHL (multiple times), IHL, AHL, and CHL before eventually having his rights purchased from the Portland Buckaroos by the St. Louis Blues. 

On February 6th, 1973, Madigan made his NHL debut against the Vancouver Canucks. Over the course of his short twenty-game stint, plus five playoff games, Madigan totaled just 16 shots on goal and three assists. 

Fun Fact: In addition to being known as the oldest NHL rookie, Madigan made an appearance in the cult classic hockey film, Slap Shot, playing the part of Ross “Mad Dog” Madison. Judging by his performance, it was clear the role needed very little in the way of acting coaching.

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Written By

Life-long sports fan and avid basketball junkie in every sense of the word. The same passion I have for the Lakers translates to my extreme dislike for the Duke Blue Devils. As much as I cheer for the favorite and the dynasty, I appreciate and applaud the underdog and the grind whether you are a weekend warrior or a professional, both on and off the field.

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