By RGM81 aka Richard McAdam

I got back into card collecting because of a rookie. It was January 2008 and Carey Price was lighting it up for the Montreal Canadiens. I’m sure that many other collectors have a similar story. Rookie cards are what drives the hobby – they are a primary reason that people bust wax by the case. Hitting a major RC will pay for your box and then some. For the last couple of years I’ve observed a trend when it comes to the early-season product releases. The Hobby as a whole decides—it is never written down by anybody, it is just decided organically—that players A, B, and C are the cream of the crop, creating an instant tier separating them from the rest of the rookie class. These are the cards to get, as they have instant appeal today and will hold value for the future. Other rookies will be found in cheap discount bins the following season, but the upper echelon will remain desirable.

Within that upper echelon, usually there is one that stands out above the rest; he is THE ROOKIE to get for that year. The card that everybody has to have and the one that everybody dreams of pulling when they fork over their hobby dollars. 05-06 you had Crosby; 06-07 you had Malkin; 07-08, the year that I jumped back into the fray – was the anomaly with Price, Toews, and Kane; 08-09 you had Stamkos; 09-10 you had Tavares; and in 10-11 you have Hall. What do all of THE ROOKIE players have in common? They are all top 5 draft choices, and most are #1 overall selections. The intense hype that goes into the annual NHL Entry Draft builds a tremendous amount of buzz around THE ROOKIE and collectors eagerly anticipate the dawn of the new hobby season so that they can begin collecting the first NHL hockey cards of these players. Many will also start to collect the junior-level cards released by In The Game – indeed, the first autograph cards of all of the game’s top stars appear in the Heroes and Prospects series and are hugely popular items.

In each of the past years–excluding 07-08–there was a player that seemingly would compete for that top rank but never fetched the hobby love & dollars the same way as the guy that was THE ROOKIE. In 05-06 you had Ovechkin; 06-07 you had Staal/Kopitar; 08-09 you had Brunnstrom; and in 09-10 you had Duchene. Not a bad group at all. The lockout that cost fans the 2004-05 season resulted in a supremely stacked rookie class for 2005-06, which breathed new life into the hobby. If it were not for the lockout that class would have been split and Ovechkin would have led the 04-05 group; instead, he ended up playing second fiddle hobby-wise to the phenomenon that was Sidney Crosby. Obviously if you pulled the Ovechkin YG or SP Authentic RC, you’re pretty happy, but it still wasn’t the Crosby. You had a top-tier guy but you knew you’d be lucky to get half of the dollars as you would for the big one. It didn’t matter who won the Calder Trophy or was putting up the most points, your card just wasn’t going to get the same return.

We are now a couple years removed from those rookie campaigns, and it’s interesting to look at how the runner-up fares over the long haul. Ovy is obviously still one of the hottest and most collectible players in the hobby. His stuff still doesn’t fetch anywhere near what Sid’s does, and so it shall likely always be. Look at the 06-07 guys, though, and a fellow like Kopitar generates a ton of interest from the Kings fans that may arguably rival that of a Malkin. 08-09, well, things get weird here. Fabian Brunnstrom, the YouTube sensation from Sweden, has practically dropped off the face of the Earth in terms of hobby value and actual on-ice play–the Stars actually waived him recently but there were no takers. Meanwhile, Stamkos has elevated to a whole new level while Drew Doughty has definitely taken over the #2 spot as far as that rookie crop goes. His stuff does very solid numbers but obviously won’t touch that of Stamkos any time soon. Still, good things seem to lie ahead for this potential future Norris winner. 09-10…might be a little too early to tell. By the end of last season Duchene had clearly eclipsed Tavares on the ice, as did Calder winner Tyler Myers. I haven’t looked at their sales on the new stuff lately, but I’d imagine that both have experienced something of a drop-off. Where they match up over the coming months will be fun to watch.

Which brings us to this year. It is still very possible that this season could end up like the fantastic 07-08 rookie crop and be a scrambled draw in which several guys share the hobby crown. Right now Taylor Hall has the slight edge, not only because he’s the #1 draft choice playing on a Canadian team but also because his first RC, Panini Certified, was a short-printed auto patch. I say slight edge vis-a-vis PK Subban, who is easily the hottest Habs rookie since Price and is very likely to contend for the crown—the “Montreal bump” is a very important factor in the hobby and is not to be underestimated. I also think that while those two go toe-to-toe it’s going to leave everybody else in the hobby dust. That’s not to say we don’t have other elite hobby rookies – the rest of the “elite” rookies for this season appear to be Tyler Seguin and Jordan Eberle. For all the talk about “Taylor vs. Tyler” this summer I don’t think it was ever truly in doubt that Hall would be the #1 pick for the Oilers. Seguin appears to be on the same track as other #2 picks such as Bobby Ryan, Staal, James van Riemsdyk, and Doughty: guys that will sell strongly but not approach the #1 pick sales-wise. Early sales on Certified have Hall with a roughly $30-$40 sales lead over Seguin. Meanwhile, Jordan Eberle, the Canadian World Junior hero, is at the same level as Seguin in terms of Certified sales.

The crown of 2010-11’s THE ROOKIE is thus a two-horse race between Hall and Subban. It is a battle that will continue for some time to come and may go all the way until the end of the season to be truly determined. Both are sure to be /99 RCs in The Cup, and will no doubt be on the same SP tiers in all UD and Panini products this season. For two others, however, the runner-up RC tag is falling into place. While Jordan Eberle and Tyler Seguin will still bring great smiles to the faces of collectors when their cards are pulled, and will far outshine the other rookies, they will still not be on the same level as a Taylor Hall or PK Subban rookie. They have become, early in the season, the best of the rest.