I remember one day while I was walking to class when I saw someone wearing a shirt with “All Champions were once Rookies” written on it. This phrase came back to my mind constantly while I was watching the Stanley Cup playoffs and when the Pirates played the Rays on June 30th. Rookies Jake Guentzel and Matt Murray, with guidance from seasoned vets Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury, helped the Penguins get past the Ottawa Senators and the Nashville Predators to win the Stanley Cup. When the Pirates played the Rays, rookies Roberto Osuna, Josh Bell, and Elias Diaz pitched in at the plate as well as defensively with the help from team captain Andrew McCutchen and some great pitching support from Ivan Nova and closer Felipe Rivero.
In baseball, whenever a rookie gets called up to the big leagues, there’s a lot of shyness. Most stick to themselves, even though the veterans like to make them feel as comfortable as possible. The way the rookies act is very old-school. But, for the Penguins and Pirates, everyone is part of the family. For example, in Josh Bell’s second game with the Pirates, he hit a grand slam. In the 45 games he played that season, he had an average of $0.273$ and had a slugging percentage of $0.406$. Let’s compare that to his predecessor, John Jaso. In Jaso’s rookie year (granted he played for Tampa Bay), he hit a $0.263$ average with a slugging percentage of $0.378$. When Jaso came to the Pirates, he line was $0.268$/$0.459$/$0.786$. Jaso was a defensive step up from Pedro Alvarez, but Bell has been more of a slugger with significantly less experience and plate appearances.
Now, in hockey, there is no bigger story than the development of Matthew Murray. Murray was drafted 83rd overall by the Penguins in the 2012 entry draft. He was supposed to be a depth goalie that had low AHL potential. No one expected that he’d win the Stanley cup twice as a rookie and become the backstop to an indomitable offensive powerhouse. His predecessor, Marc-Andre Fleury, was the first overall pick in the 2003 entry draft. Early on, he was the face of the Penguins franchise before Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were drafted. When the two superstars joined him, Fleury flourished and helped lead the Penguins to the 2008 cup finals and a 2009 cup victory. He holds multiple franchise records held by legends like Tom Barrasso. However, let’s take a look at the splits between Fleury and Murray.
Now, this elementary comparison discredits Fleury and his growth since he was the youngest goalie to ever start an NHL game. So, let’s look at Fleury’s career stats versus Murray’s career numbers.
Murray, so far, has outperformed Fleury. However, Fleury brings a leadership aspect to the team which Murray mimics slightly. All in all, Murray has been the better goalie, even though Fleury has played behind, at times, a very shaky, variable defense.
Behind a core of veteran players is almost always a young energetic squad that wants to break out into the big league. For the past few years, the Pirates have been trying to develop their youth in their farm system in order to make another run in the playoffs. Players like Josh Bell, Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, Tyler Glasnow, Elias Diaz, and Roberto Osuna symbolize a bright future for the Pirates and for all Pirates fans. For the Penguins, Jake Guentzel, Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, Olli Maata, Justin Shultz, Matthew Murray, Tristan Jarry, and Jean-Sebastian Dea symbolize a revival of the speed game with highly skilled youth. Rookies not only add energy, but also a new outlook and a breath of fresh air. Most veteran teams need a few rookies to keep the clubhouse or bench loose. I strongly advocate for rookies to push for the major leagues and hope to see these players having breakout years in the near future.