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Monday, April 22, 2013

A First Impression (Nearly) Like No Others

If it felt like Calgary defenceman Mark Cundari was on the ice a lot on Sunday, you're right, he was. I set out to investigate exactly how much is "a lot" and how unusual it was for a kid to play that much in his NHL debut.

Scoring a goal in your first game as Cundari did Sunday in the Flames 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild is special but not overly rare. In fact, it just happened last week with Flames winger Ben Hanowski. Collecting a two-point game as Cundari did is pretty memorable too but again, not unprecedented. What did set Cundari's NHL debut apart was the huge amount of ice time the 22-year-old logged. I only found two players that played more in their first NHL game -- Tomas Kaberle in 1998 (a whopping 29:13) and Victor Hedman in 2009 (26:27).

Spread across 27 shifts, Cundari played a total of 24:54, behind only Ryan Suter (30:46) and his defence partner TJ Brodie (27:59) for the game -- Brodie's ice time was a career-high. While Suter was on the ice nearly six extra minutes, this was also career game No. 587 for Suter compared to No. 1 for Cundari, who had spent the past two years in the AHL after going undrafted during his four years with the Windsor Spitfires (OHL). Not once did he get a chance to strut his stuff in the NHL until yesterday.

To put that time-on-ice figure into context, it's more than veteran minute muncher Jay Bouwmeester is averaging per game this year and that's one of the qualities Bouwmeester has been known for during his career. Bouwmeester, of course, was the player the Flames traded to the St. Louis Blues on Apr. 1 to acquire Cundari, goaltender Reto Berra and a conditional first round draft pick.

To get a sense of how impressive Cundari's ice time was, I went back to the 1997-98 season when the NHL started tracking time-on-ice officially. I reviewed all the rookie ice time leaders each year that were in the 19-plus minutes range as an average and looked up how much action they saw in their NHL debut. It was pretty interesting and my findings are below. I'm calling the list unofficial because while unlikely, it's possible someone played 23 or more minutes in their debut but then averaged 19 or less minutes the rest of the year and thus, did not get identified in my research.  However, you can consider this list to be pretty darn close.

All in all, it was a stellar first impression for Cundari, who was a big factor in helping Calgary win its fifth game in its last six. Judging by the NHL resumes of those around him on the list, this is likely just the start of a solid NHL career and sooner or later, the turning in of his current No. 42 for a more permanent jersey number.

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Most Time-on-Ice in NHL Debut (unofficial)

1. Tomas Kaberle Tor - 29:13, Oct. 10/98 vs Det (age 20) 1996 Rd 8, #204
2. Victor Hedman TB - 26:27, Oct. 3/09 at Atl (age 18) 2009 Rd 1, #2
3. Mark Cundari Cgy - 24:54, Apr. 21/13 at Min (age 22) *Undrafted*
4. Duncan Keith Chi - 24:18, Oct. 5/05 vs Ana (age 22) 2002 Rd 2, #54
5. Dion Phaneuf Cgy - 24:10, Oct. 5/05 at Min (age 20) 2003 Rd 1, #9
6. Ryan Murphy Fla - 23:51, Feb. 21/13 vs Wpg (age 19) 2011 Rd 1, #12
7. Ryan Whitney Pit - 23:40, Nov. 1/05 at NJ (age 22) 2002 Rd 1, #5
8. Jeff Petry Edm - 22:51, Oct. 28/10 vs Buf (age 22) Rd 2, #45
9. Anze Kopitar LA - 22:16, Oct. 6/06 at Ana (age 19), Rd 1, #11
10. Jaroslav Spacek Fla - 21:59, Oct. 9/98 vs TB (age 24), Rd 5, #117
11. Toni Lydman Cgy - 21:48, Oct. 5/00 vs Det (age 23) Rd 4, #89
11. Cam Fowler Ana - 21:48, Oct. 9/10 at Nsh (age 18) Rd 1, #12

Other Notables

Justin Schultz Edm - 20:52
Keith Yandle Phx 19:57
Dennis Wideman Cgy - 19:23
Jonas Brodin Min - 19:05
Sidney Crosby Pit - 19:00
Jack Johnson LA - 18:45
Derek Morris Cgy - 18:04
PK Subban Mtl - 18:04
Erik Karlsson Ott - 17:41
Drew Doughty LA - 17:40
Alex Ovechkin Wsh - 17:36
Tyler Myers Buf - 16:13
Kris Letang Phi - 15:01
Niklas Kronwall Det - 13:26
Jay Bouwmeester Fla - 13:20
Ryan Suter Nsh - 12:49
Shea Weber Nsh - 11:08
Zdeno Chara NYI - 7:30

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