No rookie made a more spectacular and unsuspecting NHL debut than Montreal Canadiens goaltender Ken Dryden.
The lanky Dryden spent the entire 1970-71 season in the American Hockey League, but received a late season call up in what was expected to be a chance to give a young goalie some apprenticeship behind established starter Rogie Vachon. It was standard with the Habs back then to serve a lengthy apprenticeship. It was part of their tradition.
Dryden watched the first game from the press box, and then played in the final 6 games of the regular season. He played spectacularly, only allowing 9 goals. People still expected Vachon to start the playoffs, but to everyone's surprise, the Canadiens started a rookie at such a critical point. It was even more daunting since Montreal opened the playoffs against Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.
The first round series against Boston is now considered a classic. Dryden made spectacular save after spectacular save against the likes of Orr, Esposito and Johnny Bucyk. The Habs upset the defending champs 4 games to 3. Propelled by this feat, they went on to win the Stanley Cup themselves. It's hard to believe that any of this could have happened without Dryden, a veteran of only 6 games. He had a GAA of 3.00 in 20 games, and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
The next season he would take over as the Habs starter, and won the Calder trophy as rookie of the year.
Full Ken Dryden Biography