Frozen In Time: 6 Timeless NHL Rookie Cards Collectors Are After
These athletes’ incredible legacies are reflected in the value and demand for their most iconic rookie cards.
The future value of a current rookie card is unpredictable, and that’s what makes them so exciting. Collectors can make informed purchases based on top prospects, but if an athlete’s career never takes off, that fancy piece of cardstock may never be worth much more than the material it’s printed on. On the other hand, as an athlete’s accomplishments build over time, those mementos of their first foray into professional sports can mean big bucks for their lucky (or prescient) owners.
Unsurprisingly, prospective buyers and sellers of NHL rookie cards can expect some of the highest price tags for athletes who are consistently mentioned in the GOAT conversation.
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6 of the Most Valuable NHL Rookie Cards
These six cards are worth keeping tabs on. If you’re lucky enough to own one, you might consider selling — in full, or in part — when the time is right.
The Great One: Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card
Just as the 1909 T206 Honus Wagner has been called the “Mona Lisa” of baseball cards, Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers rookie card might be the closest NHL equivalent.
It should come as no surprise that The Great One’s NHL rookie card is in such high demand. Despite having retired over 20 years ago, many of Gretzky’s season and career records still stand, some of them seemingly untouchable. The incomparable number 99 holds the most career goals, career assists, and goals in a season. He also occupies an astounding 11 of the top 12 marks for single-season assists.
In May of 2021, a 1979 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky rookie card sold for a record-breaking $3.75 million. This card boasted a PSA Gem Mint 10 grade, one of only two such cards in known existence. But even less well-preserved Gretzky cards are worth quite a bit (both in dollars and in bragging rights). A BVG 7.5 version of this card is currently selling for $4,222 on Dibbs. For a PSA 8 or 9, you’re looking at upwards of $30,000 and $115,000, respectively, with lower grade cards in the mid-hundreds to low thousands.
Le Magnifique: Mario Lemieux Rookie Card
Known for his speed, size, skill, and work ethic, Lemieux made an impact right off the bat (or stick) by scoring on the first shot of his first shift with the Pittsburgh Penguins, with whom he spent his entire career. In his rookie season, Lemieux secured the 1985 Calder Trophy and, over the course of 17 seasons, he scored an incredible 40 hat tricks, won two consecutive Stanley Cups and Conn Smythe trophies, and earned six Art Rosses as the League’s point leader. In 1988, Lemieux scored an unbelievable five goals five different ways in a single game; to this day, he is the only NHL player in history to have achieved this feat.
“Super Mario” is one of the best players of all time. Hence, Mario Lemieux’s rookie card is one of the most valuable. His 1985 O-Pee-Chee 9 (PSA 7) is currently priced at over $500 with the same card, PSA 9 Mint, selling for over $4,000, and a 1985 Topps Rookie Card Gem Mint PSA 10 is available for a staggering $24,500.
Jags: Jaromir Jagr Rookie Card
Over his illustrious 24-season career, Jaromir Jagr suited up for nine different teams, playing the fourth most games of any player in NHL history. He started his career in 1990 with the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he remained until 2001. In 2000, Jagr became the second Penguin to reach the 1,000 point mark, scoring a goal on a pass from none other than our last rookie card pick, Mario Lemieux.
Jagr achieved the second-most career points of all time (Gretzky, of course, holds the top spot). A two-time Stanley Cup champion and five-time Art Ross Trophy winner (four of those consecutive), Jagr also scored the most career game-winning goals and most career points by a Right Wing in League history.
Jagr’s 1990 O-Pee-Chee Premier Rookie Card #50 is the most valuable of his NHL rookie cards. A Gem Mint PSA 10 card recently listed for about $380, marking it as a more accessible choice for a starting collector.
The Great 8: Alexander Ovechkin Rookie Card
Since “Alexander the Great” burst onto the scene in 2005, he has been moving steadily up the ranks toward greatest goal-scorer ever (he currently sits at #3 behind only Gretzky and Gordie Howe). Ovechkin had a heck of a rookie season, winning the Calder Trophy with 106 points.
An 8-time NHL First-Team All-Star, Ovi helped the Capitals secure the coveted Stanley Cup in 2018, while also earning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Ovi is now tied with Gretzky and Mike Bossy at nine 50-plus goal seasons, and his 1,410 career points place him at 20th all-time (and first among active players, just one point ahead of Sidney Crosby).
One of the most sought-after Ovechkin cards is the 2005 Upper Deck Young Guns Rookie Card 443; a PSA 10 Gem Mint will land you in the $6,000-8,000 range. Dibbs currently has a PSA 9 version of this card on the market for just over $2,000.
The Next One: Sidney Crosby Rookie Card
In terms of stats and overall impact, Sidney Crosby has followed in the footsteps of both Gretzky (his “nicknamesake”) and Lemieux (his mentor and teammate for one season). The No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft, Crosby finished his rookie season with an impressive 102 points.
Crosby has twice led the League in goals, and at age 21, he was the youngest NHL captain to win a Stanley Cup. His first Cup with the Penguins in 2009 was followed by back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017.
Crosby has plenty of time to continue climbing the leaderboard in a number of categories including career assists (currently No. 21) and career points (currently No. 22). That said, his legacy is already cemented as an all-time great and future Hall of Famer, and the value of his rookie card reflects this greatness. Sid the Kid’s 2005 Upper Deck 201 (PSA 10) is worth upwards of $3,000 and Crosby’s NHL rookie cards will undoubtedly increase in value as his career continues to soar.
The Next Next One: Connor McDavid Rookie Card
Of these six athletes, “Connor McHockey” is the new kid on the ice. His rookie card is valuable both because of what the young star has already accomplished and because it carries the promise of an even brighter future. Maybe it’s some of that Gretzky magic left over in Edmonton, but McDavid has lived up to the lofty expectations set forth when the Oilers selected him first overall in the 2015 draft.
Already a three-time Ted Lindsay Award winner, two-time Hart Memorial Trophy winner, and four-time Art Ross trophy winner, McDavid was also the sixth-fastest player in history to score 600 points. He led the league in points in the 2020-2021 season, and he currently sits 4th in highest assists per game.
In February of 2022, a 2015 The Cup Exquisite Collection Connor McDavid Rookie Jersey Patch Autograph card sold at auction for $144,000, setting a new record among modern players. This card was an exclusive (1 of 97) Gem Mint 10, signed card, with a patch of the jersey McDavid wore for his rookie photoshoot. The 2015 Upper Deck Young Guns 201 PSA 10 is also selling for upwards of $3,000, suggesting that a McDavid rookie card could one day surpass the likes of Gretzky.