Loui Eriksson

Getty

How many goals will Nikita Kucherov score this season?

12 Comments

The Tampa Bay Lightning continued to roll on Thursday night with a dominating 5-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings. Leading the way was Nikita Kucherov with another three-point effort including his league-leading 16th goal of the season. He enters play on Friday with a three-goal lead over Alex Ovechkin for the top spot in the NHL and is of to one of the best starts to a season (at least as far as goal-scoring is concerned) in recent league history.

After scoring a career-high 40 goals a year ago (in only 74 games) he looks like he is destined to shatter that number this season, barring injury.

So what is his ceiling or goals this season? 45? 50? Maybe even 60?

Keep in mind this is an era where the 50-goal scorer is nearly extinct. Over the past 10 seasons only nine different players have scored at least 50 goals in a season. Only three have hit that mark since the start of the 2011-12 season. But we also haven’t really seen a player storm out of the gates quite like this. Not even Alex Ovechkin, the greatest goal scorer of this generation and one of the best to ever play in the NHL, has started a season with this many goals this far in.

According to the Hockey-Reference database, Kucherov is just the 20th player since the start of the 1987-88 season to score at least 16 goals in his team’s first 17 games of a season.

He is just the fourth player to do it since 1996. Two of the other three were Daniel Alfredsson and Simon Gagne during the 2005-06 season, the one year in the past two decades when goal-scoring across the league saw a significant spike, and, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Alex Steen.

The rest of the players all did it during the run-and-gun late 1980s and early 1990s.

When looking at the list of previous players to score 16 goals in his team’s first 17 games all but one went on to score at least 30 goals. The one player that didn’t was Chris Kontos, finishing the 1992-93 season with 27.

Steen was the only other player on the list to not score at least 40, having scored 33 goals in 68 games.

That would have been a 39-goal pace over 82 games.

Twelve of them went on to score at least 50 goals, including some video game type numbers from the likes of Mario Lemieux, Brett Hull, Steve Yzerman and Bernie Nicholls in the late 80s and early 90s.

What stands out the most about Kucherov’s start, aside from the fact he is doing it in 2017-18 when players simply do not score goals like this, is the fact that he has one of the lowest shooting percentages (23.8) out of that group during the opening 17-game stretch. That number is a bit of a spike from his career average (15 percent) but it is still 17th in the league right now. So it’s not like it is all a luck driven run of success.

Along with a spike in shooting percentage Kucherov is also generating shots on goal at what would be a career-high rate, averaging 3.94 per game.

If he maintains a 23 percent shooting percentage the rest of the way he would score an additional 58 goals on top of what he has already scored. That is … probably not realistic, but is it entirely impossible? Over the past 10 years there have been four players (Brad Boyes, Loui Eriksson, Jason Spezza, Mark Scheifele) that have recorded at least 150 shots on goal in a season and finished with a shooting percentage higher than 23 percent.

At some point though that shooting percentage is going to drop down because, well, almost nobody is superhuman enough in today’s NHL to score that many goals with that sort of shot volume.

If he maintains a similar shot volume right over the remaining 65 games and simply shot at his normal career average (15 percent) that would still give him another 40 goals on top of what he has already scored this season. That would give him 57 goals, which would be the highest total in the NHL since Steven Stamkos scored 60 during the 2011-12 season.

If he only shot at 10 percent over the next 65 games (keep in mind the only time Kucherov shot lower than 14 percent in a season was his rookie season when he only appeared in 52 games) that would still be an additional 25 goals and give him 42 on the season. That total would have placed him second in the NHL a season ago, only two behind Sidney Crosby.

In other words, what we are looking at here with Kucherov this season is the potential for what could be one of the best goal-scoring seasons in recent NHL history.

Whether or not he can remain that sort of absurd pace over the next few months remains to be seen, but even if we see a slight regression he should still be in the driver’s seat to win his first goal-scoring crown, assuming he is able to stay healthy.

The Lightning look like the best team in the NHL right now and with Kucherov and Stamkos racking up points the way they are they have the two best offensive players in the league at the moment as well.

—-

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Eriksson looks to bounce back after ‘tough start’ with Canucks

Getty
8 Comments

The Canucks signed Loui Eriksson last summer, with the hopes he’d help give them a boost in scoring.

It didn’t quite turn out that way — at least not during Eriksson’s first year of a lucrative six-year, $36 million contract with the Canucks.

He scored only 11 times with 24 points in 65 games. The previous season in Boston, he scored 30 goals and 63 points in 82 games, so, yeah, it was a drastic drop in production in one year for the veteran winger, who started the year with a 13-game scoring drought.

“It was a tough start,” said Eriksson, per The Canadian Press. “I had to work uphill through the whole season.”

Read more: Under pressure: Loui Eriksson

That’s a difficult start for any player, but especially for one at the beginning of an expensive new deal in a new market.

“I’m anxious to see Loui. I’m confident that he’ll have a good season. We’ve talked about that … about the transition from Boston to Vancouver,” coach Travis Green said at the start of training camp. “He knows he has to have a better year than he had last year. I think he’s more than capable of it.”

The Canucks were active this summer, too, signing a number of free agents. Again, the hope is the additions they made heading into the new season — Sam GagnerThomas Vanek and Michael Del Zotto among them — could help give them a spark offensively, particularly on the power play.

Eriksson’s season ended in early March because of a lower-body injury. Now he’ll look to rebound from a disappointing season at the age of 32.

Golden Knights score 9 goals, rout Canucks in first preseason game

Getty
9 Comments

It may not have counted in the official standings, but the Vegas Golden Knights hit the ice for a game for the first time on Sunday afternoon and put on quite a show.

The Golden Knights absolutely obliterated the Vancouver Canucks by a 9-4 margin in their first exhibition game thanks to four-goal outbursts in the first and third periods.

Leading the way for the Golden Knights on Sunday was 21-year-old forward Tyler Wong.

Wong not only opened the scoring for the Golden Knights just 4:58 into the game, he added two more goals later in the game to complete the hat trick. He also picked up an assist for a four-point night.

Nick Suzuki, one of three first-round picks by the Golden Knights, also scored in the win.

Both teams used fairly bare bones rosters that were made up mostly of prospects, but Vegas’ young players clearly ended up getting the better of the play with nine goals from six different players and 38 shots on goal.

Vegas didn’t have Marc-Andre Fleury, James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith or David Perron in the lineup, while the Canucks didn’t use Henrik or Daniel Sedin, Loui Eriksson, Bo Horvat, Thomas Vanek, or any of the regular defenseman.

The Golden Knights continue their preseason on Tuesday night when they visit the Colorado Avalanche.

They will play their first home preseason game on Tuesday, September 26 against the Los Angeles Kings.

Canucks sign ‘foundational player’ Bo Horvat to six-year, $33 million contract (Updated)

Getty
12 Comments

The Vancouver Canucks and restricted free agent Bo Horvat are closing in on a long-term contract extension, per TSN hockey insiders Bob McKenzie and Pierre LeBrun.

According to LeBrun, the deal will be for six years and it’ll come with an annual average value of $5.5 million ($33 million total).

Update: The Canucks made the announcement official via their Twitter account.

“Bo has quickly become a foundational player on our team and we’re thrilled for him to be a part of what we’re building here long term,” GM Jim Benning said in a release. “His commitment and work ethic have helped his game improve each season. He’s already a leader on our team and a young player fans can be excited to watch for years to come.”

Horvat was the only player on the Canucks’ roster to finish the season with 20 goals. The 22-year-old also led the team in scoring, as he accumulated 52 points in 81 games.

The new contract makes Horvat the fourth-highest paid player on the team behind the Sedins ($7 million each) and Loui Eriksson ($6 million).

“It’s a great feeling to be able to continue my career for six more seasons in Vancouver and I’m grateful to the Aquilini family and Canucks management group for making this possible,” Horvat said. “Since being drafted by the Canucks, I have been welcomed by fans with open arms and I’m incredibly proud and fortunate to call this city and province home. I couldn’t be more excited to help this team win.”

The move means that the Canucks now have 15 forwards under contract for the upcoming season. Vancouver also has over $1.987 million in salary cap space.

Report: Upshall to attend Canucks training camp on PTO

Getty
4 Comments

Scottie Upshall has been searching for his latest NHL opportunity, and it sounds like he’s found one.

According to Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy, Upshall has accepted a professional tryout from the Vancouver Canucks.

The 33-year-old spent the last two seasons with the St. Louis Blues. Last year, he had 10 goals, eight assists and 45 penalty minutes in 73 games.

“There’s a hunger with staying in the NHL and winning a Stanley Cup, helping a team get to the next level. I’ve done that my whole career,” Upshall told the Toronto Sun in August.

“I had a great year last year. It was my best year in five years. I played every game in the playoffs and had a lot of success playing a two-way game and being a penalty killer.”

You’d think that he’d have a decent chance of coming away with a contract on a rebuilding Vancouver team, but the Canucks currently have a lot of forwards on the roster. The Sedin twins, Loui Eriksson, Brandon Sutter, Sam Gagner, Sam Gagner, Derek Dorsett, Thomas Vanek, Sven Baertschi, Brock Boeser, Markus Granlund, Alexander Burmistrov, Brendan Gaunce, Anton Rodin, Reid Boucher, Michael Chaput and Jayson Megna all already have contracts going into training camp. That list doesn’t even include Bo Horvat, who is a restricted free agent right now.

A lot of those players can be sent to the minors with no cap repercussions, but that’s still a lot of players Upshall will have to beat out just to earn a contract.