For the past 12 years the NHL’s goal scoring crown has been dominated by the same small group of players.
- Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin has won it outright eight different times, including six of the past seven years. One day the award might even be named after him.
- Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos have won it outright one team each, and then shared it one other time (the 2009-10 season when they both scored 51 goals).
- Corey Perry won it once during the 2010-11 season.
And that has been it for 12 years.
But this season there seems to be a new player getting ready to break that cycle of dominance as Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak has raced out to a massive lead on the goal leaderboard. After his hat trick on Tuesday night in a rout of the Montreal Canadiens, Pastrnak has already scored 23 goals in his first 24 games this season. As of Wednesday he has a five-goal lead on the next closest player (Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid), even though he has played in two fewer games. That is already a gigantic edge and leads to this question: Assuming Pastrnak stays reasonably healthy this season, is there anyone in the league that can catch him?
It would take quite an effort.
First, just look at the current goal-pace for each of the top-10 goal-per-game players in the league so far this season (minimum 20 games played):
- David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins: 78 goals
- Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins: 58 goals
- Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: 56 goals
- Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs: 52 goals
- Leon Draisiatl, Edmonton Oilers: 50 goals
- Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: 50 goals
- Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals: 49 goals
- Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres: 47 goals
- Evander Kane, San Jose Sharks: 45 goals
- Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers: 45 goals
At their current projections Pastrnak would score 20 more goals than any other player in the NHL this season over 82 games, which would be a completely insane lead. Having said that, you probably should not expect Pastrnak to maintain that pace or score more than 70 goals this season. It is just not realistic, and at some point he is going to slow down. Only eight players in NHL history have scored more than 70 goals in a season and it hasn’t happened since the 1992-93 season, while the majority of those efforts came during the 1980s when nearly every team had somebody scoring 50 goals every year.
You also have to consider that Pastrnak has scored on more than 23 percent of his shots this season, and for as great as he is that number is probably going to regress as the season goes on and he hits the sort of inevitable drought that no player is immune to.
Along with that spike in shooting percentage he is also averaging a career-best four shots on goal per game, and when you put those two numbers factors together you get the current run he is on.
Over the previous three seasons he was a 15 percent shooter and averaged around 3.5 shots per game. So let’s say he regressed a bit from his current numbers and averaged the 3.5/15% for the remaining 58 games of the Bruins’ season. That would give him an additional 30 goals on top of what he has already scored this season, for a total of 53 goals — still higher than all but two projections on the list above (Marchand and McDavid).
If he is able to maintain that four shots per game average and maintains a 15 percent average that would still put him at 57 goals for the season, ahead of every above projection except Marchand (and even Marchand, currently scoring on 27 percent of his shots, is due for a second have regression).
In short, as long as Pastrnak stays reasonably healthy and manages to score goals at a pace similar to what he did over the previous three full seasons it is going to take a herculean effort from someone else in the league to overtake him.
After more than a decade it seems like the NHL’s goal scoring crown is finally on the verge of going to a new face.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.