Once upon a time (just a few seasons ago) 50-goal scorers were a rarity in the NHL. Steven Stamkos and Evgeni Malkin both reached the milestone in 2011-12. Then only one player, Alex Ovechkin, managed to net at least 50 goals in a single season over the next three 82-game seasons. No goal scorer would meet that level until Ovechkin and Leon Draisaitl in 2018-19, and that was once again followed by two seasons without (although, condensed seasons did stop players’ attempts despite their efforts and paces).

Finally, in 2021-22, there were more 50-goal scorers in the NHL — Auston Matthews, Draisaitl, Chris Kreider and Ovechkin. It’s no surprise it happened during a year in which scoring was at its highest (3.14 average goals per game) since 1993-94. That’s been taken a step further this year — six players are on pace to hit 50 while scoring is up to 3.18 goals, on average.

Unfortunately, five out of six players on pace for the milestone have little chance to catch up with the league leader in goal scoring. Connor McDavid’s running away with the Rocket Richard Trophy, so far with 58 goals in 70 games. But the race for second place behind him does bring some intrigue. Who has the best chance of reaching him? Let’s break it down by looking at some of the best scorers in the league and how they generate goals.

*For consistency, all data was collected prior to Sunday, March 19’s games


Connor McDavid

58 goals, 68-goal pace

When The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn last checked in on NHL Awards Watch, McDavid had 54 goals in 65 games. Per Luszczyszyn’s model, that put him on pace for 65 goals across a full season. A four-game goal streak has already changed that, as he’s now up to 58 goals. That averages out to a race of .83 goals per game, which shakes out to about 68 in 82 games. No one has scored at least 68 goals in a single season since Mario Lemieux in 1992-93. The closest in the modern area, since the 2004-05 lockout, was Ovechkin’s 65-goal season back in 2007-08. He’s one of three players to even hit 60 since then, along with Stamkos in 2011-12 and Matthews 10 years later.

McDavid’s goal scoring has been a progression over the years; after three straight years in the 40-goal range, he’s kicked it up a level this year. Unsurprisingly, there’s been a spike in his shooting percentage to 19.3. But this isn’t just a matter of a player getting luckier with his chances in all situations. He’s increased his shot generation, is better at getting those shots on net, and is driving to the quality areas incredibly well. Plus, it helps that his goal generation doesn’t rely on power-play scoring; that makes up about 33 percent of his goal scoring.

Along with extreme efficiency with his wrist and snap shots, McDavid’s quick hands, ability to adapt on the fly and overall speed are what make him such a threat. Not to mention his shot isn’t the only thing goaltenders have to be worried about; few players generate as many high-danger shot assists as the Oilers’ generational center. But what’s impressive is the fact that he’s only getting set up by dangerous passes at an average rate among forwards in the league at five-on-five, according to Corey Sznajder’s tracking.

It shows just how much effort McDavid puts into his own scoring chances; he’s generally the puck carrier and can turn his transition plays into scoring chances, or possess the puck in the zone until he creates a shooting lane for himself.  No one in the league generates scoring chances and sets them up like McDavid; he’s in a tier to himself.


David Pastrnak

47 goals, 58-goal pace

The race for second place starts with an elite shooter in Boston. Pastrnak’s having one of the best seasons of his career, and is about to set a goal-scoring record for himself — it could be by as high as 10 goals if he reaches his current pace of 58.

While Pastrnak can set up his teammates and bring the puck into the offense with control, his specialty is shot-making — whether off the rush or the cycle. The winger’s a volume shooter with a lethal finish. He attempts about 26.8 shots per 60 minutes of play in all situations, which is both a career-high and the most frequent shooting of anyone in the league. Thanks to the quality of those chances, his individual expected goal rate is a personal high, too. What increases the danger of those shots is the fact that he’s often set up by a quality pass. While most of Pastrnak’s shots come from the home plate area like McDavid, his are a lot more spread out than the center’s. And on the power play, those shots are much more heavily concentrated to the left circle where he’s at his best from a finishing perspective.