By Chris Nosek
Last season was just the third time since the Rocket Richard Trophy started being awarded to the league leading goal scorer in 1998-99 when it was shared between two players: Alex Ovechkin and David Pastrnak. Having won it now 9 times, sharing it only once, putting your money on anyone other than Ovechkin would seem crazy.
Auston Matthews, Alex Ovechkin, and Leon Draisaitl lead the Vegas odds to score the most goals this season, which isn’t unexpected given that they scored 47, 48, and 43 goals respectively last season. If he wasn’t starting the season on IR, David Pastrnak would likely find his way on this list as well. Ovi has proven year in and year out that he will be competitive for this award, while Draisaitl has carved out a name for himself even in the shadows of Connor McDavid. With a veteran in Joe Thorton, Matthews certainly has a supporting cast who should be able to help him elevate his game to another level. Any of these guys taking home the award should shock no one – so who can challenge them for it?
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Back to full health again after completely destroying his knee two seasons ago, McDavid is a threat to score EVERY time he touches the puck. If he truly is back to 100% healthy, then as he goes into his age 24 season, there is no reason why McDavid can’t post more goals than anyone else in the league. With the realigned divisions, the best goaltenders he will face the most are Carey Price and Connor Hellebuyck. Yes, Matt Murray and Jakub Markstrom have shown to be solid, but with enough time McDavid has proven to be able to figure out any netminder.
Some believe that at 25 years old, Nathan MacKinnon has taken the throne as the best player in the National Hockey League. Vegas actually has MacKinnon 5th in their odds behind the top three listed above and Leon Draisaitl. MacKinnon is certainly more known for the assists he tallys than his goals. Last season, he was only 13 goals behind Ovechkin and Pastrnak who split the award so it’s not out of the question that someone as talented as MacKinnon is certainly capable of taking a big step in the goals department and taking home the hardware for most goals.
Another multi-time winner of the Rocket Richard, and the player who shared it last. Back in 2010 he shared the award with Sidney Crosby when they both scored 51 goals, then we won it again two seasons later with a 60 goal season. Capable of playing both the pivot and the wing, he has spent most of his career down the middle of the lineup; however, with Nikita Kucherov shelved for the duration of the regular season, it looks like Stamkos will see the majority of his time on the wing of Brayden Point. This will allow him to be less focused on the defensive responsibilities that come along with playing the center position and with the quality shot he has he could post a very solid and competitive number of goals this season. Fully healthy again, Stamkos will be looking to remind the world of hockey that he still has “it” and that he’s still a top player in the game.
Back in 2018, Laine broke into the National Hockey League by posting 70 points with 44 goals. Of those 44 goals, he was able to put 17 of them behind the line after the Jets acquired Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues. Over this past offseason, it was rumored that the All-Star forward became disgruntled with the organization – if this is true, then Laine performing at his best is only going to help the Jets to move him and for Laine, it will be easier to play relaxed and to the best of his ability would only help the Jets to move him. With his favorite center back on his line, the 22-year-old has every ability and opportunity to score more goals than anyone else in the NHL.
Each of the past two seasons, Marchand has finished 6th in overall scoring and currently, over that same time frame, is only 35 goals behind Alex Ovechkin – who has won the award for the past 3 straight seasons and 7 of the last 8 seasons. With 17 players between the two, how are they linked? Well, this past offseason Marchand underwent sports hernia season which, when asked about it, he said he should have gotten two years ago. “I can’t believe I waited two years to do it. I was hoping it would go away”… “It got to the point where I was only able to play at like 80 percent. I couldn’t take a full stride.” If he was playing that well at only 80 percent, what is his ceiling when fully healthy? Could be high enough to put him right up there in goals scored and a Rocket Richard candidate.
Last year, all the eyes in New York were on big name free agent acquisition Artemi Panarin – and deservedly so, as he posted 91 points and put himself in a position for Hart Trophy considerations. This season, everyone will be watching to see how the young kids progress. Youngsters who include the likes of Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil, Ryan Lindgren, Igor Sheshterkin, Alexandar Georgiev, and the number one overall pick Alexis Lafreniere will be the focus of the league and fans. Mika Zibanejad managed to score 41 goals over 57 games last season and did so fairly quietly all things considered given that it put him 5th behind only Ovechkin, Pastrnak, Matthews, and Draisaitl. Still the top center on this team, Zibanejad could sneak up on people who are looking at others on the team to put the puck in the net.