Ranking the Best Pure Goal Scorers in the NHL This Season
The best NHL players achieve their stardom through a variety of abilities. While natural attributes such as speed or toughness or skills such as playmaking or puck-handling are essential, it's the goal scorers who draw the most acclaim.
After all, outscoring one's opponent is the basis of the game. Those who do it better than others are the ones who become the most celebrated superstars.
The annual award for the league's leading goal scorer is named for Maurice "Rocket" Richard. He was the first player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a season and to reach 500 career goals.
Richard was renowned as a pure goal scorer. That's a player with a hard shot, a quick release, the ability to put themselves in prime scoring positions and the creativity to score dazzling goals. NHL scoring stars of the past with those traits included father and son Bobby and Brett Hull, Pavel Bure, Teemu Selanne, Mike Gartner, and Jarome Iginla.
So where do snipers like Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin and Boston Bruins winger David Pastrnak rank among this season's pure goal scorers? That's what we're going to determine by taking into consideration such factors as scoring ability, career stats and consistency of production.
10. Patrik Laine, Columbus Blue Jackets
Selected second overall in 2016 by the Winnipeg Jets, Patrik Laine wasted little time making a splash as a goal scorer. With 36 goals and 64 points in 73 games, he led the Jets in goals, finished second among rookie scorers and was a finalist for the Calder Memorial Trophy.
Laine enjoyed an even better sophomore campaign in 2017-18, tallying a career-high 44 goals. The talented young Finnish winger led the Jets in goal scoring for the second straight season and finished second among all NHL scorers.
In just two seasons, Laine appeared to be the heir apparent to Ovechkin as the NHL's leading goal scorer. However, his production dropped to 30 goals the following season and 28 goals in 68 games in 2019-20 as he was moved off the Jets' top line. Traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets in January, he managed just 12 goals in 46 games between the Jackets and Jets.
Laine was off to a good start this season with three goals and 10 points in nine games until he was sidelined four to six weeks by an oblique injury in early November. The 6'5", 216-pounder still has a deadly shot and remains a talented scorer.
At 23, he has plenty of time to get his career back on track once he returns to action.
9. Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets
Overshadowed earlier in his career by notable Jets stars such as Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and former teammate Laine, Kyle Connor has emerged as a scoring star. A skillful, speedy left winger, he has become the Jets' most consistent goal scorer.
Making his full-time NHL debut in 2017-18, Connor tallied 31 goals in 76 games. He followed up with 34 goals the next season and 38 in 71 games in 2019-20.
A versatile forward who also plays a responsible two-way game, Connor has established himself as a dangerous scoring threat with slick playmaking skills and solid offensive instincts. He sits sixth overall among NHL scorers with 141 total goals since 2017-18.
Despite last season's pandemic-shortened schedule, the 24-year-old still tallied 26 goals and 50 points in 56 games. He leads the Jets with 12 goals and 22 points in his first 20 contests of this season.
8. Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks
With their Stanley Cup glory years behind them, the Chicago Blackhawks are in decline. A rare bright spot for the future is Alex DeBrincat. The 23-year-old winger has become an invaluable part of their scoring punch.
Small by NHL standards at 5'7" and 165 pounds, DeBrincat has more than held his own. A smart, gifted goal scorer with terrific speed, he tallied 28 goals and 52 points in 82 games during his rookie campaign in 2017-18. He followed that with a 41-goal, 76-point sophomore performance.
DeBrincat's production dipped to just 18 goals and 45 points in 2019-20, but he rebounded with 32 goals and 56 points in the shortened campaign. Since his NHL debut, he's 11th among all scorers with 131 goals. DeBrincat leads the Blackhawks with 12 goals in 20 games this season.
It would be easy to attribute DeBrincat's offensive success to superstar Patrick Kane, but they have only been full-time linemates since last season. The combination of Kane's slick playmaking and DeBrincat's goal-scoring prowess makes them one of the NHL's top offensive duos.
7. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues
Shoulder injuries limited Vladimir Tarasenko to 34 games over the previous two seasons, as he netted just seven goals and 24 points. When healthy, however, the 29-year-old St. Louis Blues winger is among the NHL's elite goal scorers.
From his sophomore season of 2013-14 to 2018-19, Tarasenko tallied at least 33 goals five times and netted a career-high 40 goals in 2015-16. During that period, he was seventh in total goals with 203. He also led the Blues in points for three straight seasons from 2014-15 to 2016-17 and was second in each of the following two campaigns.
A first-rate offensive talent, Tarasenko is a strong-skating winger who handles the puck well and possesses a terrific shot. He doesn't shy from battling for pucks along the boards and in front of the net.
Tarasenko's health and his trade request this summer garnered more headlines than his scoring exploits. While his future with the Blues remains uncertain, he's recovered from his shoulder surgeries and regained his scoring form, with seven goals and 16 points in 20 games this term.
6. Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights
Since his breakout season in 2011-12, Max Pacioretty has been among the league's leading goal scorers. He reached or exceeded 30 goals six times and netted between 20 and 30 goals twice during that period, sitting seventh overall with 286.
Pacioretty tallied 206 of his goals during that stretch with the Montreal Canadiens. Making his NHL debut in 2008-09, he developed into a dangerous sniper for the Habs, regularly finishing as their leading goal scorer and among their points leaders.
At 6'2" and 217 pounds, Pacioretty is a big, skillful winger with a lethal wrist shot and terrific speed who also plays a solid two-way style. Acquired by the Golden Knights in 2018, he teamed up with Mark Stone to form one of the league's most dynamic offensive duos. He was also the team's leading scorer in 2019-20.
Now 33, Pacioretty has been hampered by injuries in recent years. He recently returned from missing 17 games because of a fractured foot. His absence was among the reasons for the Golden Knights' sluggish start to the season.
5. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
Steven Stamkos has a well-earned reputation as one of the NHL's best goal scorers. Since his debut in 2008-09, he sits second among NHL skaters with 450 career goals. Those stats would have been higher if not for a series of injuries since 2013 that included a broken tibia, blood clot surgery, a torn knee ligament and a core muscle injury.
Stamkos has not returned to the early-career heights that saw him win the Maurice Richard Trophy in 2010 and 2012 and become the most recent player to score 60 goals in a season. Nevertheless, the Lightning captain is still putting up solid numbers when healthy. He netted 43 goals in 2014-15 and 45 in 2018-19, in which he played all 82 games.
Now 31, Stamkos has morphed his game to improve his playmaking and two-way play. Nevertheless, he still possesses one of the league's best one-timers. He is often the trigger man on the Lightning power play, sitting second among all scorers since his rookie campaign with 169 power-play goals. His scoring ability helped the Lightning win back-to-back Stanley Cups.
Despite his age and the wear and tear to his body, Stamkos remains a potent offensive weapon. He's their leading scorer this season with 11 goals and 23 points in 19 games.
4. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins
The trigger man on the Boston Bruins' top line, David Pastrnak was selected in the first round (25th overall) in the 2014 draft and sits fifth in goals since 2016-17 with 181.
That season was the Czech winger's breakout performance, tallying 34 goals in 75 games. He exceeded that number in each of the following three years, including a career-best 48 goals in the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 campaign. He would share the Rocket Richard Trophy that year with Ovechkin.
Pastrnak is a threat to score whenever he's on the ice. Possessing a deadly accurate shot, he's also a strong skater who uses his speed, finesse and puck-handling ability to elude checkers and create scoring opportunities.
Recovery from hip surgery in September 2020 limited Pastrnak to 48 games last season. Nevertheless, he finished the campaign with 20 goals and 48 points. His goal production is down early this season with just six tallies in 17 games, but he's still on a point-per-game pace.
3. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
The first pick in the 2016 draft, Auston Matthews wasted no time in establishing himself among the league's top goal scorers.
At 6'3" and 205 pounds, Matthews is a big-bodied center with a nose for the net and a hard, accurate shot. He uses his size and stick-handling ability to maintain possession of the puck and create scoring chances.
Matthews tallied 40 goals in his NHL debut season, becoming the first Toronto Maple Leafs rookie to reach that mark. His efforts also made him the 2016-17 winner of the Calder Memorial Trophy. Since then, he's second among all active scorers with 208 total goals.
Injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic prevented Matthews from reaching the vaunted 50-goal plateau over the past four seasons. Over the past two campaigns, however, he's demonstrated he could get there in a full, healthy campaign. The Leafs star netted 47 goals in 2019-20 and took home the Rocket Richard Trophy last season with 41 goals in 52 games despite a nagging wrist injury.
2. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers are blessed with two superstars in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. While McDavid can score highlight-reel goals at high speed, he still tends to be more of a playmaker. Draisaitl also has elite playmaking skills, but he's become more of a goal scorer.
Since his emergence from McDavid's shadow in 2018-19, Draisaitl leads all scorers with 144. That was also the same season he reached the 50-goal plateau, something McDavid has yet to do. He is also the only sniper besides Ovechkin to reach that single-season milestone since 2015-16.
The 6'2", 208-pound Draisaitl spends a good deal of time skating alongside McDavid, but it's a mistake to assume he can't produce without the Oilers captain at his side. He's stepped up in the past when injuries sidelined McDavid or when they have played on separate lines. A versatile forward who can play center or left wing, the 26-year-old also kills penalties and does well in the faceoff circle.
Draisaitl is the league leader with 20 goals and 40 points. McDavid is close behind in points with 36 but sits six goals behind his teammate. Draisaitl could reach 50 goals again if maintains his rate of production. He would also become the first player to win the Rocket Richard Trophy and Art Ross Trophy in the same season since Ovechkin in 2012-13.
1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
No one should be surprised to see Alex Ovechkin atop this list. The best goal scorer of his generation and one of the all-time greats, the Washington Capitals captain continues to dazzle fans with his exploits.
Ovechkin has been a goal-scoring machine since breaking into the league in 2005-06. The 6'3", 238-pound left winger is a lethal combination of natural goal-scoring skill and rugged physical play. He's 36, but age has not dulled his offensive instincts, his deadly one-timer shot or his zest for scoring. He already has 18 goals in 21 games this season, sitting second in the league.
The stats tell the story. Since his rookie campaign, Ovechkin has reached the 50-goal plateau eight times, as well as 40 goals in three other seasons and 30 in four others. He's won the Richard Trophy an impressive nine times, as well as the Hart Memorial Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award three times.
Ovechkin has his sights set on Wayne Gretzky's record of 894 goals. He recently surpassed Hall of Famer Brett Hull to move into fourth place with 742. With 748 goals as of Sunday, he should move past Jaromir Jagr's 766 into third place later this season.
Stats accurate as of Nov. 27, 2021, and via NHL.com.