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NHL teams are averaging 3.16 goals each per game this season. If that holds up, it would be the highest rate for a full season since 1993-94, when Wayne Gretzky racked up 130 points to capture the last of his 10 scoring titles as the league experimented with an 84-game season.
A lot has changed in the three decades since. The Great One, for instance, is now a 61-year-old grandfather and gambling pitchman. But, in some ways, it’s the early ’90s all over again. As scoring (trending upward for the better part of a decade now) continues to rise, some players are piling up Gretzky-like numbers and the league is reportedly even mulling a return to 84 games. Here’s a look at some of the most eye-catching performers in this throwback environment:
The NHL scoring leader reached the 60-point plateau last week in just his 31st game. That’s the quickest since 1995-96, when Mario Lemieux did it in a record 21 games (c’mon!) and his Pittsburgh teammate Jaromir Jagr got there in 29. McDavid is now up to 64 points in 33 contests — a 159-point pace. Only two players in history have ever put up that many: No. 99 and no. 66
With a 10-point lead in the scoring race (over his Edmonton teammate Leon Draisaitl), the 25-year-old McDavid is poised to capture his fifth Art Ross Trophy, which would put him behind only Gretzky (10), Howe (6 ) and Lemieux (6) for the most ever. But the scariest thing about McDavid right now is that he’s apparently decided to become the world’s best goal-scorer too. With 28 goals already, he’s the front-runner to capture his first Rocket Richard Trophy and is on pace for 70. No one has scored that many since Alexander Mogilny and Teemu Selanne potted 76 apiece in 1992-93.
Last week in Chicago, the Washington Capitals star scored a hat trick to become just the third player in history to reach 800 goals in the regular season. Ovechkin had a chance to catch Gordie Howe for second on the all-time list last night against Detroit (Mr. Hockey’s primary team), but couldn’t pull off another storybook moment.
Still, it’s all but inevitable that Ovechkin will surpass Howe — and probably Gretzky too. The 37-year-old Russian is showing no signs of slowing down as he hurtles toward a second straight 50-goal season and the 10th of his career. If Ovechkin maintains his career rate of 0.61 goals per game (slightly better than Gretzky’s), or even if he finally starts to age like a normal human, he should surpass No. 99 during the 2024-25 season.
While McDavid performs his Gretzky/Lemieux impression, Karlsson is doing his best Bobby Orr. The 32-year-old San Jose defenseman is enjoying a comeback season, notching 41 points in 33 games to recapture the offensive form he showed before Ottawa traded him to the Sharks in 2018. If Karlsson keeps up this pace (a big if, given his medical chart) he’d become the first defenseman in 31 years to reach 100 points.
Tage Thompson and Jason Robertson
After enjoying breakthrough seasons last year, these two young forwards, both from the American Sun Belt, currently rank second and third in goals and third and fourth in points.
Thompson is a 25-year-old, 6-foot-6 center who was born in the Phoenix area. He made headlines earlier this month with a rare five-goal game for the Buffalo Sabers and now trails McDavid by just two with 26 goals in 32 games. That’s a 67-goal pace. Brett Hull is the only American to score that many in a season.
Robertson is a 23-year-old winger who was born in the Los Angeles area and is one of the few players of Filipino descent to appear in the NHL. In October, he parlayed his breakthrough 41-goal season into a four-year, $31-million US contract with Dallas. That looks like a bargain for the Stars as Robertson is tied with former MVP Nikita Kucherov for fourth in the points race with 47 through 33 games and ranks third in goals with 24.