When the 2016-17 NHL season comes to an end there is a very good chance that Edmonton Oilers second-year standout Connor McDavid could end up leading the NHL in scoring. He entered the season as one of the odds on favorites to win the Art Ross Trophy, he was third in the NHL in points per game as a rookie, and he started the season with back-to-back three point games, something only other four other players have done in the past 15 years.
With that talent and early production comes a lot of expectation, and in the early days of the season there seems to be a belief floating around the hockey world that he might even be capable of topping the 120-point mark this season.
Even if McDavid takes a gigantic leap forward this season and becomes the best player in hockey — and he could do that — he probably isn’t going to score at that sort of level.
It even be a stretch to think he could hit triple digits when you consider what has happened to individual scoring in the NHL over the past decade, and especially within the past three or four years.
First, keep in mind the absurdity that is scoring 120 points in the NHL.
The NHL has had a lot of great players over the past 15 years. Some generational talents. Yet only three different players have topped the 120-point mark since the start of the 2000-01 season.
Jaromir Jagr did it twice, while Joe Thornton and Sidney Crosby have each done it once.
Nobody has done it since Crosby’s 2006-07 performance (his second year in the league), while Thornton and one of Jagr’s came during the 2005-06 season when the NHL saw a brief scoring surge coming out of the lockout.
That was a year power plays skyrocketed due to the league’s brief flirtation with actually enforcing the obstruction and interference rules. Jagr’s other season over that stretch came in 2000-01, when he spent half of the year skating next to Mario Lemieux.
McDavid, as great as he is, does not have the luxury of playing in an offensively charged era or alongside one of the best players of all time.
It is also important to keep in mind what the top players in the league are capable of now. Over the past five years, not only has the 100-point scorer become almost non-existent, but the 90-point scorer is almost unheard of, too.
Over the past three seasons only two players have reached 100 (Patrick Kane’s 106-point season a year ago, and Crosby’s 104 points in 2013-14). And it’s not like there have been a bunch of players that have narrowly missed. Only six different players since the start of 2013-14 have topped even 85 points.
That does not seem likely to change this season.
So let’s take a look at the players that might be capable of winning the scoring title this season, and how many points they might reach.
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
Let’s start with McDavid. If you want to buy into the 120-point number let’s first consider what that would require. Assuming he played in all 82 games that would mean a point per game average of 1.47 points per game.
That would be a 0.40 point per game increase from what he did as a rookie. As a point of comparison, here are 10 recent top draft picks (and one No. 2 overall pick, Evgeni Malkin, that would have been a No. 1 pick in any other year) and how much their point-per-game average increased from year one to year two. They are ranked in order of largest point-per-game increase.
1. Steven Stamkos: +0.58
2. Sidney Crosby: +0.26
3. Taylor Hall: +0.22
4. John Tavares: +0.19
5. Evgeni Malkin: +0.19
6. Ilya Kovalchuk: +0.19
7. Patrick Kane: 0.00
8. Nathan MacKinnon: -.0.18
9. Alex Ovechkin: -0.19
10. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: -0.24
McDavid will probably end up being better than a lot of the players on that list, but there are still a lot of truly great players on that list (Crosby and Ovechkin being the two best players of their era) that did not manage anything close to that sort of increase from year one to year two.
The only one that did (and he actually exceeded it by quite a bit) was Stamkos. But even that is a tough comparison because Stamkos was starting from such a low point in year one because he spent the first half of his rookie season struggling to get significant playing time.
The Dallas Stars duo: Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin
Benn and Seguin have become the dominant offensive pair in the league over the past couple of years.
Benn has finished in the top-two in the scoring race in each of the past two seasons (winning the scoring title two years ago thanks to a huge game in the regular season finale).
Seguin has been better than a point-per-game player since joining the Stars and is now in his age 25 season, the age most scorers tend to hit their peak offensive numbers. They also get the luxury of spending a ton of time on the ice together.
As good as they have been together (and on their own) in Dallas, neither one has yet to hit 90 points in any single season (to be fair, Benn missed by just one point this past season).
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
It would be easy to assume that just because he reached 106 points a year ago that he is a lock to get at least 90 this season, but it is quite likely that 2015-16 is going to be the best season he ever has in hockey.
It is still the only time in his career that he topped 90 points, and even if you take into account injury shortened and lockout shortened season, he only had one other season (2012-13, when he was 24 years old) where he scored at a better than 90 point pace.
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
You never want to count Sidney Crosby out in these discussions, and he was my preseason pick to lead the league in scoring. And he still might, depending on how quickly he recovers from his concussion and gets back in the lineup. But that early season absence could be costly in this race, and even though he is still probably the best player in hockey, he is not going to be the point machine he was a few years ago.
Even if you look at his 2015-16 season and just focus on the Mike Sullivan-coached part and include the 24 playoff games, his point per game average was barely at a 90-point pace over 82 games. Still among the best in hockey, but not quite triple digit territory.
Other than the aforementioned five players it would take somebody seriously coming from out of nowhere to top the league in scoring or seriously threaten the century mark.
Again, almost nobody tops 85 points in the league anymore, and that includes the best of the best.
Alex Ovechkin hasn’t been a 90-point player since 2009-10.
John Tavares has topped 80 points twice in his career and never had more than 90.
Joe Thornton is still probably one of the top-10 all-around players in the league, but at age 37 it is hard to imagine him improving on the point-per-game he put up a year ago, especially when that performance was a huge increase from where his production had been in recent years.
Erik Karlsson would be an intriguing name to watch just because he is so dynamic and plays such a central role in the Senators offense, but he is also a defenseman.
In the end, one of the five players mentioned at the top is probably going to end up leading the league in scoring this season, and it could very well be McDavid.
Just don’t get your hopes set on him doing it with 120 points.