Ramblings: Looking for potential 50-goal scorers
One bit of news from the NHL, reported by Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, is that the NHL has at least floated the idea of finishing the 2019-20 season in North Dakota. Every game in North Dakota. There would obviously be a lot of logistics to figure out – hotels, travel, testing, quarantining away from family or bringing them along – not to mention how the problem of bringing in players from all over the world to a somewhat isolated state. What if someone brings the virus with them?
Anyway, this all seems so far-fetched right now. I appreciate the NHL is working on ways to resume the season, but it just seems to hard to fathom it actually happening in 2-3 months. I hope I'm wrong.
On the heels of a good Ramblings from Dobber yesterday, I wanted to do a little hypothetical: how many forwards in the NHL right now are capable of 50-goal seasons? Each player is theoretically capable of such a campaign, but there are really only a couple dozen players we could look at and realistically envision 50 goals in a regular NHL season.
Included in this list are players we wouldn't necessarily peg as 50-goal scorers at the moment. We're not going to waste internet ink talking about guys who've done it (Alex Ovechkin and Leon Draisaitl) or guys that may have done it this year had the NHL season not ended (David Pastrnak and Auston Matthews).
I'll try to keep this to just five players, lest I start making cases for players I really don't think can get there.
This is probably going to be the most obvious one on the list, given that he has the seventh-most goals ever for a player by the end of their age-21 season, and that includes a "bad" 30-goal season in 2018-19 and a shortened 2019-20. He's undoubtedly a premier goal scorer in the NHL, and with all the hype around guys like Pastrnak and Matthews, it almost feels like Laine is getting lost in the mix.
One big requirement for getting that many goals is, obviously, ice time: there have been 27 separate 50-goal seasons since the year 2000 (*starts strumming Silverchair*) and almost all of them cracked the 20-minute mark in TOI per game. That Laine got to 19:25 in 2019-20 is a good sign, but even that may not be enough. He really does need to consistently get 20 minutes a night, and I'm not sure it happens with Winnipeg. There's just too much depth on their wings.
The elephant in the room here is that Laine has just one year left on his contract and, well, there's some uncertainty in the world right now. There's a non-zero chance he's played his last game in a Jets uniform, be it from external forces or because of a trade. Where would he end up, and would he get a good centre, and would he get 20 minutes a night? Like a lot of things, we just don't know what the future holds for Laine right now. But his shot volume per game has increased every year and he's finally seeing the ice time he needs to get to the truly rarified airs of 50-goal seasons.
I know a lot of people still think of this as the team of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith, but we're only a couple years away from this being the team of Kirby Dach, Alex DeBrincat, and Adam Boqvist.
As mentioned in the section on Laine, ice time is a big factor in players being able to reach 50 goals. DeBrincat still has a ways to go before he gets to the 20-minute mark every night, but that he's played at least 17:30 in each of the last two seasons is a good start. There's also not much depth on the wings here. Of course, there's Kane and Brandon Saad, as well as an emerging Dominik Kubalik, but Saad rarely gets PP time so if he's chewing 13-14 minutes a night at 5-on-5, it's not an issue for DeBrincat. As for Kubalik, well, one season doesn’t make a player. And eventually, age is going to catch up to Kane. Assuming the 2020-21 season is some sort of modified season, we're going to get to DeBrincat's age-24 season once Kane gets to his age-33 season. It's really not hard seeing DeBrincat's ice time going up and Kane's going down in the meantime.
DeBrincat shoots about as much as elite scoring talents like Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, and Steven Stamkos, has already posted a 40-goal season, isn't even in his prime yet, and should see his ice time increase over the next 2-3 seasons without much competition outside of Patrick Kane. He had a down year in 2019-20 with just 18 goals, and I think it's very much worth going to see what he'd cost in a dynasty league right now.
Sometimes I think I use hyperbole too often both in my writing and in daily life. It's often just to reinforce a point I've made, but using it too often reduces the effect. You eventually have to get more and more outlandish and at a certain point, credibility is lost. It's something I'm conscious of and am trying to make a more concerted effort in reigning in.
With that said, here's something I truly believe and is not hyperbole: Svechnikov is the next Stamkos.
Here is a list of players who've scored at least 40 even-strength goals as a teenager since the start of the 2000-01 season, and the column to the far right is how many minutes it took them to score each ES goal:
For the record, Svechnikov didn't get to 40 ES goals over the last two years, but he was at 38, and him getting two more in the final 14 games of the season seems probable. In his career to date, Svech has scored 38 even-strength goals in 2339 total minutes of ice time, or one goal every 61.55 minutes. That pace puts him firmly in company with the names mentioned. He's not on the cusp of being a star; he's already a star to anyone paying attention. He's on the cusp of being one of a handful of elite wingers in the league.
There are still steps to take here – his shot rate needs to climb and he needs a lot more ice time – but he just turned 20 years old a couple weeks ago. There is a lot of growth to come, and I cannot wait to see Svech as a final product.
What concerns me most about Meier and his future is the general quality of the Sharks. This season was an unmitigated disaster and the core of that team outside of Meier and Tomas Hertl is all aging. We're talking several key players on the wrong side of 30 years old. Beyond that, the centres for Meier are either Logan Couture – who turned 31 a couple weeks ago and is not an elite playmaker like Nicklas Backstrom or Joe Thornton – or Tomas Hertl, who is similar to Couture in that regard. With all that said, things are lining up for Meier.
First, there's his goal-scoring talents. He's 10th in the league in goals/60 over the last two years at even strength and he's younger than every player ahead of him on the list save for Connor McDavid, and that includes a "down" 2019-20 season. Like the others listed in these Ramblings, it'll be ice time that determines whether he has a chance to get there. Even in a year where the Sharks are floating near the lottery line, he was still playing just 17:17 per night. We need him over 19 minutes at an absolute bare minimum, and not certain he gets there. I hope so, it's just not for certain.
More than anything is the power-play scoring. He hasn't consistently been PP1 for his career, and has just 11 PP goals in 229 regular season games going back three years. We would want that total for a single season if we want him to get to 50 goals. There is a long way to go here, but Meier has the talent to do it – now he just needs the opportunity.
The last guy to mention is Tkachuk, and I think he has a realistic shot of getting there. Yes, the Sens have a long way to go before assembling a playoff team, and Tkachuk really needs a reliable top-line playmaking centre. Whether the Sens have one of those right now is debatable.
Tkachuk already fills a lot of requirements. Ice time? Well he was just under 19 minutes a game in his second season, and given the lack of talent, it seems he'll be crossing 19 minutes next season. Shot rate? Well, on a per-60 rate at even strength, he's shot more often over the last two years than guys like MacKinnon, Pastrnak, and Evander Kane. Those are two key points, and he passes them in spades.
The worry, as mentioned in the first paragraph, is having someone to play with. He's pretty much on an island right now and though there is talent coming, it's unproven. Tkachuk probably needs to round out his game a bit more so he's more threatening than just sitting at the top of the crease, but the building blocks are here. I'm excited for his future.
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