The last time any player managed to surpass 140 points in the NHL, Connor McDavid didn’t exist.
The quick-footed Oilers captain would be born one year after Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr each finished above the lofty benchmark in 1996. But now 22 years old and a generational talent in his own right, McDavid finds himself on track to touch that rarified air, too.
Of course, there are a couple questions that come to mind when such a pursuit is considered: Is this for real? Could No. 97 actually approach the totals amassed in those run-and-gun seasons of the past, or will this early offensive outburst fizzle as the season progresses like we seem to see every year.
There’s certainly evidence to suggest it’ll be the latter.
At this point last year, Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen sat only a few points shy of McDavid’s 51-point mark through a similar number of games. He’d finish with only 87 points by the year’s end, with injuries shaving a few games off his season and his scoring pace falling back to earth as 2018-19 wore on.
A few years before that, it was Patrick Kane. Not quite at 50, but above 40 on this day in 2015. He finished with 106, still earning triple digits and scoring at a respectable pace above a point per game from December on, but not at the blistering pace that took hold during his opening 30 games.
And yet, there’s something different about McDavid’s case.
First of all, he isn’t Rantanen or Kane or any of the other talented scorers we’ve seen come through the game over the past few years. He’s a 22-year-old that already has two scoring titles on his shelf. One who, heading into Year 5 in the big leagues, is already widely considered the best in the sport, if not at least the most unstoppable when it comes to pure offence, and en route to being one of the best to ever lace them up.
He’s also got a game-changing factor working in his favour: a linemate by his side who’s scoring at just as absurd a pace.
At 29 games, both McDavid and Leon Draisaitl sit above 50 points, with both coming off 100-point campaigns. And while others have topped 40 points at this point in the season, the Oilers duo are already among a rare group when it comes to hitting 50 this quickly.
In the past two decades, only three other players managed to start as hot — Jaromir Jagr (in 1999-00), Peter Forsberg (in 2005-06), and Sidney Crosby (in 2006-07) rank as the only others in the past two decades to start a season with 50 points in under 30 games. Not bad company.
The fact that McDavid and Draisaitl are entering their primes as the league’s offence ramps up just a little bit closer to those old-school levels helps too. The combination of rule changes, the natural growth of the game, and the influence of skills and skating coaches has helped the league continue to evolve offensively, unleashing a bit of that scoring prowess previously held dormant.
The 2019 Art Ross race proved as much, as the only player to come close to hitting those mid-’90s marks from Nos. 66 and 68 was in fact Nikita Kucherov just last season, his 128 points reigning as the highest total in decades.
How unlikely is it, then, that McDavid and Draisaitl could continue to build on that, raising the ceiling back up just a little bit more? A look back at how those other quick-starting seasons from Jagr, Forsberg and Crosby panned out might provide some insight.
JAROMIR JAGR, 1999-00 (50 points through 28 games)
A 27-year-old Jagr hit 52 points by Game 28 courtesy of a five-point night against Carolina. That sterling 1999-00 season also saw the legendary Czech winger post a career-best seven-point night during a 9-3 shellacking of the Islanders, a feat he’d only match again once during his prolific career.
He wound up finishing the season with 96 points through 63 games, enough to net him his fourth scoring title, but short of that lofty 140 mark. Jagr had little help during that 1999-00 season — with Lemieux still out of the league at the time, the next highest-scorer on the roster was Alexei Kovalev, who finished with 30 fewer points than No. 68 despite playing nearly 20 more games.
Even if Jagr’s season hadn’t been cut short by injury, his overall points-per-game pace — taking into account its dip later in the year — would’ve placed him around 125 points had he suited up for all 82 games.
In terms of what that late-season dip looked like, his scoring pace over the two segments of the season looked like so:
Pace over opening 30 games: 1.77 P/GP
Pace over over next 33 games: 1.30 P/GP*
* for Jagr, this stretch marked the rest of his season.
PETER FORSBERG, 2005-06 (50 points through 28 games)
Thirty-two years old at the time, Peter Forsberg’s quick-start season came in 2005-06, with the talented Swede playing his first season as a Flyer. His 50-point clinch came in Game 28 courtesy of an eight-point, four-game stretch.
Forsberg finished the year with just 75 points, his 2005-06 effort limited to just 60 games. He did, at least, have some scoring help on the roster to bolster his numbers — with an in-his-prime Simon Gagne posting a career-best 47 goals and 79 points that year.
A shortened season sapped any chance of Forsberg reaching 140, but taking his end-of-year total into account, his overall pace would have placed him around 102 points had he played a full 82-game season.
The change in the then-veteran’s scoring pace from the early portion of the season to the middle stretch showed an even bigger drop-off than Jagr’s:
Pace over opening 30 games: 1.70 P/GP
Pace over next 29 games*: 0.80 P/GP
* — for Forsberg, this stretch marked the rest of his season.
SIDNEY CROSBY, 2006-07 (50 points through 28 games)
In Crosby, we get what is clearly the best comparable. Not only because he and McDavid are of a similar talent level and No. 87’s quick-start season was the most recent, but because Crosby’s chance of reaching 140 wasn’t felled by a shortened season.
Nineteen years old at the time and in his sophomore campaign, Crosby hit 51 points in his 28th game of 2006-07 courtesy of a wild scoring streak that saw him amass 19 points in seven games.
He finished with 120 points on the season to win his first Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy — a mark that stands as the highest point total he’s posted thus far in his career. And, of course, the then-Kid had help, with a rookie Evgeni Malkin in the fold, good for 85 points that year, and veteran Mark Recchi chipping in with 68 points. He also had the help of a pair of talented offensive defenders in Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney, who finished with 67 and 59 points, respectively.
A look at the progression of Crosby’s scoring pace that year shows that even in such a favourable situation, it was difficult to sustain that scorching early-season pace as the season wore on and that time and space continued to dry up.
Pace over opening 30 games: 1.77 P/GP
Pace from Games 31 to 60: 1.47 P/GP
Pace from Game 61 to end of season: 1.21 P/GP
If there’s any situation that might suggest this lofty projection is unlikely for McDavid or Draisaitl, it might be this 2006-07 showing from Crosby. This was the future Hall of Famer at his most offensively aggressive, young and full of energy, pre-injury, with at least a few talented players to work with — and it didn’t happen.
On the other hand, there’s still that potential game-changer at play for the Oilers — it isn’t McDavid or Draisaitl. It’s both. They’ve gotten off to that historic start together, side by side, with each the best-case scenario option for the other. And looking to the fluctuations in each of the Oilers star’s scoring pace last season, they didn’t tail off at all as the 2018-19 campaign wore on.
They actually got better.
MCDAVID’S SCORING PACE IN 2018-19
Pace over opening 30 games: 1.43 P/GP
Pace from Games 31 to 60: 1.46 P/GP
Pace from Game 61 to end of season: 1.61 P/GP
DRAISAITL’S SCORING PACE IN 2018-19
Pace over opening 30 games: 1.13 P/GP
Pace from Games 31 to 60: 1.30 P/GP
Pace from Game 61 to end of season: 1.45 P/GP
If there’s one bit of historic hope for the Oilers faithful, it might lie in going a bit further back than that 20-year span, to that 1995-96 season. That one was the last that saw more than one player on any club sprint out of the gates with 50 points this early in a season.
Lemieux and Jagr both accomplished the feat for the Penguins that year, both reigning supreme offensively over the league through that opening stretch, just like the Oilers’ current duo. And, incidentally, their final sums from that season stand as the last time anyone topped 140 points in the NHL.
Mario finished at 161, Jaromir at 149. A year later, Connor came into the picture. Let’s see what he can do.