Last night Steve Stamkos scored his 50th goal in his 69th game this season, reaching that plateau for the second time in three years. At just 22 years old, NHL.com was quick to point out that his most recent milestone puts him in some pretty exclusive company.
There is no question as the article and statistics indicate Stamkos is an elite talent and likely the best pure goal scorer in the game today, but what about tomorrow? The Markham, Ontario native will be a top end player in the League for years to come, but where does he go from here? At just 22, you may think the sky is the limit for the Lightning sniper, but if recent history has taught us anything it is that the majority of great players have enjoyed their most productive goal scoring seasons by the age of 23, if not very shortly there after. Here now is a look at some of the games greats that Stamkos joined last night with his second 50 goal season before the age of 23, when they peaked, and where their careers went after their most productive seasons.
Discussions about great statistical seasons generally begin and end with #99, and rightfully so. Gretzky had so many great seasons with the Oilers throughout the 80’s, but his most prolific in terms of goals was his 92 goal campaign at the age of 20 during the ’81-’82 campaign. When you start at 92, it’s pretty tough to go anywhere but down and even when you drop, the numbers can still be mind boggling. Gretzky scored 70 plus goals in each of his next 3 seasons including 87 in ’83-’84, but neither he nor anyone else would ever approach the 90 goal mark again.
Lemieux was 23 when he posted 85 goals in 76 games during the 1988-1989 season. While injuries and illness took their toll on Lemieux, he remained among the games best in goals per game over the years. While he never posted another 70 goal season let alone 80, he did manage to net 69 goals in 70 games at the age of 30 giving hope for the future to many of the games young stars.
The Cornell University standout joined the talented Calgary Flames for his first full season in 1987-1988 and made an immediate impact potting 51 goals and capturing the Calder Trophy as the League’s top rookie. For an encore, Nieuwendyk returned the following year at age 22 and recorded 51 goals once again. His next two seasons saw continued consistency as he scored 45 goals in each campaign, the last 40 plus goal efforts of what would be a Hall Of Fame career.
The final chapter of this career is certainly far from over, but nobody can argue that there has been a sharp drop off in the Russian sniper’s scoring production over the past few seasons. In ’07-’08 at 22 years of age, Ovechkin became the first player since Jaromir Jagr in 1996 to record 60 goals in an NHL season when he netted 65. Since then, the Capitals winger has seen a steady decline in goals (and points) with 56, 50, 32, and thus far 29 goals over the past 4 seasons. Ovechkin has an abundance of talent and more fifty goal seasons in his future would surprise few, but he is a long way from the 22 year old who appeared to be on his way to a decades worth of Rocket Richard Trophies.
Bossy was just 21 at the start of the ’78-’79 season when he followed up his 53 goal rookie campaign with a career high 69 goal effort as a sophomore. In his first nine seasons before injuries prematurely ended his career, the Islanders sharp shooter never scored fewer then 51 goals including a 68 goal season in 1980-1981. Five times he surpassed the 60 goal plateau as he cemented his place as one of the greatest pure goal scorers of all time, but he never had the 70 plus goal outing many would have anticipated after scoring 69 during his second year.
There is no question Steven Stamkos has put himself in elite company and we have no reason to believe he won’t have a long and productive career ahead. Fifteen years after taking the League by storm with 76 goals in his rookie year, Teemu Selanne recorded 48 goals at the age of 37. He continues to be an integral part of the Ducks offense today at the age of 41. His longevity and productivity speak volumes of his incredible skills and tireless work ethic, but following that 76 goal campaign, all of the effort and attention to detail in the world still never got him more then 52 goals in a season throughout his Hall Of Fame career.
I am a fan of Steven Stamkos’ game. More then that, I am a fan of great hockey and talented and exciting players, so I will be pulling for 10 more 50 goal seasons for the fans of the Tampa Bay Lightning and fans of the NHL in general. All I am saying is lets appreciate his gifted game and ability to produce at this pace now, because nothing lasts forever, and all too often the offensive peak of the sports greatest stars comes and goes before we truly have time to sit back and appreciate it.