As much as we think the wizardry of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin will be with us for the next 10 to 15 years, chances are their otherworldly scoring exploits are at a peak now and will trend downwards in the coming seasons.
At 22 and 24, Crosby and Ovechkin are sure to be the cream of the league for the next decade. There’s little question of that. But in terms of over-the-top scoring totals, they’re in their prime right now. Thing is, however, their “prime” is such a narrow range, if history is to be a barometer.
I remember watching Wayne Gretzky the season he scored 92 goals and 212 points. He was 21. I thought for sure we’d see a 100-goal or 250-point season in him by the time he peaked in his late 20s. The Great One did have three more 200-point seasons (and one with 87 goals), but by the time he was 26, the stratospheric totals were in his past. Sure, he has some terrific years well into his 30s, but the early 20s were his scoring peak.
Mario Lemieux had his touchstone 85-goal, 199-point season at age 23. His second most prolific year was when he was 22. Lemieux also had boffo 69-goal, 160- and 161-point seasons at 27 and 30, but again, his early 20s were the most productive.
Bobby Orr’s three most prolific seasons were at age 23, 26 and 27.
It’s not a hard and fast rule that players hit their offensive peak in their early 20s, but for many players who reach “superstar” status, those halcyon years come in and around the age of 24. The first few pro seasons are growth years, the seasons afterwards are still exceptional, just not extraordinary.
Guy Lafleur had six straight glorious years when he was on top of the world. They were between the ages 23 and 28. Jaromir Jagr’s most offensive year (62 goals, 149 points) came at age 23. Mike Bossy was a consistent 50-goal scorer his entire career, yet his most productive (147 points) came at age 24. Brett Hull’s hallmark season of 86 goals and 131 points came when he was 26 in his fourth NHL season.
Hard to believe as it is, Crosby and Ovechkin are in their fifth seasons already. Funny, but I thought Crosby would be a bigger producer than he is. I thought 50 goals and 140 points would be in his resume by now. He hasn’t even come close, really. At 22, he has to make it happen soon.
Ovechkin is making it happen. Sixty-five goals at 22, another 56 last season. Now at 24, he’s on pace for the best season of his career. Let’s enjoy it now while we can. It won’t last a whole lot longer.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.
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