We’re taking a leap of faith here. We’re choosing to believe that Mikko Rantanen can keep putting up points like a modern-day Peter Forsberg, that Thomas Chabot can go from Erik Karlsson’s underling to his superior, that Michael Grabner will continue scoring goals when the other team has more players on the ice, that an expansion team’s netminder can post shutouts as frequently as any goaltender since the 1920s.
As the 2018-19 NHL schedule enters December, here are 10 examples of players on pace for monumental seasons, whether they’re tracking towards or an all-time record or merely towards the best season the league has seen in 20-plus years.
NHL scoring leader Mikko Rantanen, with 43 points through 26 games, is on pace for 136 points, which would be the most prolific season in the league in more than 20 years. The last time anybody attained that level of production, it was Pittsburgh Penguins teammates Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, who went off for 161 and 149 points, respectively, back in 1995-96. Perhaps history will repeat itself – Rantanen’s linemate in Colorado, Nathan MacKinnon, has 41 points in 26 games, which translates to a 129-point pace.
There’s a shoot-first mentality, and then there’s Winnipeg Jets sniper Patrik Laine. The 20-year-old with the howitzer has been lights-out of late, and he’s taken over the league lead with 21 goals (and three assists!) in 24 games. That puts him on track for an astounding 72 goals (and 10 assists!) this season. The NHL hasn’t had a 70-goal scorer since 1992-93, when a Finnish rookie for the (original) Winnipeg Jets named Teemu Selanne and Buffalo’s Alexander Mogilny both exploded for 76 goals. Laine has been sizzling since the start of November – when the Jets visited his native Finland for a two-game set against the Florida Panthers – with 18 goals in the month, becoming just the 11th NHL player all-time to score 18 or more goals in a calendar month. Laine had three hat tricks in November, including a five-goal game against St. Louis, and he has 13 goals in his past six games. In short: ridiculous.
With 32 assists in 26 games, Rantanen is playmaking at an historic rate. Keep it up – and stay healthy for all 82 games – and the Avs right winger will end up with 101 helpers on the year. The last player to hit the 100-assist plateau was none other than Wayne Gretzky himself, who did it a bunch of times, most recently in 1990-91, when he amassed 122.
16 game-winning goals
Somebody has to be converting all of those Rantanen set-ups on Colorado’s top line, and while MacKinnon holds an 18-15 goal-scoring edge over Gabriel Landeskog, it is Landeskog who has been coming through in the clutch, with five game-winners to MacKinnon’s two. If the Avs captain can keep it up, he’ll have 16 game-winners by the end of the season, which would tie the NHL’s all-time mark shared by Phil Esposito (twice) and Michel Goulet. But wait, there’s more – Tampa Bay’s Yanni Gourde also has five game-winners among his nine goals in 26 games this season, matching Landeskog’s record-tying pace.
91 points by a defenseman
Erik Karlsson, for all his offensive brilliance during his time in Ottawa, maxed out at 82 points in 2015-16. Flash ahead a few years, and the Senators have a new scoring stud on the blueline in the form of Thomas Chabot. The 21-year-old sophomore defenseman has 29 points in 26 games – one more point than Toronto’s Morgan Rielly in the same number of games – which would give Chabot 91 points at the end of the season, assuming he’s able to continue his startling productivity. To put it into perspective, the last NHL defenseman to score 91 points was Ray Bourque back in 1993-94. The all-time defenseman scoring record, held by another Boston defenseman by the name of Bobby Orr, is 139 points in 1970-71. That one’s probably safe for a while.
33 goals by a defenseman
You might have been expecting to see Brent Burns’ name here, but it is Minnesota blueliner Matt Dumba who is lighting the lamp at prodigious rate. With 10 goals in 25 games, the Wild defender is on a 33-goal pace. That would be the most since Washington’s Kevin Hatcher scored 34 times in 1992-93 and, not to mention, would rank among the top 10 all-time goal-scoring seasons by a defenseman. Paul Coffey set the NHL record when he scored 48 goals for Edmonton in 1985-86. That’s another that’s probably safe for a while.
34 power-play goals
The NHL record for power-play goals in a season is 34, set in 1985-86 by Tim Kerr, the Philadelphia Flyers’ immovable net-front object. Laine, with 10 PP goals in 24 games, is on track to tie Kerr’s output. That’s a scorching pace – in the past 20 NHL seasons, Ilya Kovalchuk has the high-water mark for PP goals, with 27 for Atlanta in 2005-06.
14 shorthanded goals
Mario Lemieux established the NHL mark for shorthanded goals in a season when he scored 13 of them in 1988-89. It looked like one of those records that would stand for a long, long time. The closest that anyone has come in the past 30 years was Brian Rolston, who had nine shorties for Boston in 2001-02. But look out, here comes … Michael Grabner of the Arizona Coyotes? Yes, you read that right. The Coyotes have been burning opposing power plays, with 10 shorthanded goals through the first two months of the season, and Grabner has led the man-down charge with four (in 24 games). Break out the calculator, and the Arizona speedster is on pace for 14 shorthanded goals, one more than Mario’s all-time mark.
An NHL goalie has won at least 44 regular-season games 15 times in league history – and 11 of those instances have come since 2006-07. We might be adding another name to the list this season, if Toronto stopper Frederik Andersen maintains his busy (and usually triumphant) schedule. With 14 wins in the Leafs’ first 26 games, Andersen is on pace for 44 victories, which is the same number won by Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy and Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck last season. Washington’s Braden Holtby and Martin Brodeur share the single-season record of 48 wins.
Scoring is up this season, but don’t tell Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who has posted five shutouts while starting 23 of the Golden Knights’ 27 games. Do the math – five shutouts in 27 games – and Fleury is on track for 15 shutouts, which would tie the modern-day mark set by Chicago Black Hawks rookie Tony Esposito in 1969-70. The all-time NHL record of 22 shutouts was established by Montreal’s George Hainsworth in 1928-29 – in a 44-game schedule – while three other goalies had 15-shutout seasons in the 1920s. More recently, Dominik Hasek had 13 shutouts in 1997-98 and Martin Brodeur had 12 in 2006-07.