By Steven McGoey
2021 was an unprecedented year for the NHL.
After the start of the 2020-21 season was delayed, the league began an abbreviated schedule on Jan. 13, 2021 for a 56-game run with very few complications. The plan was to return to its normal 82-game schedule when the 2021-22 season kicked off in October -- but that has already proven to be easier said than done.
Despite the re-aligned divisions and ongoing COVID precautions, the league’s best players continued to play at their best, here is a look at the top-ten scorers across the league from the start of 2021 up to the COVID-induced pause at Christmas.
1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton (GP: 85 G: 50 A: 104 P: 154)
The Oilers superstar is the unanimous reigning Hart, Art Ross, and Ted Lindsay Trophy winner after posting a ludicrous 105 points over 56 games in the 2020-21 Canadian Division, 21 more than the league’s next highest scorer.
His scoring hasn't dipped since the return to the Pacific Division, as he's currently tied with teammate Leon Draisaitl for the league lead in points with 49.
Not only did McDavid put up 1.81 points per game across 2021, but he was on the ice for 112 of the Oilers’ 178 even-strength goals, highlighting how much they rely on him for offense.
2. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton (GP: 85 G: 54 A: 79 P: 133)
The 2019-20 Art Ross, Hart, and Ted Lindsay Trophy winner picked up exactly where he left off in 2021, playing at a scoring pace rarely seen in the modern NHL, and one that only his teammate could best.
The Cologne, DEU native continued to prove he can score goals as well as he sets them up, following his past 50 and 43-goal seasons with 54 across 85 games in 2021, the second-highest in the league over that time.
Draisaitl put up a league-best 28 power-play goals and his 78 even-strength points were bested only by McDavid.
At their current pace, both Draisaitl and McDavid are on pace for 139 points in the 2021-22 season, which would be the highest point total in a season since 1995-96 when Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr posted 161 and 149 points respectively.
3. Auston Matthews, Toronto (GP: 79 G: 61 A: 38 P: 99)
Matthews continued to establish himself as the top goal scorer and one of the best players in the world in 2021, scoring 61 goals across 79 games, the only player to record more than 60 in the same time period.
A remarkable 43 of Matthews’ goals came at even strength, he also scored 16 game-winning goals, both totals were league bests.
The 24-year-old shoots the puck like no one else in the league, but he also shoots more often, leading the league with 343 shots.
After off-season wrist surgery and a slow start to the season Matthews has been on a tear in 21-22, notching 20 goals in his first 27 games.
4. Brad Marchand, Boston (GP: 74 G: 40 A: 56 P: 96)
Marchand may not have been the name many would have guessed to be fourth on this list, but he continues to defy age-related projections, remaining remarkably consistent since first scoring over a point-per-game at age 28.
The Halifax, NS., native turned 33 in May but has posted a rate of at least 1.20 points per game over the last four seasons and is on pace to make that five with 29 points in his first 21 games of the 21-22 season.
In addition to his well-rounded offensive game, Marchand has established himself as one of the best penalty killers in the game. He is currently tied for the 16th most shorthanded goals of all time, five of those occurring in 2021.
5. Mikko Rantanen, Colorado (GP: 76 G: 44 A: 52 P: 96)
Rantanen finished above a point-per-game for the third time in his career and led the Avalanche in both goals and points in 2020-21.
Rantanen, 25, has continued to produce for the injury-filled Avalanche no matter who is on his line, notching 30 points through 24 games in 2021-22. The Finnish winger scored 36 power-play points in 2021, tied with Adam Fox for the most by anyone not named McDavid or Draisaitl.
6. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida (GP: 84 G: 30 A: 64 P: 94)
One of the more under-the-radar superstar caliber players in the NHL, Huberdeau’s consistency and playmaking ability have kept him near the top of the league in scoring the past several seasons.
The third overall pick in t2011 scored above a point-per-game pace for the third straight season during the 56-game schedule and has followed it up nicely with 33 points in 29 games in 21-22.
Despite being denied the opportunity to make Canada’s 2022 Olympic team Huberdeau should have ample opportunity to display his skills on the NHL’s biggest stage in the playoffs, as the Panthers are one of the league’s top teams through Christmas.
7. Artemi Panarin, NY Rangers (GP: 71 G: 26 A: 65 P: 91)
After signing a high-profile seven-year $81.5 million dollar contract and finishing as an MVP-finalist in his first year in New York, Panarin continued to produce as advertised in 2021.
Despite missing some time with injury and taking a leave of absence to deal with what the Rangers called an “intimidation tactic,” Panarin remains one of the game's most dangerous players, scoring 1.28 points per game.
The dynamic 30-year-old put up points at both even strength (60) and on the power play (31) despite often playing with a rotating cast of linemates and on a different line as Mika Zibanejad.
8. Patrick Kane, Chicago (GP: 82 G: 22 A: 69 P: 91)
Despite the inconsistent on-ice play and off-ice issues with the Chicago Blackhawks, Kane continued to put up above-average point totals in 2021.
The 2020-21 season was the tenth season Kane scored at least a point-per-game.
A bottom ten team in goals scored across 2021, Kane was especially important to the Blackhawks offense, he scored 60 even strength and 31 power-play points and was on the ice for 116 of Chicago's 228 goals.
The Buffalo, NY, native has 25 points in 26 games to start the 21-22 season.
9. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado (GP: 65 G: 23 A: 66 P: 89)
The least number of games played among players on this list, MacKinnon has encountered back luck with injuries in 2021, including a bout with COVID.
Despite that, he has remained a constant offensive threat and posted the third-highest points-per-game average league-wide in 2021 at 1.37. 2021 was his fourth straight season scoring above a point-per-game pace.
Centering Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen on what many consider to be the best line in hockey, MacKinnon is a threat to break a game open at any moment.
The first overall pick in the 2013 entry draft only has three goals but has put up 24 points through 17 games in 21-22.
10. Alex Ovechkin, Washington (GP: 76 G: 46 A: 43 P: 89)
Ovechkin continues to prove that age is just a number, and that drinking soda on the bench may be the secret ingredient to scoring goals.
Sitting third in league scoring in 2021-22 with 47 points at Christmas, the 36-year-old is having one of the best seasons of his storied career.
Impressively, only 14 of Ovechkin’s 46 goals in 2021 have come on the power play.
All eyes will continue to focus on Ovechkin as he approaches Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal record, and with his current pace, he could get there sooner rather than later -- but COVID-19 keeps trying to get in the way.
T-10. Sebastian Aho, Carolina (GP: 82 G: 39 A: 50 P: 89)
The Carolina Hurricanes' top center and offensive play driver took another step forward in 2021 after a career year in 2018-19.
The Rauma, FIN, native scored at a 1.09 points-per-game pace in 2021, producing in all situations.
Aho has cemented himself as a top-line NHL center and has had success offensively with any of the linemates he goes over the boards with.