NHL Maurice “Rocket” Richard Futures – Top Scorer Bets
2017/18 Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy Favorites
Sidney Crosby – Pittsburgh Penguins
One of the few NHL players with a 50-goal season under his belt, Crosby’s the reigning Rocket Richard winner after leading the league with 44 goals last year. Sid successfully netted 17.3% of 255 shots in 2016-17, a career best over a full season.
Some worried that Sid wasn’t the same after enduring injury problems for a couple of years. The 2014-15 campaign was his worst full season for goals, notching only 28 tallies in 77 games. Sid’s shots taken and shooting percentage dipped to career lows – 11.8% on 237 shots. Regular players would consider this a solid year, but Sid expects more of himself.
His shots and shooting percentage bounced back to elite levels over the past couple of years, leading to Crosby rediscovering his scoring touch. More than ever, the Pittsburgh Penguins rely on Sidney to finish plays. For most of his career, Crosby’s never been paired with an elite scoring winger, which forces him to take matters into his own hands more often. Barring injury, Sid’s a threat to win a second straight Rocket Richard.
Nikita Kucherov – Tampa Bay Lightning
Kucherov entered the peak prime of his career last season, scoring 40 goals for the Tampa Bay Lightning while Steven Stamkos recovered from another serious injury. This 24-year-old sniper hovered around 30 goals for two years before his breakout season in 2016-17. With Stamkos returning to full health, Nikita could enjoy another career year.
Part of Nikita’s 10-goal jump revolves around a greater volume of shots, along with a slight boost in accuracy. He sent 246 shots on net and converted on 16.3%, the most over his four years in the league. If he didn’t miss eight games last year, he might’ve been able to challenge Sidney for the Richard Trophy.
Over the next three years, Kucherov should enjoy the best production of his career. Most NHL forwards hit peak production around the age of 25. He’s fortunate to play with a Lightning team that’s strong down the middle, including Victor Hedman and Stamkos. The rest of the league is unfortunate because Nikita could improve, becoming a near-unstoppable force on ice.
Auston Matthews – Toronto Maple Leafs
The NHL will probably never witness another debut as grand as Auston Matthews. He scored four goals in his first NHL game against the Senators, the only player to accomplish this feat in the modern era. The record was set in 1917, when Harry Hyland and Joe Malone scored five goals in their first games - but this was back when goalies weren’t allowed to drop to the ice to make saves. Auston pulled off his incredible feat during an era of low scoring and tight defensive systems.
During his first season, Auston lead the league in even strength goals with 32 five-on-five markers, which means that his powerplay production will likely rise over the next couple of years. It’s also feasible to think that he’ll improve his shooting percentage and shots taken totals. Last year, he directed 279 shots at goal with a 14.3 success rate, both of which could improve.
There’s a good chance that Matthews increses his shooting percentage to 15% while raising shots on goal to 300, which would nudge Auston to the 45-goal mark. Sky’s the limit for the 2016-17 Calder Trophy winner, who appears ready to lead the Maple Leafs to their first Stanley Cup in more than a half-century.
Patrik Laine – Winnipeg Jets
Similar to Auston Matthews, Laine hit the ground running for the Winnipeg Jets, scoring in his first NHL game. He collected his first career hat trick against Matthews and the Maple Leafs three games later, signaling his intent to challenge Auston for the Calder Trophy. Unfortunately for Patrik, a mid-season injury would cost him nine games, limiting Laine to 36 goals and preventing the star winger from becoming rookie of the year.
Laine’s blend of speed and accuracy allow him to rip the puck past netminders with ease. His surprisingly large frame makes him a prototypical power forward, difficult to separate from the puck and move away from prime scoring spots.
Playing with shifty Mark Scheifele, Patrik will have plenty of opportunities to shine in his sophomore season. In fact, Laine could possess a higher goal-scoring ceiling than Matthews. Patrik bulged the twine at a 17.6% rate, producing 36 goals on only 204 shots. If Laine manages to increase his shooting volume to 250 without a big dip in efficiency, he’s a lock to score 40 and challenge for the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2017-18.
Vladimir Tarasenko – St. Louis Blues
One of the most consistent goal scorers of the past three years, Vladimir Tarasenko has netted 116 goals in 239 games over this span. During these seasons, he toiled for coach Ken Hitchcock, a bench boss notorious for focusing strictly on defense. Tarasenko didn’t play with a top-notch center during these seasons, further highlighting his tremendous will and skill for scoring.
This year, he’ll play for coach Mike Yeo, who will likely loosen the reigns on the Russian. Centerman Robby Fabri, a top scoring prospect, returns from injury to start the 2017-18 campaign. These two changes to the St. Louis Blues could facilitate the best goal-scoring campaign of Vladdy’s career.
He’s also in the midst of his prime as a forward, which could result in Tarasenko taking more than 300 shots this season. If he improves his shooting percentage a bit, he would challenge the 45-goal mark for the first time in his career, enough to contend for the Rocket Trophy.
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