The Race for the Maurice Richard Trophy

Maurice Richard trophy
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 29: Capitals left wing Alexander Alex Ovechkin (8) takes a shot on net during the Nashville Predators vs. Washington Capitals NHL game on January 29, 2020 at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.. (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy is awarded annually to leading goal scorer in the NHL during the regular season. First awarded to Teemu Selanne after the 1998-99 season, there has been a total of 12 different players to receive the award.

The Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy Candidates

The top-five goal scorers in the NHL this season currently sit within eight goals of each other. David Pastrnak has led the NHL in goals for the majority of the season but is only one goal ahead of the competition. The following players are in the best position to make a run for the trophy this season.

David Pastrnak

The Bruins first-line winger leads the NHL with 37 goals on the season. At just 23-years-old, Pastrnak leads the NHL in power-play goals with 16. He finds himself on the Bruins top line alongside Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Pastrnak has the best shooting percentage among the top five goal scorers this season at 18.5 percent. The Bruins have 31 games remaining this season which is the least among the top five goal scorers. An injury-free campaign thus far has allowed Pastrnak to score consistently at a high rate. The Bruins have the second-most favourable schedule the rest of the season according to NHL.com so expect the All Star Game MVP to maintain his status among the top scorers the rest of the way.

Auston Matthews

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews sits second in the league in goals with 36. Matthews has increased his scoring rate since the start of December, scoring 20 goals in 23 games. A shot percentage of 17.8 percent puts him at second-best among the top-five goal scorers. The Maple Leafs have 31 games remaining, the same as Boston, which could make things interesting if it’s between Matthews and Pastrnak at the end of the season. Toronto will need to improve their play the remainder of the season as they currently sit outside of a playoff spot.

The Maple Leafs are tied for the ninth-most favourable schedule the rest of the season so Matthews will be doing everything in his power to get his team to the postseason. Assuming the injury that held Matthews out of the All Star Game doesn’t cause him to miss time, he’ll be scoring in bunches from here on out. At 22, Matthews would be the youngest Maurice Richard Trophy winner since Steven Stamkos won in 2011-12 at 21-years-old.

Alex Ovechkin

The eight-time Maurice Richard Trophy winner is looking for a ninth and has a good chance of doing so. Alex Ovechkin has scored 35 goals this season, good for third in the league. His 11 power play goals put him at third most in the NHL. One of the best scorers in league history, Ovechkin has shown no signs of slowing down. He’s won six of the last seven Maurice Richard trophies. His 229 shots are tied for most in the league and he has never been afraid of shooting the puck.

At 34-years-old, Ovechkin would break his own record as the oldest player to win the trophy. The oldest players not named Ovechkin to win the trophy were Sidney Crosby and Pavel Bure at 29-years-old. The Washington Capitals have the third-most favourable schedule the rest of the season and with 32 games remaining he will be finding the back of the net frequently.

Nathan MacKinnon

Much like Ovechkin, Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon loves to shoot the puck. His 229 shots are tied with Ovechkin for most in the league and 30 goals have him in fourth place. MacKinnon uses his speed and shooting ability to create chances and hit the 40-goal mark for the first time in his career last year. He’s solidified himself as a superstar in the NHL and is the engine of the Avalanche offence. He has some catching up to do, but MacKinnon has the ability to catch fire at a moments notice. Colorado has the most favourable remaining schedule in the league and MacKinnon has 33 games left to make a run at the Maurice Richard Trophy.

Jack Eichel

In his fifth season, Buffalo Sabres star Jack Eichel has already set a career high in goals with 29. Compared to the top four scorers, Eichel takes less shots and has the least amount of power play goals. Despite that, Buffalo relies on his production so heavily that he’s able to score at a high rate. Eichel runs the show in Buffalo with 11 more goals and 21 more points than the next closest player on the team. With 33 games left, the Sabres are tied for the ninth-most favourable schedule in the league and do not sit in a playoff spot. While Eichel can keep up his goal scoring pace, he and the team have some catching up to do if they want to see any kind of trophy this season.

Who Will It Be?

The race for the Maurice Richard Trophy will likely narrow itself down to a three horse race. Pastrnak, Matthews, and Ovechkin have the best chance at taking home the hardware. Pastrnak, the leader in the clubhouse, has proven himself as a scorer in this league and Boston’s top line produces at such a high rate it’s unlikely his scoring will dry up. If Pastrnak continues at this pace it’ll be unlikely to see him get passed by much, if at all.

Matthews, much like Pastrnak, is a young star who has proven himself offensively. Sitting only one goal behind Pastrnak, Matthews is well within striking distance. Toronto is under intense pressure to win now and currently are on the outside looking in at the postseason. Matthews and the entire team will likely turn it on down the stretch.

Eichel and MacKinnon will both have their crack at it. MacKinnon has a better chance than Eichel does considering the amount of shots he takes and he has less goals to make up. However, he’s seven goals behind Pastrnak, six behind Matthews, and five behind Ovechkin. Even if MacKinnon catches fire he’s behind three world-class goal scorers. Eichel has the fewest amount of shots among the group and is on the inferior team. He’s eight goals behind Pastrnak so it would take a monumental effort in the second half of the season for Eichel to take home the hardware. But never say never.

Then There’s Ovechkin

The tried and true legend. He’s a decade older than any of the other top-five scorers. Ovechkin is seeking his ninth Maurice Richard Trophy and has entertained the idea of catching Wayne Gretzky‘s goal record. He’s here to score and that’s exactly what he’s going to do. It doesn’t hurt that he’s on the team with the most points in the league right now. No other player has won more than two Maurice Richard trophies and Ovechkin currently has won eight. Despite being third in the race, Ovechkin seems like the safest bet on winning what would be his ninth Maurice Richard Trophy.

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