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Stamkos ready to join elite club

by John Kreiser / Tampa Bay Lightning

He didn't do it on Thursday. But sometime soon -- perhaps as soon as Saturday night against Carolina -- Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos is poised to join an exclusive club.

Stamkos is two goals away from becoming the NHL's first 50-goal scorer this season. When he does, he'll join an elite group of six players who've had multiple 50-goal seasons before their 23rd birthday (he turned 22 on Feb. 7). Wayne Gretzky did it four times; Mike Bossy, Mario Lemieux, Joe Nieuwendyk and Alex Ovechkin each had two seasons with at least 50 goals before turning 23 -- though Bossy, Nieuwendyk and Ovechkin had the disadvantage of not playing in the NHL until after their 20th birthdays.

The Lightning sniper is running away in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy, given to the NHL's leading goal-scorer. He enters the weekend with 48 -- 10 more than runner-up Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Steven Stamkos
Center - TBL
GOALS: 48 | ASST: 34 | PTS: 82
SOG: 235 | +/-: 5
Stamkos' 144 goals are the most by any player since the start of 2009-10; Anaheim's Corey Perry is next with 111, two more than Washington's Alex Ovechkin.

Unlikely snipers -- As the No. 1 pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, big things were expected of Stamkos, who had 23 goals in his rookie season before getting 51 and 45 in the next two. He became the 90th player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a season on April 10, 2010 -- and only the third to do it in his age-19 season (he turned 20 with 25 games remaining).

Though he more than doubled his rookie production in reaching 51 goals in his second NHL season, in some ways, it would have been a surprise in Stamkos didn't score 50 goals at an early stage of his career.

Unlike Stamkos, a lot of other 50-goal scorers had big seasons that came out of the blue.

By far the most unlikely was the 52-goal performance by Jacques Richard of the Quebec Nordiques in 1980-81. Richard was the second player chosen in the 1972 NHL Draft and the first pick ever by the expansion Atlanta Flames. He was dealt to Buffalo in 1975, terminated by the Sabres in February 1980, and signed with the hometown Nordiques, for whom he had 3 goals and 15 points in 14 games.

But in '80-81, he was paired with the newly arrived Stastny brothers and turned into a 52-goal, 103-point scorer, finishing in the top 10 in the NHL in both categories. Unfortunately for Richard, he was moved off the line with the Stastnys the following season, fell to 15 goals and 41 points and retired a year later. Thanks to Stamkos' big season, Richard's 160 goals are the fewest in a career by any 50-goal scorer.

Another unlikely 50-goal man was Vic Hadfield, whose 50 goals with the Rangers in 1971-72 were more than double his output from the previous season. Hadfield had never had more than 26 goals in his 10 previous NHL seasons before getting 50; he had 28 and 27 in the two following seasons.

Wayne Babych had solid seasons of 27 and 26 goals in his first two seasons with St. Louis before erupting for 54 goals in 1980-81; he never had more than 20 again.

Hall of Famer Johnny Bucyk is the oldest first-time 50-goal scorer at age 35; however, Bucyk had been a 30-goal scorer twice before and had 31 or more goals in four of the next five seasons.

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