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Behind The Numbers

Breaking down NHL scoring race

Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin each has some metrics in his favor

by Rob Vollman / NHL.com Correspondent

The NHL scoring race this season could come down to a close finish among the leader, Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers, and his two closest pursuers, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

With more than two months remaining, there is always the possibility of someone rising up from among the 25 players who have scored 40 points so far, including Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom, San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns and the scoring leader last season, Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane. 

Who will win the Art Ross Trophy? There are a variety of metrics that can help shed light on who will win the scoring race but each points in a different direction.

 

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

In the 22 seasons from 1979-80 to 2000-01, one of three players -- Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux or Jaromir Jagr -- finished first in the scoring race either alone or tied with another player. If McDavid wins the scoring title, he will be the 12th player to do so in the 15 seasons since then.

McDavid has 57 points in 50 games, putting him on pace for 93 in 82 games. The scoring leader at this point of the season has finished first six times in the past 10 full seasons (not including the 48-game 2012-13 season).

His other primary advantage is opportunity. The Oilers lean on McDavid heavily: He averages 21:16 of ice time, which ranks fifth among NHL forwards. That includes 17:23 at even strength, second to Kane (18:07). By comparison, Crosby averages 19:05 and 15:18, respectively.

If McDavid continues to score at this pace, then the forward who turned 20 on Jan. 13 could become the youngest player to win the Art Ross Trophy since Crosby, who was 19 when he won in 2006-07.

Video: FLA@EDM: McDavid records 100th point, nets OT winner

 

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

Crosby is tied for second with 54 points in 41 games; he missed Pittsburgh's first six games because of a concussion. His primary advantage is a League-leading scoring rate of 1.32 points per game and 4.14 points per 60 minutes.

If he continues to score at his current pace, Crosby will finish with 100 points in 76 games and become the first player to win the Art Ross Trophy for the third time since Jagr had 127 points in 81 games for the Penguins in 2000-01. Crosby won the Art Ross Trophy in 2006-07 with 120 points in 79 games, and in 2013-14 with 104 points in 80 games.

Video: BOS@PIT: Crosby uses soft hands to finish a backhand

 

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Malkin is tied with Crosby with 54 points in 47 games. That places them three points behind McDavid for the lead but with three games in hand, although he will not play against the Boston Bruins on Thursday because of a lower-body injury that will also keep him out of the 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Game. That means Malkin is on pace to tie McDavid with 93 points in 81 games (assuming he's ready when play resumes after the All-Star break).

Malkin's primary advantage is his offensive deployment. At even strength, he has lined up for 283 faceoffs in the offensive zone and 98 in the defensive zone, a zone start percentage of 74.28 percent that ranks third in the NHL (minimum 15 games).

Like Crosby, Malkin has won the Art Ross Trophy twice: He led the NHL with 113 points in 82 games in 2008-09 and had 109 points in 75 games in 2011-12.

Video: WSH@PIT: Malkin blasts one-timer from one knee

 

The Field

Historically at this point in the season, the eventual Art Ross Trophy winner has been either first in scoring or no more than six points behind the leader. Using that standard, the only player within reach of first place is Burns, who has 51 points in 49 games.

If Burns wins, he would be the first defenseman to finish first in scoring since Bobby Orr had 135 points in 80 games for the Bruins in 1974-75. 

Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars established an important precedent in 2014-15 when he finished first with 87 points in 82 games despite trailing Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers by 16 points on Jan. 26, 2015. That metric means as many as 25 players could be in the mix this season, including Benn, whose 40 points in 45 games are 17 behind McDavid.

Of this group, Kane is the key player to watch. He won the scoring race last season by 17 points, finishing with 106 in 82 games, and is fifth this season with 48 points in 50 games.

Like McDavid, Kane is leaned on heavily in Chicago; he leads NHL forwards in ice time, averaging 21:52 per game, including 18:07 at even strength. Like Malkin, Kane is helped by the way he's deployed; his 65.19 offensive zone start percentage ranks 22nd among all players (minimum 15 games). 

Other strong contenders include Backstrom, whose 18 points in 14 games lead the NHL since the start of the new year, and linemate Alex Ovechkin, who is tied for second with 17 and won the Art Ross Trophy with 112 points in 82 games in 2007-08. Backstrom is tied with Bruins forward Brad Marchand with 47 points in 48 games, and Ovechkin has 43 points in 48 games.

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