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Cullen: How high can Stamkos fly?

Scott Cullen
11/19/2010 7:05:44 PM
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After a hat trick against the Philadelphia Flyers Thursday night, Tampa Bay Lightning centre Stamkos now has 19 goals in 19 games. How high is the emerging superstar's goal-scoring ceiling this year?

There are a couple of factors in play for goal-scoring and in Stamkos' case, they are naturally quite favourable.

One, you can't score if you don't shoot and Stamkos shoots the puck frequently, but not an outrageous amount. With 72 shots on goal in 19 games, Stamkos ranks tenth in the league with 3.78 shots on goal per game.

Considering that Stamkos averaged 3.62 shots on goal per game last season, just his second year in the NHL, it's not unreasonable to think that he can continue generating at least 3.7 shots per game.

Another factor that contributes to Stamkos' goal-scoring is that he is an exceptional shooting talent. His release was touted as special before he even reached the NHL and he scored on 17.2% of his shots last season, on his way to tying Sidney Crosby for the league goal-scoring lead, with 51.

This year, however, Stamkos is scoring on 26.4% of his shots, which is exceptional, but likely unsustainable since the last time a league leader was over 26.4%, it was Cam Neely in 1993-94.

Is it fair to expect Stamkos' shooting percentage to fall?

More than half of Stamkos' goals this season have come on the power play and that's going to be difficult to sustain. He's on pace for 43 power play goals; the single-season record is 34, set by the Flyers' Tim Kerr in 1985-1986.

Considering the style with which Kerr played, knocking in rebounds and tip-ins while controlling the space in close to the opposition goal, it's harder to imagine Stamkos maintaining this level of power play dominance for an entire season.

The greater the distance between the shooter and the goaltender, the more opportunity there will be for opponents to block, deflect and otherwise steer shots away from danger.

Penalty killing focus on Stamkos will get even greater than it has been already, particularly if his Lightning teammates aren't capable of making opponents pay for overplaying towards Stamkos' perch on the left circle.

Right now, defenceman Brett Clark ranks second on the team with three power-play goals and every team has to prefer taking their chances with getting burned by Clark rather than continuing to allow Stamkos to fire with the man advantage.

It's not intended as a slight to Stamkos that he is unlikely to keep scoring on 26.4% of his shots; merely some regression to the mean, even if the mean used is for the best goal-scorers of this generation.

From the chart below, with the top goal-scoring seasons in the last 20 years, the average shooting percentage (in this admittedly small sample) is 19.3%.

Even giving Stamkos the benefit of the doubt and suggesting that he scores on, say, 21% of his shots over the course of the entire season, would put him on target for 64 goals, so he could very well challenge Alexander Ovechkin's 65-goal season from 2007-2008, the highest single-season goal total since Mario Lemieux scored 69 in 1995-96. 

(We can re-visit this should he still be on 40-in-40 or 50-in-50 pace later in the season.)

Comparing Stamkos's start in 2010-11 with the top single-season goal-scorers of the last 20 years; all of the 60-goal seasons, as well as Cam Neely's 1993-94 campaign:

YEAR PLAYER POS TEAM GOALS in 19 GP TOTAL G/GP SH %
95-96 Mario Lemieux C Pittsburgh 22 69/70 20.4%
93-94 Cam Neely RW Boston 20 50/49 27.0%
92-93 Pavel Bure LW Vancouver 20 60/83 14.7%
90-91 Brett Hull RW St. Louis 19 86/78 22.1%
09-10 Steven Stamkos C Tampa Bay 19 ?? 26.4%
92-93 Luc Robitaille LW Los Angeles 17 63/84 23.8%
95-96 Jaromir Jagr RW Pittsburgh 17 62/82 15.4%
92-93 Alexander Mogilny LW Buffalo 16 76/77 21.1%
91-92 Brett Hull RW St. Louis 16 70/73 17.2%
92-93 Teemu Selanne RW Winnipeg 15 76/84 19.6%
07-08 Alexander Ovechkin LW Washington 13 65/82 14.6%
93-94 Pavel Bure LW Vancouver 9 60/76 16.0%

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.




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