Maurice Richard. Mike Bossy. Wayne Gretzky. Mario Lemieux. Brett Hull.
And maybe Steven Stamkos?
It's a select list of NHL legends who have scored 50 goals in their teams' first 50 games, and it has been nearly two decades since the rare feat was last accomplished (Hull, 1991-92).
But after potting his second hat trick of the season on Thursday night as part of a five-point performance, Tampa Bay's 20-year old sniper has 19 goals in 19 games. And though he has a lot of scoring to do between now and his team's 50th game on January 23 against Atlanta, Stamkos has already captured the imagination of hockey observers and some of his peers, as well.
"He's dangerous and he's on a pretty torrid pace right now," said Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who tied Stamkos for the NHL lead in goals last season with 51.
"I definitely think he is going to continue this pace," predicted Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri.
For his part, Stamkos' scoring frequency is surprising even to himself.
"Yeah, after 19 games I wouldn't expect myself to have 19 goals," Stamkos told NHL.com. "It's just the way things are going right now. I'm working really hard and I'm trying to buy into the system."
It's all a bit heady for a player who was playing junior in the OHL as recently as the spring of 2008, prior to becoming the first overall pick by the Lightning that summer. And despite his eventual 51-goal campaign last year for Tampa Bay, Stamkos was passed over for a spot on the Canadian Olympic team.
While Stamkos remains 31 goals away from a place in the record books, his current 19-goal standing compares well to the paces that have been set by several of the players who have accomplished the feat. (It should be noted that a number of players, such as Cam Neely and Alexander Mogilny, have scored 50 goals in 50 or fewer games played, but because of injury failed to do so in the team's first 50 games - which is the standard that the NHL holds to include a player in the "50 in 50" club).
When Gretzky scored 50 goals in an NHL-record 39 games in 1981-82, he too sat on 19 goals after 19 games. Rocket Richard did as well in 1944-45 en route to becoming the first player ever to score 50 in 50.
Bossy in 1980-81 and Hull in 1990-91 also sat on 19 in 19.
Only two players have ever exceeded Stamkos' pace after 19 games and gone on to break the 50 in 50 plateau: Gretzky in 1983-84 (24 goals), and Lemieux in 1988-89 (22).
The 2005-06 season - the first after the lockout - was the last time that any players had a goal-per-game pace after the first quarter of the season. Philadelphia's Simon Gagne had 20 goals in 19 games before finishing with 47, and Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson had 19 in 19 before going on to a 43-goal campaign.
Adding It Up
It's a lot of pressure and expectation to place on a player who is still three months shy of his 21st birthday, and his teammates are the first ones to keep him grounded.
"It is amazing," forward Martin St. Louis told NHL.com. "But we don't want Stammer to just think about that. Sometimes things are better left not talked about. You know, just go play. There is no reason to set any bars for him. Good things are going to happen. He's that good."
Stamkos has let the numbers do the talking. After scoring 23 goals in his rookie campaign, Stamkos has potted 70 goals in his last 101 NHL games combined over last season and the first 19 games this year.
Whether or not 50 in 50 becomes reality, Stamkos' goal-per-game pace puts him on track for 82 on the season. At that plateau, the total would be the fifth-most ever scored in a single campaign (Gretzky had 92 in 1981-82 and 87 in 1983-84, Hull scored 86 in 1990-91, and Lemieux had 85 in 1988-89).
Heady company, indeed. But the numbers tell the story, and hockey fans will be closely tracking one of the league's most exciting snipers in the months to come.
"I'm getting a great opportunity, playing with some good players and our power play is clicking right now," explained Stamkos. "I'm a beneficiary of that now and I just have to keep working hard to get rewarded."