For the last several years, offense has been trending upward in the National Hockey League. After a pause in the pattern during the strange 2020-21 campaign, teams made up for lost time last season, scoring an average of 3.14 goals per team per game.
That’s a number that hasn’t been seen since 1995-96, when Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr dominated the scoring race while Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews were both a year away from being born.
Since reaching NHL age, those two mega-talents have ridden the wave of increased offense — while also helping to drive it. They were both among the large group of scorers who hit career highs in points last season — and for McDavid, coming out on top of the heap is quickly becoming old hat. His 123 points were a new personal best, and earned him his fourth Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer in just his seventh year in the league.
Can McDavid win a third straight scoring title in 2022-23 — and who are his most threatening challengers?
Here are five names to watch this season in the race for Art Ross.
1. CONNOR McDAVID – EDMONTON OILERS
With 697 points in 487 regular-season games to date in his career, Connor McDavid’s 1.43 points per game is the gold standard in the modern NHL.
Last season, he pushed that number up by averaging 1.54 points per game. His pace remained relatively steady until the playoffs, when his 2.06 points per game showed that, when motivated, he can find even more to give.
With the Oilers looking to build off their postseason success in their first full season under Jay Woodcroft, McDavid could be on track for his fifth scoring title in just eight years. Assuming he stays healthy, pencil him in as the favorite in the 2022-23 Art Ross race.
2. AUSTON MATTHEWS – TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
With 60 goals, Auston Matthews earned his second career Rocket Richard Trophy last season, while simultaneously staking his claim as the best scorer in Toronto Maple Leafs history.
His 106 points in 73 games were also a career high. And while he finished sixth in the overall scoring race, his rate of production was third best, at 1.47 points per game.
Last week, I touched on why Matthews could take another step forward this season when I placed him first in my Hart Trophy rankings. If he does, his first Art Ross win could be within reach.
3. SIDNEY CROSBY – PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
The NHL may be a young man’s league these days, but the artist formerly known as Sid the Kid shouldn’t be ruled out quite yet.
After missing the first month of last season due to a wrist injury, Crosby returned to post 84 points in 69 regular-season games. That rate of 1.22 points per game placed him in the company of younger stars like Filip Forsberg, Mikko Rantanen and J.T. Miller.
And while the Pittsburgh Penguins were expected to make some big changes this summer, they ended up returning all their key players. Management showed faith in the veteran core that also includes Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, but the clock is ticking.
Proud and motivated, Crosby recognizes that, at 35, he’s into the home stretch of a phenomenal NHL career. Don’t be surprised if he climbs back among the league’s top scorers this season, in the mix for his third Art Ross title.
4. NIKITA KUCHEROV – TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Only two players in this millennium have scored more than McDavid’s 123 points from last season: Joe Thornton, in his 125-point Hart Trophy season with Boston and San Jose in 2005-06 and Nikita Kucherov’s 128-point Hart campaign in 2018-19.
After missing all of the 2020-21 regular season following hip surgery, Kucherov was also limited to just 47 regular-season games last year. But he still managed 69 points — a rate of 1.47 points per game that was second-best in the league, behind only McDavid. And Kucherov’s playoff performances continue to demonstrate that he can make magic when the stakes are at their highest.
No longer on their Stanley Cup throne, the Tampa Bay Lightning have something to prove this season. Now 29, Kucherov should once again find himself shoulder-to-shoulder with the game’s top scorers as long as he stays healthy.
5. KIRILL KAPRIZOV – MINNESOTA WILD
After winning the Calder Trophy in the strange 2020-21 season, Kirill Kaprizov delivered an impressive encore in his second NHL campaign. He didn’t just score 47 goals, finishing tied for fifth with Winnipeg’s Kyle Connor in that category. Kaprizov also chipped in 61 assists to finish with 108 points. That was good for fifth in the Art Ross race, two points behind Leon Draisaitl and two ahead of Auston Matthews.
Now 25, Kaprizov is proving that the Wild made the right call when they locked him into a rich five-year contract after just one NHL season. More than just a pure sniper, he’s a game changer — and has shown brilliant chemistry from the outset with linemate Mats Zuccarello.
If Kaprizov can take his game to another level in his third year, the Wild will be back in playoff contention again in the tough Central Division. Three months younger than McDavid and five months older than Matthews, his name will be grouped with theirs as he challenges for the scoring title.