QOTW answers: Ovechkin, Vanek your "Rocket" front-runners

December, 17, 2008
The ESPN.com puckheads made cases for several snipers in this week's question: Which player will win Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy?

Alex Ovechkin? Thomas Vanek? Jeff Carter? Let's take a look:

nuhusky89: Zach Parise isn't going to win the scoring title but he is around fifth in the league in goals with 16 of them with a few games in hand on almost every team. He is doing wonders for a Devils' teams that has had to switch to a more offensive-styled game with the injury to Brodeur. Parise is a pure scorer.

My take: This is a young star that doesn't get the attention he deserves. We hope to change that a little by producing a story on him that should be posted Thursday on ESPN.com. The 24-year-old Minnesota native is on pace for 50 goals this season after putting up 16 in 27 games so far in 2008-09. He's coming off the quietest back-to-back 30-goal seasons in the league. We don't think he's going to win the Richard Trophy, but what a player folks!

bostonnate04: Kessel. Vanek is just going to draw the other team's best shutdown lines for the rest of the season. Same with Ovechkin. The depth of the Bruins' forward lines won't allow teams to do this to Savard/Kessel. If Wheeler/Krejci/Ryder keep putting up the numbers that they are, teams will be forced to divide up the time of their shut-down lines, which will inevitably give Kessel more time and space. ... Even though he is proving to be a force, teams will simply not be able to do what it takes to stop Phil Kessel. Plus the fact that he is in the midst of a 15-game points streak proves he is consistent and doesn't look like he is going to slow down any time soon. If this kid's confidence grows any more, there will be no stopping him.

Sachmoney: I have to go with my boy Phil Kessel. People are bringing up the "shots per game" issue. Yes, Phil is taking less shots than other leading goal scorers, but he's hitting at a higher rate than most. Only Vanek is hitting at a higher rate of guys with more goals than him. Phil continues to grow as the season progresses. These last two games, his main set-up guy, Marc Savard, didn't record an assist. Kessel still got three points in each of the games. He is inspiring confidence that he can score every single game. Another thing that sets Kessel apart is he's playing with the modern-day Adam Oates on the power play, David Krejci. Once he starts getting the 5-6 shots a game instead of the 3-4, he will start getting more goals. He's on a 52-goal pace. Unless he gets injured, I expect him to get at least 50.

My take: The fact Kessel is even in this discussion shows how far this young man as come. The 21-year-old Wisconsin native has already tied his career high with 19 goals and is currently on pace for a 52-goal season. His speed and explosiveness going to net is electrifying. And, obviously, he's shown he can hit the smallest of holes on goalies with a great wrist shot. There might be a little bump in the road this season, but we still see at least a 40-goal season. The Richard Trophy might have to wait for another season, though.

hldude11: I'm giving the nod to Jeff Carter, but barely, over Ovechkin. Now that Semin is back in the line-up, look for Ovie's goal pace to decrease a little bit, but his assists are going to grow and grow. Carter can benefit that Philly has two dominant scoring lines, most of the top defensive units will be out there against the Mike Richards-Gagne line. So unless Philly changes these line-ups, look for Carter to edge Ovechkin (Carter-54, Ovechkin-52, Vanek-48).

33monkeyman33: Well, i think that Carter will take it, if his line is able to stay healthy. He has a great shot and he is not afraid to get in front of the net when the Flyers are on the power play. But like others have said, it is too early to tell. Let's ask this question again at the 3/4 mark of the season.

My take: Before the 2005-06 season, I picked Carter to win the Calder over Crosby and Ovechkin. OK, so I was a little off there. But I knew this guy had serious scoring ability coming out of junior. The 23-year-old is really showing that this season, as his 22 goals in 30 games puts him on pace for a 60-goal campaign. I don't think he'll hit 60, but he will take a serious run at the Richard Trophy. He's the real deal.

TheRoooooooster: Two simple words -- Thomas Vanek! Even when the Sabres are slumping, he still continues to put the puck in the net at a rate that we have not seen in a loooong time in Buffalo. Just imagine what pace he is going to be keeping up with when the Sabres are clicking on all cylinders.

kcbarn: It has to be Thomas Vanek. Even despite the Sabres' recent slump, he has still been putting the puck in the net. Lindy Ruff has been making Vanek into one of the top two-way players in the NHL ... he's on the top PP and PK units for the Sabres and obviously the No. 1 forward line. And with little help from a top assist man around him (Roy leads the team with only 16) Vanek is still putting up goals at a torrid pace. Even if the rest of the Sabres continue at the mediocre pace, Vanek can still maintain this. And if they pick up their play, that will only lead to even more goals for Vanek.

mjglor: This question is regarding who will end up with the most goals come season's end. Not anything about assists. With that said, Thomas Vanek will finish the regular season with the most goals. Vanek's linemates give him the puck to do what he does best, score. Also, it's not like the Sabres' opponents haven't noticed defending Vanek is tough, however, if teams are "going to force Vanek to pass" to help prevent him from scoring, what explains his six goals in his past five games? Pure talent. Vanek = Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy winner in '09.

My take: The 24-year-old Austrian leads the NHL with 24 goals, on pace for a 65-goal campaign. Vanek has scored goals all his life. He had 57 goals in two years at the University of Minnesota, 42 goals in one AHL season in Rochester, and 128 goals so far in 275 NHL regular-season games. Pure sniper. And he's been really hot since the second half of 2007-08. He scored 22 goals in his last 31 games last season, giving him 46 goals in his last 61 games overall. We don't see why this won't be at least a 50-goal season, but will it be enough for his first "Rocket" Richard Trophy?

BTD5504: Ovechkin. Plain and simple. He's the best goal scorer in the league and has a chance to break 60 again, especially with a healthy Backstrom and Semin on the same line. If they can stay healthy, that has to be the best line in the NHL. (all apologies to the Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson line).

Greatness66688771: It's gonna be Ovechkin. I love the play of Richards, Vanek, Kessel. These guys are all amazing, but the one guy who will not tail off this year is Ovechkin. He simply has the best, most overpowering shot in the league and his linemates are playing great as well.

SkinsWinItAll: I say Ovechkin simply because he has Semin on the same line. I have been watching a lot of Caps games this season and when Semin is out, it is harder for OV to score because teams can simply double team him and shadow him with a defenseman the whole game. With Semin in there teams that choose to double OV and give Semin a much easier chance to score (that led to his scalding start). Now that Semin is back I wouldn't be surprised to see a two or three goal night from OV sometime soon.

Pengwin7: It will be Ovechkin. AO is shooting at only 10 percent right now. If he continues at that (poor) rate and gets his 440 shots -- that'll be 44 goals. Semin and Backstrom will draw more attention and soon AO will be shooting at a better rate. Pengwin's QOTW: What is the most lopsided single-season goals-assists ratio (min. 40G) in NHL history? Vanek has only five assists right now. Opposing coaches are going to start preparing their teams to force Vanek to pass the puck. Vanek is a career 15 percent shooter. So his current 24 percent is well above his norm. Predicted final tally: 1. Ovechkin 55 goals, 2. Carter 51 goals, 3. Vanek 49 goals.

My take: Ovechkin has been a house on fire ever since crossing the pond from Russia. He has 182 goals in 275 regular-season NHL games. That's ridiculous. Oh, and he's only getting better. Coming off a 65-goal campaign that won him the "Rocket" Richard Trophy last season, Ovechkin was slow out of the gates, admitting his grandfather's illness was affecting him. After a visit to Russia to lift his spirits, OV has been out of this world, putting up 17 goals and 20 assists in 22 games. He's on pace to hit the 50-goal plateau for the third time in four NHL seasons and we believe another Rocket Richard Trophy. Yes folks, we think Ovechkin will catch Vanek and Carter and edge them.

The final word ...
The best part of all this? Look at the age of the players we're talking about: Parise (24), Kessel (21), Carter (23), Vanek (24) and Ovechkin (23) are pups. The fact these guys are battling for the goal-scoring lead shows you the NHL is in great hands.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer




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