He Who Shoots Most Shoots Best

Jordan Verlage

Does being a great goal scorer mean you're more accurate than the rest, or does it mean you have the skill to shoot more? Is it both?

In the period between the lockouts of 2004-05 and 2012-13, the NHL saw a whole host of young stars rise to the status of elite goal scorers. Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos, Rick Nash and many others became some of the most feared snipers in the league. And they all have something in common that separates them from the rest of the rank and file: they shoot. A lot.

Below is a chart that ranks the top 25 players in goals per game from 2005-06 to 2011-12. Also listed is their shots per game total and its rank in the NHL, as well as each player's shooting percentage with its NHL rank. In an effort to keep flukey hot streaks out of the equation, each of these categories required at least 150 games played, or just under two full seasons.

Player Name Goals/Game Shots/Game (Rank) Shooting % (Rank)
Alex Ovechkin 0.61 5.12 (1) 12.0% (149)
Steve Stamkos 0.55 3.24 (24) 17.0% (4)
Ilya Kovalchuk 0.54 3.74 (3) 14.5% (26)
Marian Gaborik 0.53 3.59 (9) 14.9% (16)
Sidney Crosby 0.51 3.39 (17) 15.1% (13)
Evgeni Malkin 0.49 3.73 (5) 13.1% (73)
Danny Heatley 0.48 3.26 (23) 14.7% (20)
Jarome Iginla 0.47 3.52 (12) 13.4% (62)
Teemu Selanne 0.46 3.02 (36) 15.1% (14)
Marian Hossa 0.45 3.73 (4) 12.0% (147)
Alex Semin 0.45 3.14 (26) 14.3% (36)
Rick Nash 0.44 3.57 (11) 12.5% (121)
Vincent Lecavalier 0.43 3.66 (7) 11.7% (171)
Eric Staal 0.43 3.71 (6) 11.5% (184)
Simon Gagne 0.42 3.28 (22) 12.7% (96)
Patrick Marleau 0.42 3.01 (37) 13.9% (50)
Thomas Vanek 0.42 2.77 (64) 15.2% (12)
Bobby Ryan 0.41 2.84 (59) 14.4% (31)
Henrik Zetterberg 0.41 3.87 (2) 10.5% (251)
Jaromir Jagr 0.40 3.48 (13) 11.5% (180)
Daniel Sedin 0.40 3.11 (28) 12.9% (89)
Jason Spezza 0.40 2.75 (67) 14.5% (27)
Jonathan Toews 0.40 2.66 (80) 15.0% (15)
Daniel Alfredsson 0.39 2.72 (69) 14.4% (29)
Jeff Carter 0.39 3.57 (10) 11.0% (209)

The bold numbers in the Shots/Game column represent the freaks of nature. Vanek, Ryan, Spezza, Toews and Alfredsson are the only players in the top 25 in goals per game who managed less than three shots per game and who were outside the top 40 in the NHL in shots per game. Vanek, Spezza and Alfredsson all kept this up over a period of no less than 495 games. We'll see if Bobby Ryan and Jonathan Toews can stay in the top 25 without increasing their shot output, but at this point they've played 332 and 361 games respectively. Still a very impressive feat.

It's clear that the Oilers would have received a special scorer in Thomas Vanek if Buffalo had elected not to match his offer sheet. He scored 230 goals between lockouts, which is 8th in the overall list and he's 17th in goals per game. He maintained a shooting percentage over 15% in a span of 547 games, which, as some of the names on this list can attest to, is rather difficult. Only five players on the list were able to do it at all. Still not worth the four first round picks in light of where the Oilers were choosing, but interesting all the same.

The shooting percentage column provides a little context into how accurate these players are. As you'd expect, most of them have relatively high shooting percentages (12 of them over 14%), but also interesting is the number of merely good ones. Seven of these players had shooting percentages at or below 12%, including big names like Ovechkin, Jagr, Staal and Hossa. Henrik Zetterberg shot at just 10.5%, but was 19th in goals per game by virtue of his massive shot output. The three players with the highest shooting percentages over at least 150 games were Alex Tanguay, Sergei Kostitsyn and Andrew Brunette, who were 153rd, 223rd and 135th in goals per game respectively.

Some notes beyond this list:

- Of the top 100 in goals per game between lockouts, 71 had at least 2.5 shots per game. Only three had less than two per game.

- Erik Cole and Ryan Smyth are the only two names in the top 100 that spent any time with the Oilers. Both had 0.35 goals per game. Cole had 2.56 shots per game and Smyth had 2.87.

- The next-highest former Oiler is Dustin Penner at 116th (0.28 G/G). He did most of that scoring in Edmonton.

- Ryan Smyth's 2.87 shots per game ranks 54th and his 0.35 goals per game is 45th. Never a player who anyone would accuse of being a deadly accurate sniper, he nevertheless managed to score by racking up shots on goal.

- Joe Sakic was 34th in goals per game at 0.37, but he shot at just 12%. He shot the puck 691 times in 223 games (3.10 per game) and was no younger than 36 years old when he did it. That's Ryan Smyth's age at the start of this season. Amazing. By 2005-06 Sakic had already played 1155 NHL games.

So what does this mean for the Oilers going forward?

Including this year so far, Taylor Hall has averaged 3.23 shots per game in his career and has led the team in that category since entering the league. That number is in the Stamkos/Heatley/Gagne type range. That doesn't mean he'll go on to score 60 goals like Stamkos did, but it's an encouraging sign for his ability to be one of the top scorers in the NHL. It's not out of the question for any player to be at the top for one year, but it takes consistency of shooting to stay there for any length of time.

Jordan Eberle has increased his shot output from 2.29 per game in 2010-11 to 2.31 per game in 2011-12, and finally to 2.78 in 2013. So far over Eberle's career he's sitting at 2.41 shots per game, which is comfortably adequate for a scoring forward. By eye it could be said that Eberle is a very accurate shooter, so he should pick up his production in the future. Although his regression this season was predictable, his faltering effectiveness in 2013 belies his improving underlying numbers, as his 981 PDO attests. Only 73 NHL players maintained at least 2.7 shots per game over 150 games between lockouts, so even if Eberle holds there he's in good shape.

It's much too early to judge a player like Nail Yakupov, who was a shooting machine during his time in the KHL. His 1.51 shots per game so far is underwhelming, but he's also a raw rookie with limited ice time.

In terms of pure goal scorers, the Oilers appear to have at least two good bets to fit into the top 100 over the next several seasons combined. Taylor Hall has a good chance at sliding into the top 25. For what it's worth, eleven of the top 25 in the list above are also owners of a Stanley Cup ring.

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