If Wayne Gretzky never scored, he would still be the NHL scoring leader with 1,963 points.
It’s one of the most incredible stats in all of sports, and it’s the perfect example of the greatness of The Great One. But greatness is passed down the generations, and it’s time for it to become one of hockey’s greatest fact from fiction.
Gretzky is the only player in hockey history to accumulate more than 2,000 points, but it’s starting to look more than possible that he might finally have company in the not-too-distant future. With every passing game of pure offensive dominance, Connor McDavid looks hungry to one day join Gretzky as the top scorer in hockey.
It’s still very early. Too early. McDavid isn’t even halfway there yet, and he currently sits at 774 points in 529 games. But he’s climbing very quickly with 77 of those points coming this season… in just 42 games. McDavid is going at an incredible pace of 150 points – a feat not seen since Mario Lemieux in 1995-96 – and his scoring seems no accident. Not after he scored 33 points in 16 playoff games last spring and not after he scored 105 points in 56 games during the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season.
Since January 2021, McDavid has scored 342 points in just 198 games, regular season and playoffs combined. That’s nearly two and a half seasons of hockey in which he averaged 142 points. This is his true talent level and it has changed his future trajectory to a point where he feels one of hockey’s rarest milestones is truly within reach.
Could Connor McDavid be the first player since Wayne Gretzky to score over 2,000 points? Yes he can.
Once again – it’s too early for such an exercise. Anything can happen and we don’t have a crystal ball to see exactly what the future holds. But, why not have some fun? For the sake of a fun little science experiment, we can still make an educated guess based on what McDavid has done so far along with how players naturally age.
It’s an experiment I’ve made in the past for Alex Ovechkin’s record-breaking quest for goals. Recently, I did the same workout with Auston Matthews for the NHL99 Series where his goal-scoring prowess was following a similar trajectory to Ovechkin’s (down to the slump at 25).
Now it’s McDavid’s turn. Here’s the math.
McDavid is currently expected to finish the 2022-23 season with 148 points; 71 more than he currently has. This means that after this season it should be sitting somewhere around 845 – about halfway there. This is the easy projection. Even more difficult is predicting the next decade (or more) of McDavid’s career.
Going this far in the future will create a lot more room for error. He projects a steady and gentle curve, ignoring any potential ebbs and flows in McDavid’s trajectory, long-term injuries, lockouts(ugh), changing goal-scoring environments, and anything else that might alter the trajectory of McDavid’s production. We don’t know exactly how McDavid will age, but it’s possible to estimate it using a standard age curve (McDavid is very likely to age anyway).
Here’s what we get per season if we do it with McDavid expected to play approximately 80 games per season, which is the average he’s been hitting since his rookie year.
For five consecutive seasons, McDavid has scored 120 points or higher. He is expected to maintain this level for another five seasons after this, until he turns 30. After that, the age curve starts to quicken as McDavid will likely only have another two to three years above the 100-point pace.
However, that’s a long time at this level of production and that’s what makes 2,000 points possible. more than possible. This drill suggests McDavid can remain a 100-point scorer well into his mid-30s, which is rare, but not far-fetched for someone who is already one of the greatest players of all time. Sidney Crosby, now 35, hit that average last season and is maintaining that average this season. It’s certainly possible for McDavid and that projection is actually conservative, pegging McDavid as “just” a point-per-game player at age 35. If he can keep his production going like Crosby did, the sky really is the limit. These expectations may be conservative.
If McDavid can more or less stay on this path and play until he reaches the age of 40, he will finish his career with 2,237 points – 834 goals and 1,403 assists. He had hit 2,000 sometime during his season at the age of 36, near his 37th birthday. This is a large cushion that gives McDavid plenty of leeway to get in the rarefied air.
Here’s what his trajectory will look like with projected years categorized for important milestones.
McDavid is on his way to hitting 1,000 points before his 27th birthday, somewhere around the 660-game mark. This would make him the fourth fastest player for 1,000 points behind Gretzky (424), Lemieux (513) and Mike Bossy (656). There’s a very real chance that McDavid will be the third fastest player, and he should easily land in the top five, with Gary Currie currently holding that spot at 716 games.
Getting to 1,000 quickly is what gives McDavid a high chance of potentially hitting the next few milestones. He must reach 1,500 before his 1,000th game of his 30-year-old season, leaving plenty of grandstand for the final 500 points. The math is very much in favor of MacDavid.
But it takes more than math and projection to break down milestones and there’s a reason no one else has gotten there. McDavid is an icon for generations, but the NHL is a grind where nothing gets delivered. Health is a huge factor in figuring out where McDavid lands once the dust settles on his illustrious career, and his health is far from a guarantee.
So far, McDavid is healthy, missing quite a few games since his freak accident in his rookie season. Maintaining his health throughout his presidency has provided a huge advantage in the trophy hunt, but he will have to go on for another decade for all of this to be possible. With good health (and a non-league break), Crosby was likely the second to join the 2,000-point club, missing nearly 350 points during the start of his career.
McDavid has been luckier in this area and he’s also luckier when it comes to the recording environment. The NHL has had an offensive boom over the past five years in conjunction with McDavid’s peak years. It’s a change Crosby never capitalized on, and it gives McDavid some extra boost to his career total.
There are a lot of external factors that make 2,000 points possible for McDavid, but at the end of the day it’s the biggest factor.
It’s that guy. He is the greatest player in the world and indeed one of the greatest players of all time. He has a knack for making something that feels almost inconceivable not just possible, but possible.
When all is said and done, McDavid should be the second NHL player to 2,000 points. He’s going to need some luck on his side to get there, but with the way he’s headed, it feels like a matter of when, not if. Enjoy greatness.
(Photo: Sergey Belsky/USA Today)