All of their names graced the score sheets with more frequency than their contemporaries last season.
Out of the top 10 NHL goal scorers from the 2011-12 campaign, each one surpassed the 35-goal plateau, and are primed to see similar production in the upcoming year.
Names like reigning Rocket Richard Trophy winner Steven Stamkos, and a pair of former recipients in Alex Ovechkin and Corey Perry have all been there before.
But Pittsburgh Penguins forward James Neal, New York Islanders winger Matt Moulson, and Philadelphia Flyers forward Scott Hartnell are coming off career highs in goals.
Are these 'underdogs' going to challenge for the title next year? Or are the familiar faces going to etch their names in the NHL record books yet again? Or, will it be someone else not on this list?
Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning): A dynamic goal scorer with a dangerous, lightning-fast release, the reigning Richard Trophy winner scored 60 goals last season and is especially potent in the slot. He was the first NHLer to reach the 60-goal plateau since Alex Ovechkin did it in 2007-08 and at the ripe age of 22 — and forming great chemistry with veteran teammate Martin St. Louis — he's just entering his prime.
Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins): This guy seems to flourish in all scenarios. The Hart Trophy winner was second in the league in goals (50) and first in points (109). He was a bona fide stud in the absence of teammate Sidney Crosby, and recorded a league-high 339 shots on goal. He scored 12 power-play goals and 38 even-strength markers while ranking fourth in the league with nine game winners.
Marian Gaborik (New York Rangers): The Slovakian sniper demonstrated how lethal his wrist shot can be when he doesn't have to make too many trips to the doctor's office, scoring 41 goals last year in his third campaign with the Rangers. He should benefit from the presence of newly acquired winger Rick Nash and has scored at least 30 goals seven times in his career.
James Neal (Pittsburgh Penguins): Blossomed into a legitimate goal scorer playing alongside Malkin and produced a career-high 40 goals and 81 points last year — his previous best was 27 in 2008-09 with the Dallas Stars. The 25-year-old is just coming into his own and had a league-high 18 power-play goals and was second with 329 shots.
Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals): Arguably one of the best pure goal scorers the game has ever produced with a sixth sense for the back of the net. He had a "down year" with 38 goals and was still fifth in league scoring. The 26-year-old is a two-time winner of the Richard Trophy (2008, '09) and had the highest single-season goal total in over a decade when he potted 65 in 2007-08 (Mario Lemieux scored 69 in 1995-96, the last player to surpass 60). He should benefit from a change of scenery with new head coach Adam Oates taking over.
Ilya Kovalchuk (New Jersey Devils): If you were to look up "offensive-minded player" in the proverbial dictionary, Kovalchuk's picture would be right beside it. The Russian sniper, who potted 37 goals last year, has 13 career hat tricks and has been as consistent as they come for the last decade. He's a four-time 40-goal scorer and has netted 50 or more twice. He's only failed to reach 30 once (when he scored 29 as a rookie in 65 games).
Phil Kessel (Toronto Maple Leafs): The 24-year-old seems to have finally found his groove playing alongside Joffrey Lupul, who helped spark Kessel's career-high, 37-goal and 82-point campaign last year. He's hit the 30-goal plateau in each of the past four seasons and possesses one of the quickest snap shots in the game. The Madison, Wis., native will continue to see ample power play and ice time to further ply his trade.
Scott Hartnell (Philadelphia Flyers): On the outset, one might think Hartnell is the most surprising name on the Top 10 list. But with 37 goals last year, the winger earned his status among the NHL's elite scorers and had six multi-goal games (and a six-game goal scoring streak). He'll reap the rewards of playing on the same squad as super sniper Claude Giroux. Hartnell, a native of Regina, Sask., just signed a new lucrative six-year, $28.5 million US deal and should be motivated to live up to it.
Corey Perry (Anaheim Ducks): If you're a believer in bounce-back seasons, expect Perry to find the score sheet with ease next year. After a career-high 50-goal campaign two years ago — and Richard and Hart Trophies to go along with it — the Peterborough, Ont. native tailed off last season with 37. If he can re-kindle his chemistry with playmaker Ryan Getzlaf, opposing goaltenders will be in for a long season.
Matt Moulson (New York Islanders): He's quietly kept his name up on the stat sheets with regularity. The 28-year-old has scored at least 30 goals in each of the past three seasons, including a career-high 36 last year. He was third in the NHL in power-play goals (14) and has a four-goal game to his credit. Is this the year he breaks out?
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