NHL’s Top 5 Goalscorers of the Decade

Players today have grown into versatile players who can score and set up plays. While Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov and Nathan MacKinnon have multiple aspects to their game that make them special players, that’s not what this list will focus on.

This list will solely focus on snipers and goalscorers. Nothing gets fans excited more than seeing their favourite superstar light the lamp. Here are the top five goalscorers of the decade.

No. 5: Auston Matthews

While his NHL career has been short, there’s no doubt that Auston Matthews is an exciting player to watch. In his fourth year with the Toronto Maple Leafs, it seems that all he is doing is finding the back of the net consistently. He is the only player in the modern NHL era to score four goals in his first NHL game. He’s been setting records and is a part of some elite company as a goalscorer. Since then, the goals and records have continued to roll in.

Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

Matthews signals the next wave of premier goalscorers in the league. He scored 40 goals in his rookie season and recorded back-to-back 30 goals seasons after that. Before the calendar turned to 2020, Matthews had 27 goals and is on pace for 54 this season, which would be a career high. His shot is different, but it throws a lot of goalies off with his ability to slightly toe drag the puck back and he uses his quick release to his advantage.

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While he’s able to snipe, he isn’t a stranger to making a highlight-reel goal with his hands. We’ve also seen him utilize his slap shot at times, getting more looks on his off-wing for a one-timer.

In 2019 alone, Matthews led the league in multi-goal games with seven, while managing to score 50 goals for the year. His stats since coming into the league have been elite. Here are some stats that show how dominant Matthews is:

CategoryAuston Matthews’ Numbers and Rank
Goals138 (2nd)
Goals per game (min. 200 GP)0.55 (2nd)
Even-Strength Goals106 (1st)
First Goal Scored23 (9th)
Goals per 60 (5v5, min. 200 GP)1.56 (1st)

In most of these categories Matthews is only behind Alexander Ovechkin, which shows that he’s able to keep up and produce with the best of the league. Despite the fact that he’s entered the league towards the later part of the decade, his ability to be a regular scoring threat shouldn’t go unnoticed.

No. 4: Patrick Kane

In terms of putting up points, Patrick Kane has been one of the best. But an underrated factor is his goalscoring ability. While he may not have as many 30- or 40-goal seasons, he’s always scoring 20 goals a season on top of his ability to set them up. 

Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane
Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (88) celebrates with teammates after his goal against the Calgary Flames during the first period of an NHL hockey game on Monday Jan. 7, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

Among players with at least 500 games, Kane ranks fourth in goals (302) and is second overall in even-strength goals with 226. His goals-per-game (G/G) rate ranks sixth overall and his 1.02 goals per 60 (5v5) is 10th overall. In addition, he has been in the top five in goals scored three times with two 40-goal seasons to his name. His highest total came in 2015-16 when he won the Hart Memorial Trophy and Art Ross Trophy, with 46. Kane is already on pace for another 40-goal season.

His ability to shoot from the point on the power play or use his soft hands in tight to fool goaltenders on a constant basis, Kane is a real threat when he’s on the ice. His patience with the puck is what sets him apart from other players and will for years to come.

No. 3: John Tavares

Even though Matthews is on the list as one of the new elite shooters in the game, his teammate and captain of the Maple Leafs, John Tavares, was a consistent scorer before he joined the Blue and White.

Tavares scored 311 goals, which ranks third overall in the league during this time (minimum 500 GP), most of them being with the New York Islanders. His 223 even-strength goals (third overall) and 85 power-play goals (sixth overall) make him a major threat both at five-on-five and on special teams. Even at a per-game rate, his 0.44 G/G ranks fifth in the league.

Carey Price, John Tavares,
Toronto Maple Leafs’ John Tavares scores against Montreal Canadiens’ Carey Price (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

While he’s managed to put up points consistently throughout his career, it wasn’t until 2014-15 where the goal totals started to increase. In his career, Tavares cracked the top 10 in goals scored four times and twice in the top three. With five 30-plus goal seasons, nothing was more thrilling to witness than his first 40-goal campaign and set a career high in goals (47) in his first season with his childhood team. 

His ability to find success in the high danger area is what makes him so dangerous in the offensive zone. From 2010-19, Tavares has scored 30% of his goals right in front of the net and 45% outside of the crease in the slot. His shooting percentage has been consistent throughout his career, at 13.4%. While he may not be a sharpshooter like Matthews, Tavares is still dangerous as a scoring threat, especially in front of the net. 

No. 2: Steven Stamkos

There is no doubt that Steven Stamkos is the second best goalscorer of the 2010s. Since the decade started, his 333 goals and 119 power-play goals are second overall. Of players who played in at least 500 games, his G/G average is second at 0.54. The next closest are Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby with 0.46. Stamkos has been in the top five in goals five times and he’s been first or second four times.

Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL
Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steve Stamkos (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

The power and release from his shot is second to Ovechkin’s and he likes to set up shop on the left-hand side of the ice. From 2010 to now, Stamkos has scored 48% of his goals from the middle of the slot or edge of the faceoff circle. 

Steven Stamkos Goals Chart 2010-19. Image form IcyData.Hockey

While Ovechkin is all based on power behind his shot, Stamkos likes to trick the goalie at times by being patient and using his quick release. While he’s capable of winding up for that one-timer, he likes to change his angle or body position ever so slightly to get the goalie moving. 

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For years Stamkos has been a dangerous shooter. Now, with another superstar in Kucherov on his wing, he becomes more dangerous on the ice with another elite player feeding him the puck on a consistent basis. Based on his ability to find the back of the net, there isn’t any uncertainty that Stamkos is going to continue being a dangerous scoring threat.

No. 1: Alexander Ovechkin

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but Ovechkin was the best goalscorer of the decade. With all due to respect to the other goalscorers, it wasn’t even close. 

We all know what Ovechkin can do on a daily basis with his shot, which is the best in the league. Even though every player on the ice knows where he likes to set up (top-left circle), players have had a hard time trying to contain him throughout his 15-year career. After 682 goals, eight 50-goal seasons, and eight Rocket Richard Trophies, it looks like he isn’t slowing down, even at the age of 34. 

Washington Capitals Alex Ovechkin
Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Since 2010-11, Ovechkin has the most goals (413), most even-strength goals (248), most power-play goals (165) and most game-winning goals (67). He has led the league in goals scored in six of the 10 years, has scored 30 or more goals nine times (has 24 at the end of 2019, but will likely reach the 30-goal mark in 2020) and has scored 50 goals four times. With a minimum of 500 games played, Ovechkin has the best goals-per-game average with 0.57. There isn’t a more consistent goalscoring threat than “The Great Eight”.

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While Ovechkin is known for being a premier shooter from the left faceoff circle, his game has grown to be a complete threat in the offensive zone. This heat map of his goals, courtesy of IcyData.Hockey, shows his ability to change things up from time to time and utilize the whole ice surface to throw off the opposition. Even though it includes the 2009 year, he’s been a major, consistent threat in the offensive zone.

Alexander Ovechkin’s Goal Heat Map, 2009-19. Image from IcyData.Hockey.

He was a major goalscoring threat during the 2010s — could he continue that trend in the next decade? If age doesn’t play a factor, which it hasn’t yet, there’s a very good chance he could lead the league in scoring into his 40s. With that in mind, even Wayne Gretzky thinks he can break his goalscoring record. 

Ovechkin and Stamkos continue to prove that they’re elite snipers while Matthews represents the next wave of goalscorers that the league will see. Even though the youth invasion has started, it’s still tough to take over two of the best shots in the league. However, in just four years, Matthews has already etched his name with the best.

** All Statistics are accurate as of Jan. 1, 2020.

Statistics from NHL.com and Hockey-Reference. Charts from IcyData.Hockey.