If Wayne Gretzky never scored a single goal, he would still be the NHL‘s all-time scoring leader with 1,963 points.
It’s one of the most incredulous stats in all of sports, one that best exemplifies The Great One’s greatness. But greatness is generational and the time is coming for one of hockey’s greatest facts to become fiction.
Gretzky is the only player in hockey history to amass over 2,000 points, but it’s starting to look more than possible that he may finally have company in the not-so-distant future. With each passing game of pure offensive dominance, Connor McDavid looks hungry to one day join Gretzky at top hockey’s scoring pantheon.
It’s still extremely early. Extremely early. McDavid isn’t even halfway there yet, currently sitting at 774 points in 529 games. But he’s climbing extremely quickly with 77 of those points coming this season … in just 42 games. McDavid is on an incredible 150-point pace — a feat not seen since Mario Lemieux in 1995-96 — and his scoring feels like no fluke. 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 worth of hockey where he’s averaged a 142-point pace. That’s his true talent level and it’s altered his future trajectory to a point where one of hockey’s rarest milestones feels genuinely within reach.
Can Connor McDavid be the first player since Wayne Gretzky to score over 2,000 points? Yes, he can.
Again — it’s really early for an exercise like this. 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 to date combined with how players normally age.
It’s an experiment I’ve conducted in the past for Alex Ovechkin’s quest to break the all-time goals record. More recently I’ve done the same exercise with Austin Matthews for our NHL99 series as his goal-scoring prowess was following along a similar path to Ovechkin’s (right down to the age 25 slump).
Now it’s McDavid’s turn. Here’s the math.
McDavid is currently projected to finish the 2022-23 season with 148 points; 71 more than he currently has. That means that after this season he should be sitting somewhere around 845 — almost halfway there. That’s the easy projection to make. The much more difficult one is planning the next decade (or more) of McDavid’s career.
Going that far in the future will create much more room for error. It expects a steady and gentle curve, one that ignores any potential ebbs and flows in McDavid’s trajectory, long-term injuries, lockouts (ugh), changing goal-scoring environments, and anything else that might alter McDavid’s production path. We don’t know exactly how McDavid will age, but it’s possible to estimate it using a standard age curve (one that McDavid may very likely eclipse anyway).
Here’s what we get each season if we do that with McDavid expected to play roughly 80 games per season, the rate he’s averaged since his rookie year.
For five straight seasons, McDavid has scored at a 120-point pace or higher. He’s expected to keep that level up for another five seasons after this one, right until he’s 30. After that is where the age curve generally starts to accelerate where McDavid likely only has two-to-three more years above a 100-point pace.
Still, that’s a long time at that level of production and it’s what makes 2,000 points possible. More than possible. This exercise suggests that McDavid can keep being a 100-point scorer even into his mid-30s which is obviously rare, but not that far-fetched for someone who is already one of the greatest players of all time. Sidney Crosby, now 35, scored at that rate last season and is maintaining that pace this season. It’s definitely doable for McDavid and this projection is actually conservative, pegging McDavid as “just” a point-per-game player at age 35. If he can maintain his production of him as Crosby has, the sky really is the limit. This forecast might even be conservative.
If McDavid can more-or-less stay on that path, and play until he’s 40, he would finish his career with 2,237 points — 834 goals and 1,403 assists. He’d hit 2,000 sometime during his age-36 season, right around his 37th birthday. That’s a sizeable cushion that gives McDavid plenty of leeway to reach rarefied air.
Here’s what his trajectory would look like with expected years labeled for important milestones.
McDavid is on track to crack 1,000 points before his 27th birthday, somewhere around the 660-game mark. That would make him the fourth fastest to 1,000 points behind Gretzky (424), Lemieux (513) and Mike Bossy (656). There’s a very real chance McDavid can be the third fastest and he should comfortably land in the top five with Jarri Kurri currently holding down that spot in 716 games.
Getting to 1,000 so fast is what gives McDavid ample opportunity to likely reach the next few milestones. He should hit 1,500 before his 1,000th game in his age-30 season, leaving a lot of runway for the final 500 points. The math is very much in McDavid’s favour.
But it takes more than math and projection to break milestones and there’s a reason no one else has gotten there. McDavid is a generational icon, but the NHL is a grind where nothing is given. Health is a massive factor in figuring out where McDavid lands once the dust settles on his illustrious career and health is far from a guarantee.
To date, McDavid has been remarkably healthy, missing very few games since a freak accident in his rookie season. Staying healthy throughout his prime has provided a sizeable advantage in chasing down scoring accolades, but it needs to continue for another decade for all of this to be possible. With good health (and no league stoppages), it would’ve been Crosby likely being the second to join the 2,000-point club, as he missed out on roughly 350 points throughout the prime of his career.
McDavid has been much more fortunate on that front and he’s also been more fortunate when it comes to the scoring environment. The NHL has experienced an offensive boom over the last five years coinciding with McDavid’s peak years. It’s a change that Crosby never benefitted from that gives McDavid some extra cushion for his career totals.
There are a lot of outside factors that make 2,000 points possible for McDavid, but at the end of the day the biggest factor is him.
He’s that guy. He’s the greatest player in the world and already one of the greatest players of all time. He has the talent to make something that feels almost inconceivable feel not just possible, but likely.
When all is said and done, McDavid should be the NHL’s second player to 2,000 points. He’ll need some luck on his side of him to get there, but with the way he’s trending, it’s looking like a matter of when, not if. Enjoy the greatness.
(Photo: Sergei Belski/USA Today)