One of the most disappointing aspects of the recent NHL lockout is that it robbed hockey fans of the opportunity to see whether Tampa Bay Lightning standout Steven Stamkos could come close to duplicating his 60-goal performance from the previous season. He was just the ninth player since 1990-91 to reach that mark, and in a 48-game season, there was obviously no chance that he would reach it again.
Perhaps the most intriguing statistic to watch in 2013 was whether or not anybody could match the 34 goals that Jaromir Jagr scored during the last lockout-shortened campaign back in 1994-95. If anybody in the league had a chance to chase that number down, Stamkos seemed like as good a bet as any, especially since he scored 32 goals in the first 48 games of the 2011-12 season.
In the end, he never reached the 30-goal mark (only Washington's Alex Ovechkin did) and he narrowly missed out on what would have been the third Rocket Richard trophy (for the league's goal-scoring title) of his young career, finishing just three behind the Washington Capitals star.
Heading into the 2013-14 season, VUKOTA projects Stamkos to reclaim his goal-scoring crown, and likes five of last season's top-six scorers to finish in the Top 10. The rest of the list features some of the usual suspects, but VUKOTA also likes a couple of young stars to quickly climb the leaderboard.
1. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning: 46.8 goals
After scoring 60 goals during his most recent 82-game season, Stamkos came back after the lockout and picked right up where he left off as one of the most lethal shooters in the league. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his production is how little came on the power play, where he was once an unstoppable force on one-timers from the top of the circle. He is now doing almost all of his damage at even strength. Stamkos has scored a league-best 67 even-strength goals over the past two seasons.
For some perspective on that, only seven other players have scored more than 40 over that stretch, while nobody has more than 43. He is simply on a different level than anybody else.