Scoring 50 goals in the NHL is a feat typically reserved for the game’s all-time great players. There has been 186 50-goal seasons in the NHL’s 100-year history and Wayne Gretzky has nine of them.
Maurice “Rocket” Richard was the first player to score 50 goals when he did so in 50 games in the 1944-45 season. It was such a rare feat at the time, given the league played fewer games, that nobody had a 50-goal season until 1960-61 when Bernie Geoffrion did so with the Montreal Canadiens. In the fast-paced, no-backcheck game of the 1970s and 1980s, more and more players scored 50 goals in a single season – Mike Bossy and basically anybody who played on a line with Gretzky scored 50 regularly.
Though scoring 50 goals has become more of a challenge post 2004 lockout (only 11 players have done so), there has still been some average players reaching the mark, but nowhere near the rate they did decades earlier. For every Steve Yzerman and Guy Lafleur, there’s a fringe star who had one spectacular season and surprisingly scored 50. They might not be remembered as famed goal scorers (or remembered at all), but they did something only few have done.
15. Jonathan Cheechoo
If his first three seasons in the NHL were an indication of what was to come, Jonathan Cheechoo would be a first ballot Hall of Famer upon retirement. Instead, the 36-year-old is now playing for Bratislava Slovan in the KHL, six years removed from his last game in the NHL.
A second round pick in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, Cheechoo debuted for the San Jose Sharks in the 2002-03 season, scoring 16 points in 66 games. After an improved sophomore season, the Moose Factory, Ont. native scored a league-leading 56 goals in 2005-06 and led the Sharks in scoring with 93 points. Cheechoo possessed a wicked wrist shot, one that became a dangerous weapon playing alongside newly-acquired Joe Thornton. He was an effective goal scorer the following season, but his production began to rapidly decline. In 2009-10, just four seasons after his career campaign, Cheechoo scored just five goals in 61 games for the Ottawa Senators.
14. Ray Sheppard
Ray Sheppard was a consistent scorer through 817 career NHL games, but never really came close to the 50 goals he scored for Detroit in 1993-94 again. This shouldn’t be surprising. Sheppard’s career high prior to that season was 38, which he scored as a rookie for Buffalo and he failed to top 37 in his final six seasons.
The former third round pick had tremendous scoring ability in junior – he scored 81 goals for the OHL’s Cornwall Royals in 1985-86 – but he was never the go-to offensive player on a team in the NHL. During his 50-goal season, Sheppard was aided by Sergei Fedorov (56 goals, 64 assists), Steve Yzerman (24 goals, 58 assists) and a dynasty-like Red Wings squad that featured multiple Hall of Famers. He still finished his career with 657 points, which is a lot more than most of the players on this list.
13. Danny Grant
New Brunswick native Danny Grant was 28-years-old when he scored 50 goals as a member of the Detroit Red Wings in the 1974-75 season. He topped 30 goals in three of his previous six seasons with the Minnesota North Stars, never scoring more than 34. With the Wings, however, Grant joined a team with 23-year-old Marcel Dionne and the pair formed a dangerous duo.
Dionne dished out 74 assists and Grant was often the benefactor, finishing the season with 50 goals and 36 assists. Dionne finished eighth in Hart Memorial Trophy voting that season, while Grant was voted as the league’s third best left winger. Any chances of Grant becoming a late bloomer instead of a one-season wonder were wiped out the following year when he suffered the first of many career-altering leg injuries. He scored just 34 goals through the next four seasons.
12. Guy Chouinard
A second round pick by the Atlanta Flames in the 1974 NHL Amateur Draft, Guy Chouinard wasted little time in proving himself a capable NHL goal scorer. In his first full season with the Flames (1976-77), Chouinard scored 17 goals. He followed that up with a 28-goal campaign and then reached new heights with a 50-goal, 57-assist season in 1978-79. Given that he was also fourth in voting for the Selke Trophy, given to the league’s best defensive forward, it seemed likely that Chouinard was on the path to becoming a Superstar.
His career didn’t necessarily flame out, but he was never able to come close to replicating his career year. Chouinard scored 31 goals in each of the following two seasons, but was slowed by injuries. He played just three more seasons, tallying 38 goals combined. He’s doing OK, though – Chouinard is the winningest coach in the history of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).
11. Craig Simpson
The Edmonton Oilers were looking to infuse their aging team with young talent when they traded Paul Coffey to the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 1987-88 season. The four-player package they received in return included Chris Joseph and Craig Simpson, a former second overall pick who had 13 goals in 21 games with the Penguins. He went from playing with Mario Lemieux to taking passes in the slot from Wayne Gretzky, and unsurprisingly scored 43 goals in 59 games with the Oilers, giving him 56 between the two teams.
Injuries kept Simpson from becoming one of the game’s great scorers; instead, he scored more than 30 goals just once in his next seven seasons. He’s now a broadcaster for the CBC and is married to Olympic figure skating medalist Jamie Salé.
10. Gary Roberts
Gary Roberts was known as a hard-working, in-your-face player with the ability to score in tight, but he was never regarded as a prolific scorer. Yet, in 1991-92, Roberts scored 53 as a 25-year-old winger with the Calgary Flames. He played just four more seasons with the Flames, but was limited in the final two due to a career-threatening back injury.
If you’re aware of Roberts’ current reputation (he’s regarded as the NHL’s resident fitness expert), it should come as no surprise that he was able to not only continue his career, but did so for another 11 seasons, playing a physical brand of hockey until he was 43. Gary finished his career with 910 points in 1,224 regular season games and 93 points in 130 playoff games.
9. Jacques Richard
A veteran of 556 career NHL games, former Atlanta Flames second overall pick Jacques Richard scored roughly one-third of his 160 goals in 1980-81 as a member of the Quebec Nordiques. After scoring 71 in his final season of junior and reaching 27 in his second NHL season, it appeared Richard might be on his way to becoming a feared sniper. Instead, he failed to top 20 goals in the next seven seasons and even spent 140 games in the AHL.
Yet, playing alongside Peter and Anton Stastny in his first full season with the Nordiques, Richard thrived finishing with 52 goals and 51 assists. Despite the career season, he was out of the league just two years later after scoring just 24 goals. He tragically passed away in a car accident in 2002.
8. Brian Bellows
Brian Bellows scored 485 goals in a career that most players can only dream of having, but he might be the most understated goal scorer of all-time. He was consistent, sure, but prior to scoring 55 goals with the Minnesota North Stars in the 1989-90 season, Bellows’ career high was 41. He only once scored 40 following that career season.
A former second overall pick of the North Stars, he was a big part of the team’s core for ten seasons, but was never “the guy.” He had two very productive seasons with the Montreal Canadiens after leaving Minnesota, but played a more limited role in his final four seasons split between the Tampa Bay Lightning, Anaheim Ducks, and Washington Capitals. His son, Kieffer, was selected 19th overall by the New York Islanders in the 2016 NHL Draft.
7. Håkan Loob
More than just a mispronunciation of a sex object, Hakan Loob was actually a skilled NHLer. The Swede was a ninth round pick of the Calgary Flames in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft, but didn’t break into the league until the 1983-84 season. His NHL career was short, but sweet; Loob spent six seasons with the Flames, recording 429 points in 450 games.
His best season was his second last with the team. Loob scored 50 goals and led the team in scoring with 106 points. His previous high in goals and points was 37 and 72 respectively. Loob’s numbers came back down to earth in his sixth year with the Flames, though he still finished second on the team in points with 85. The Flames won the Stanley Cup that season and Loob figured he had enough with the NHL. He returned to his club in Sweden, where he played for another seven seasons.
6. Wayne Babych
Wayne Babych is a perfect example of how one injury can derail and ultimately define a players career. A third overall pick of the St. Louis Blues in 1978, Babych scored 53 goals combined in his first two seasons before netting 54 in his third year. The budding power winger was the perfect complement to playmaking winger Bernie Federko, but he failed to score more than 20 goals in the next six seasons.
Babych was forced out of the league due to a slew of injuries. In a pre-season game following his 53-goal campaign, Babych tore his rotator-cuff during a fight. He was limited to 51 games that season and was never the effective power forward he once was. Babych suffered a broken leg in the 1986 pre-season and, despite returning for the final four games, he retired at the end of the year.
5. Jimmy Carson
Best known as being part of the pack the Edmonton Oilers received from the Los Angeles Kings for Wayne Gretzky, Jimmy Carson (no relation to Johnny) was one of the league’s most exciting players in his first three seasons. He scored 55 in 1987-88, his second and final year with the Kings, and finished second on the team in scoring with 107 points behind only Luc Robitaille.
He scored 49 in his first year with the Oilers, though he could have tripled that total and it wouldn’t relieve the sting of the Gretzky trade. Impressive totals nonetheless. Yet, the second youngest player to ever reach 100 goals (behind Gretzky) scored just 134 goals over the next seven seasons before leaving to play in Switzerland at 27-years-old. The Michigan native certainly had the chance to become one of the game’s greats, but felt too much pressure to live up the “The Great One” in Edmonton. He moved to Detroit after asking for a trade in his second season with the Oilers, but couldn’t regain his Superstar form.
4. Milan Hejduk
Milan Hejduk compares similarly to Brian Bellows, who appeared earlier on this list. Both players had tremendous careers, but neither are remembered as world-class goal scorers. Hejduk, however, accomplished the 50-goal feat in 2002-03 with the Colorado Avalanche, scoring 50 and adding 48 assists. Sure, he was playing with Hall of Famers Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic, but 50 goals is 50 goals.
Unfortunately, it was an aberration. Hejduk was coming off seasons of 44 and 79 points prior to 2002-03 and failed to top 75 points in his final nine seasons. He did, however, score 35 in 2006-07 and ultimately put together a string of 11 straight 20-goal seasons. The Czech Republic native played all of his 1,020 career games with the Avalanche, accumulating 805 points.
3. Adam Graves
Adam Graves stumbled through Detroit and Edmonton before finding a home – and a new-found skill set – in New York. The former second round pick scored just 23 goals in his first three seasons with Red Wings and Oilers, but was an immediate impact player with the Rangers, scoring 26 goals in his first season with the team.
After scoring 36 goals in 1992-93, Graves recorded a career-high 52 tallies in the Rangers’ Stanley Cup-winning ’94 campaign. He finished third on the team in regular season scoring behind Sergei Zubov and Mark Messier and contributed 17 playoff points. It was a banner season, but one that could never be equaled. Graves played seven more seasons with the Rangers and, though he only topped 30 goals twice, he remains one of the organization’s most popular players. His number nine was retired by the Rangers in 2009.
2. Gary Leeman
Gary Leeman’s 51 goals as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1989-90 are likely still fresh in his mind. The former second round pick played just 208 games and scored 47 goals after his career season. Leeman was playing in the AHL by the 1996-97 season and played the following two seasons in Germany before retiring at 35-years-old.
Leeman was on an upward trajectory prior to reaching 50 goals. He netted 30 in his third year with the Maple Leafs in 1987-88 and scored 32 the following season, despite injuries limiting him to just 61 games. By 1989-90, he had formed incredible chemistry with young linemates Vincent Damphousse and Ed Olczyk, and more importantly he stayed healthy. That was a reoccurring issue throughout the rest of his career.
1. Dany Heatley
In his prime, Dany Heatley was the most talented goal scorer among those listed. The German-born Canadian scored back-to-back 50-goal seasons in 2005-06 and 06-07 and followed that up with three consecutive seasons with at least 39 goals. Unfortunately for Heatley, the end came quick.
Prior to his third season with the Atlanta Thrashers, Heatley was involved in a fatal vehicle accident. He suffered non-life threatening injuries, but his friend and teammate Dan Snyder was killed. Facing rehab and possible indictment, Heatley played just 31 games that season for the Thrashers. He was traded to the Ottawa Senators after the lockout, where he had his great run, but demanded a trade after four seasons. He remained productive for two seasons with San Jose, but was propped up by the likes of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Joe Pavelski. Heatley scored 47 goals in his final four NHL seasons, which includes a year spent in the Anaheim Ducks’ farm system.
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