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More Super-Sniper Analysis

Here's the second installment of our look at Maurice Richard Trophy contenders, presenting the seven players tied with 16 goals apiece:

Dany Heatley, Ottawa Senators: Heatley is already close to the pace he set last year while scoring 50 goals, so we know he's capable of putting up elite numbers over the long, 82-game haul. In fact, his numbers so far are almost a duplicate of 2005-6: total shots tracking towards 285 (vs. 300 last year), ice time per game at 20:32 vs. 21:09 last year, and roughly 5.5 minutes per game on the power play. The only real difference is that he's seeing virtually no penalty-killing time, and has picked up an additional minute per game of even-strength action. His shooting percentage stands at 17.02%, right in line with last year (16.67%), and not markedly different from his career mark of 15.68%. To Heatley's credit, he's keeping up the production in light of Ottawa's overall offensive decline. They're down to 3.52 goals per game from 3.80 last season, and unless that turns around, that drag could make the difference between 45 and 55 goals this year, more than enough to rob him of a chance at the prize. Prognosis: Steady, Second-Tier Contender

Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning: Having topped the 30-goal mark for the last three seasons, St. Louis seems poised to take another step forward this season. Like Marian Hossa, this seems to be mostly due to an increase in shots taken. St. Louis is headed for a 276-shot campaign, well above his career-high from last year of 221. His shooting percentage of 17.58% appears to be quite sustainable, given recent marks of 17.92% in 2003-4 and 16.42% the year before. His Shot Quality comes in at 14.57%, so he's taking very good shots to begin with. For example, roughly a third of shots are wristers between 11-20 feet, which, on average, go in 18% of the time (17.24% for him). This speaks volumes for his speed and offensive sense - he's not just piling up bucket loads of shots, he's consistently getting truly dangerous opportunities. The only real cause for concern is St. Louis' tremendous ice time. He's logging 24:39 per game this year, roughly a 4-shift-per-game increase from the previous two seasons which leads all forwards by more than a minute (Rod Brind'Amour is next at 23:34). You have to wonder how he'll hold up over the next several months. Prognosis: Dark Horse

Alexander Frolov, Los Angeles Kings: Cursed by the Pacific time zone starting times that keep him off most hockey writers' TV screens, Frolov hasn't gotten nearly enough credit for his strong start this season. Another player who's firing more shots on the net, Frolov is headed for a 235-shot season which would easily surpass his previous high of 174. His current shooting percentage of 19.28% has him among the early goal-scoring leaders, but that doesn't seem likely to last given his average Shot Quality of 12.72%. I'd expect that shooting percentage to come down closer to 15% over the course of the 82-game schedule, which still translates into a 30-35 goal season which represents genuine progress for Frolov and the L.A. Kings in general. Prognosis: Expected To Fade

Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes: Staal established himself as a premier NHL center last year racking up 45 goals and 100 points, and appears able to duplicate that performance this season. His ice time this year is comparable to last, year, except for a shift less on the penalty kill per game, and a shift more on the power play. That translates to a shooting pace slightly ahead of last season (on track for 319 vs. 279), along with a shooting percentage of 14.68%. His Shot Quality is basically average (10.07%), and there are some aspects of that overachieving Shooting Percentage that don't appear sustainable. For instance, he's currently 5-for-5 on Tip-In's. That's either a short-term statistical fluke (entirely likely) or a foible of the process by which the NHL records those plays (also entirely likely). I would expect a slight retraction in that shooting percentage, and a 40-45 goal season that makes plenty of Hurricanes fans happy, but leaves him well short of individual awards. Prognosis: Second-Tier Contender

Chris Drury, Buffalo Sabres: Drury seems to fall into the same category as Alexander Frolov and Thomas Vanek, hot shooters that don't appear likely to keep up the production all season long. Drury's current shooting percentage of 20.78% ranks 12th among NHL forwards, but his Shot Quality of 12.63% isn't anywhere near as spectacular. That tells me he's having some fortunate short-term success, and even an outstanding 17% shooting percentage (like he had last year) would take about 7 goals off his season total. If he keeps going at that clip, and gets off around 240 shots, he'll have a shot at his first 40-goal season. That's a great step forward for a guy who's basically seen as a "second line center", but making the next jump to actually leading the league in goal scoring is another matter entirely. Prognosis: Unlikely To Contend

Darcy Tucker, Toronto Maple Leafs: Power Play production has been the story so far for Tucker, who is currently tied for the league lead with 11 PP goals alongside Marian Hossa. Partial credit there has to go to Leafs defensemen Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe, who are respectively 3rd and 4th in blueliner scoring. Tucker's shooting percentage of 20% is another that seems unsustainable over the long haul, given his average Shot Quality of 11.65%. A step back down toward the 15% mark, coupled with his current shooting pace for 234 shots, would yield a very respectable 35-goal total that represents a great accomplishment building off his career-best 28 goals from last year. A Rocket Richard Trophy is out of the question, however. Prognosis: Expected To Fade

Ryan Smyth, Edmonton Oilers: Unfortunately for Captain Canada, a broken thumb has landed him on injured reserve and basically wiped out any chance he had in this category. He seems to be another sniper off to an abnormally hot start, as his ice time and shot totals are basically in line with recent years (he's actually getting a minute per game less this year), but his shooting percentage is 21.62%, almost double his average Shot Quality of 11.66%. We could have reasonably expected his goal-scoring to cool off anyway, but with the double whammy of missing games due to injury, then trying to come back with an injured thumb, just getting back to 30 goals should be considered a major milestone. Prognosis: Out Of The Running

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