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Keep Putting the Biscuit in the Basket...

Continuing our review of the NHL's leading goal scorers and their prospects for winning the Rocket Richard Trophy, it's time to look at our next five contestants...

Martin Straka, New York Rangers: Playing in the shadow of Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan can either be a curse or a blessing (depending on a player's ego), but for Straka, he seems to like it just fine. 15 goals at this point gives him a good chance to exceed his personal high of 35 goals in 1998-9, but challenging for the league lead is probably not in the cards. While his average Shot Quality is an outstanding 14.07% (9th best among the 150 players with at least 50 shots), his shooting percentage is a lofty 22.06%, a rate that is unlikely to continue for the next 5 months. While he gets plenty of even-strength and power play time to load up on offensive chances, he's clearly not the #1 option in this offense and is unlikely to exceed the 200-shot plateau by much, if any. The only way I see Straka contending for the Rocket Richard Trophy is for Jagr and/or Shanahan to get injured, requiring the Rangers to commit themselves to force-feeding Straka the puck. Prognosis: Not In The Running

Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks: Is this the year that Patrick Marleau breaks out big-time, exceeding his heretofore respectable goal-scoring totals to challenge the NHL's mightiest snipers? In a word, no. Don't get me wrong, he's a nice centerman who's just entering his prime years, but that 22.95% shooting percentage just screams "hot streak". His shot totals and ice time are down significantly from last year (he's getting 2 minutes less per game on the power play), so I'm guessing he'll end up somewhere in the low 30's again this season. Prognosis: Not In The Running

Jason Blake, New York Islanders: The surging Islanders are one of the NHL's pleasant surprises so far, and Blake's hot start has helped carry them to the top of the Atlantic Division. Here's another case of a hot shooter likely to cool off, however. At 33 years old, with a career-best shooting percentage of 9.88%, are we supposed to believe that his current rate of 17.5% will hold up? I don't think so. He does have the benefit of getting lots of shots, especially during the next few weeks while Alexei Yashin recovers from injury, and he's getting 1:23 more power play time per game than he received last year, so he's likely to crack the 30-goal mark for the first time this season. Getting to 40 would be a huge accomplishment, and who knows, perhaps a 20-year contract from the guys upstairs. Prognosis: Not In The Running

Simon Gagne, Philadelphia Flyers: Having scored 47 goals last year in 72 games, this 26 year-old certainly has the skill to compete with the best, and there is no secret to the formula which drives his production. He gets loads of shots (334 last year, on pace for 331 now), boasts a 12.84% shooting percentage that suggests he's scoring at a sustainable clip, and has seen a change in the makeup of his ice time, taking away a shift per game on the penalty kill, and getting an extra shift at even strength. Obviously, a healthy Peter Forsberg would help his cause greatly. Expect Gagne to climb through the rankings as hotter shooters cool off. Prognosis: Prime Contender

Chris Kunitz, Anaheim Ducks: With very little history to go on, one would be tempted to toss Kunitz's candidacy aside as another example of an overly hot shooter, like Chris Kontos back in 1992-3 with Tampa Bay (I wish I could find something online to back this up, but I remember him lighting up the league in the first couple months, then tailing off). However, Kunitz has a few intriguing aspects that might lead one to believe he's the real deal. His average Shot Quality comes in at 14.41%, 5th best among players with at least 50 shots, so while his current 21.21% shooting percentage might fall back, it probably won't be by much. He's also getting 4:26 on the power play each game, up from 2:04 last year, and with room for growth if Anaheim decides to reward his performance with more PP time. While I'm not ready to put him up there with the elite goal-scorers just yet, a 35-40 goal effort seems quite attainable this year, likely ensuring that his days of bouncing between the NHL and AHL are over. Prognosis: Unlikely To Contend

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