Taking It to the Top: Winning Junior Hockey Scoring Titles

Originally published in Prospects Hockey in 2005

By Lucas Aykroyd

Most hockey observers believe Corey Perry of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks has a bright future. But will the 6-3, 197-pound center give Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin a run for their money in the quest for NHL Rookie of the Year status? Or will he require a little more seasoning?

Whatever happens, Perry, 20, can treasure the knowledge that not only did he capture the Memorial Cup last season with the OHL’s London Knights, but he also won the league scoring title in his final junior year.

For OHL, QMJHL, and WHL scoring leaders, finishing atop the points parade is no guarantee of future success. But Perry set a nice precedent for himself, in that his 130 regular season points went hand in hand with London’s league-leading 120 points.

“It’s something I thought I could attain,” said Perry. “I was only five points short of the title in my third year, two seasons ago. I wanted to go out there and do it. It was a personal goal of mine. Of course, I put the team ahead of my individual hopes.”

Wisely, Perry didn’t spout off to the media before the season about those hopes. He had all the support he needed from linemate Dylan Hunter and coach Dale Hunter.

“I think it’s good for kids to set goals, but I don’t think they should come out and state them publicly,” said Barry Trapp, head amateur scout of the Toronto Maple Leafs and former Hockey Canada director of scouting. “You’re just setting the bar awfully high, and a lot of people, including yourself, will look at you and say, ‘Well, you didn’t have a very good season,’ if you don’t accomplish your stated goal.”

In addition, winning a scoring title in junior isn’t as automatically impressive as capturing the NHL’s Art Ross Trophy.

“That’s because of the difference in the caliber of play,” said Trapp. “To win a scoring title in major junior hockey is an accomplishment, but to win a scoring title in the NHL, you have to do it against the best players in the world.”

Age is another factor. Players are still maturing in junior. It’s amazing when a Sidney Crosby tops the points parade at 16 or 17, but not so surprising when a 20-year-old turns the trick.

“A 20-year-old forward needs to put up big numbers,” said Trapp. “He’s usually been in the league three or four years, and he’s that much bigger and stronger than kids who are 16, 17, or 18. But there’s one warning sign here: if a guy wins the title at age 20 but has been so-so up until then, then you’ve got to take a second look. Check if the kid was a producer in minor, midget, and junior A. That’s usually a good indicator. If a guy just scores a lot one year in major junior, you’re taking a gamble if you draft him.”

Mike Rooney, who scouted for the Nashville Predators for four years, said: “A lot has to do with how the guys are getting their points. Can it translate from junior into the NHL? Great players score many different ways: a snapper, slapper, wrister, backhand, or breakaway. You look for special abilities. If you’re looking at an overall points leader, you have to look at how they’re doing it.”

“I’ve coached guys who scored two or three goals when the score was 8-1 or 7-2, but in the tough games, these guys didn’t produce,” Trapp added. “If you look at Sidney Crosby or Corey Perry, they scored goals in tough games as well as the easy ones.”

Some major junior scoring leaders prove unstoppable in all situations and establish themselves as hockey legends, like two-time OHL leader Marcel Dionne (St. Catharines) and two-time WHL champ Bobby Clarke (Flin Flon). Bobby Smith (Ottawa, OHL) and Mario Lemieux (Laval, QMJHL) are great examples too. Others, such as Doug Wickenheiser (170 points with Regina in 1979-80) or Rene Corbet (148 points with Drummondville in 1992-93), reinvent themselves in the NHL as checking forwards.

But some never get the chance to live out their NHL dreams. Still, that’s not always a disaster. Just ask Scott McCrory, who captured the 1986-87 OHL scoring title while playing on a line with Lee Giffin and Derek King (a future 830-game NHLer). The former Oshawa Generals center admitted: “I wasn’t a great skater, which probably cost me a chance to play in the NHL. But I was a playmaker and I took advantage of chances to shoot the puck when I could.”

In between AHL and IHL stints, McCrory discovered that his 150-point OHL campaign was a big plus on his resume when he sought hockey employment in Austria, Italy, and Germany: “The first thing teams in Europe do is look at your bio. They want to see what you’ve accomplished, what awards you’ve won. In Europe, your imports are your go-to guys, so they want to make sure you can put the puck in the net.”

McCrory played until 2001. Today, he runs an equipment company called Fury Hockey with Keith and Wayne Primeau as well as teaching hockey schools. His advice to other junior scoring leaders? “Always remember that your education is the key. Make sure you look after the people you see on the way up, because you’ll be seeing the same people on the way down.”

Words like that aren’t meant to discourage young snipers. It’s simply about keeping early success in perspective. In fact, hockey experts believe it’s important to encourage talented forwards to keep up the offensive side of their game and not become checking dullards.

“One year, Theoren Fleury scored 51 goals for the Calgary Flames,” Trapp recalled. “The following year, they wanted him to be more defensive and he only scored 33. Well, nowadays it’s so hard to score goals that you don’t want to take away any player’s offensive abilities. You just want them to be responsible defensively.”

Fleury, who shared the 1987-88 WHL scoring title with Joe Sakic, was one of the rare small players to carry over his offensive prowess into the NHL. But now, both the CHL and NHL are clamping down on obstruction and opening up the game. Will this provide more opportunities for stars as diminutive as Daniel Briere or Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who led the QMJHL in scoring in 1996 and 2001 respectively, to win scoring titles?

“I think these new rules are going to help these younger, smaller, skilled players put up bigger and better numbers,” Trapp said.

“It’ll benefit offensive guys,” Rooney said. “You might see an influx of smaller players. All it’s going to take, though, is a team that gets outmuscled or outbattled in a playoff round, and they’ll look again to players with more size and strength.”

But remember, even Sidney Crosby isn’t the world’s biggest guy at 5-11 and 193 pounds. Talent and creativity are still the calling cards of most CHL scoring leaders. And when you combine those elements with an unquenchable desire for victory, you’ve got a player who will be a true champion for years to come.

Recent OHL Scoring Champions

2004-05 Corey Perry, London
2003-04 Corey Locke, Ottawa
2002-03 Corey Locke, Ottawa
2001-02 Nathan Robinson, Belleville
2000-01 Kyle Wellwood, Belleville
1999-00 Sheldon Keefe, Barrie
1998-99 Peter Sarno, Sarnia
1997-98 Peter Sarno, Windsor
1996-97 Marc Savard, Oshawa
1995-96 Aaron Brand, Sarnia

Recent QMJHL Scoring Champions

2004-05 Sidney Crosby, Rimouski
2003-04 Sidney Crosby, Rimouski
2002-03 Joel Perrault, Baie-Comeau
2001-02 Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Chicoutimi
2000-01 Simon Gamache, Val D’Or
1999-00 Brad Richards, Rimouski
1998-99 Mike Ribeiro, Rouyn-Noranda
1997-98 Ramzi Abid, Chicoutimi
1996-97 Pavel Rosa, Hull
1995-96 Daniel Briere, Drummondville

Recent WHL Scoring Champions

2004-05 Eric Fehr, Brandon
2003-04 Tyler Redenbach, Swift Current
2002-03 Erik Christensen, Kamloops
2001-02 Nathan Barrett, Lethbridge
2000-01 Justin Mapletoft, Red Deer
1999-00 Brad Moran, Calgary
1998-99 Pavel Brendl, Calgary
1997-98 Sergei Varlamov, Swift Current
1996-97 Todd Robinson, Portland
1995-96 Mark Deyell, Saskatoon

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