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Pro Hockey Talk Year In Review: Best NHL goals of 2021

Pro Hockey Talk is taking a look back at the year in hockey. We’ll be presenting you with the best NHL goals, saves, stories, players and more as we remember 2021.

Goals. In a given NHL season, there are thousands of them. In the grand scheme of things, many of us would prefer even more.

But, leafing through what the NHL provided in 2021, it’s clear that there were many, many great goals. Inevitably, this best NHL goals of 2021 will miss some. Hopefully, nothing too iconic. Either way, feel free to share your own favorites in the comments, via Twitter, or some other means.

(To keep this post from being too unwieldy and tough on browsers, we’ll skip blooper goals. So feel even freer to share those.)

Why it’s dangerous to throw out the phrase ‘that Connor McDavid goal’

Truly, it’s easy to lose track of jaw-dropping Connor McDavid goals. Again, this post is likely to miss some other great NHL goals from 2021, and the same could be said for McDavid specifically.

McDavid is referred to as a video game cheat code come to life because he often makes this all look too easy.

So, when you say “that Connor McDavid goal,” you risk confusion. In this calendar year, or even just this chunk of the 2021-22 season alone, he’s served up a veritable buffet.

Blame recency bias, but McDavid shredding through the Rangers defense -- basically by himself -- currently slots in as “that Connor McDavid goal” for me.

It’s not just blazing speed that allows Connor McDavid to score so many coast-to-coast goals. His ability to pull off high-skill plays at warp speed is what separates McDavid from fast players whose hands can’t always keep up with their feet.

With McDavid, his brain, feet, and hands create a symphony of destruction for opposing defenses. Which might explain why “that coast-to-coast McDavid goal” isn’t even always specific enough. Why, just earlier this calendar year, McDavid tore through the Maple Leafs defense in a similar way.

That Zegras - Milano goal

Speaking of moments that unleashed John Tortorella’s grumpiest side, there’s a moment where you can just say “that [blank] goal.”

At least for now. Assuming Trevor Zegras brushes off Torts tirades in the same way McDavid (hopefully) does, it wouldn’t be surprising if the ultra-creative Ducks forward authors more moments of true brilliance.

But, goodness, his lacrosse-style assist to Sonny Milano remains one of the best NHL goals in recent memory, let alone 2021.

Barzal, and other top goals from the 2020-21 season

Simply put, it’s easier to maintain context by calling the previous season the “2020-21 season” even if it began in 2021. But, yeah, if you just want to call it the 2021 NHL season, that’s reasonable enough.

Either way, that shortened campaign wasn’t short on great goals. The NHL conveniently packed 10 great goals from the 2021 (2020-21) season in this video:

If you want some personal favorites from that video:

  • Number eight, Tyler Toffoli vs. the Canucks, starting at the 57-second mark. It’s nifty, and also captures the bitter taste of Toffoli scoring against a Canucks team that sure seemed like it could have re-signed him at a reasonable clip. Ouch. Extra ouch after all that’s happened, and with Jim Benning no longer running the show.
  • Number six, T.J. Oshie vs. the Penguins, around the 1:57 point. I’m a sucker for diving goals, and Oshie finished it one-handed.
  • That was followed by two great Blue Jackets goals (Jack Roslovic and Patrik Laine), as well as another shot of McDavid burning the Leafs. Brent Burns’ celebration after his goal was almost as good as his stickwork.
  • Finally, Mathew Barzal’s tremendous goal against the Sabres took the top spot. Even if you want to mock Rasmus Ristolainen, that’s still a beauty.

Goals that stand out from 2021 because of context like history

In some cases, there are some top NHL goals of 2021 as much for history-making as their singular beauty.

To me, Yanni Gourde’s shorthanded goal (the lone one of Game 7) vs. the Islanders felt like possibly the most important of the past playoffs. Maybe that’s a mark against an anticlimactic Lightning - Canadiens 2021 Stanley Cup Final series, but still.

Ryan Donato ended up scoring a fairly nice goal for the first in Seattle Kraken history.

Obligatory Ovechkin section

In 2021, Alex Ovechkin climbed the all-time goals list, and reached various milestones. In November, Ovechkin passed Brett Hull for fourth all-time in goals with his 742nd tally.

Might as well include Ovechkin reaching 750 goals early in December, too, eh?

Ovechkin added two more before the end of 2021, giving him 752 goals. Here’s where he sits all-time:

  1. Wayne Gretzky - 894 goals.
  2. Gordie Howe - 801 goals.
  3. Jaromir Jagr - 766 goals.
  4. Alex Ovechkin - 752 goals.
  5. Brett Hull - 741 goals.
  6. Marcel Dionne - 731 goals.

The burning question, then, is where will Ovechkin rank in all-time goals through 2022? Could he pass Jagr and even Howe? Don’t be surprised if Ovechkin doesn’t just climb the list some more, but scores his goals in best-of-the-year-level style.

(As a bonus in this post, enjoy the top 10 shootout goals from 2021, at least by Sportsnet’s choosing.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.