Nels Stewart

At 6’1″ and 195 lbs, Stewart towered over many of his opponents given the average size of players in his era. A Montreal native born in 1902, Stewart wouldn’t quite take the normal route to the NHL by starting as a teenager or in his very early 20s, but rather toiled in the USAHA for five years, leading the league in goals in four of those seasons before finally signing with the Montreal Maroons in 1925, at the age of 23.

Stewart instantly showed that his seasons of dominance in the USAHA were no coincidence, leading the NHL in scoring in his very first season, scoring 34 goals and 42 points, winning the Hart trophy, making him the only NHL player aside from Gretzky to win the Hart trophy in his first NHL season. The Maroons were a fairly average team made into a much better one, thanks to the work of Stewart, hence the Hart trophy victory. Stewart continued his strong play in the playoffs and lead the Maroons to their first Stanley Cup.

Stewart followed up his rookie campaign with a less productive, but more rough-and-tumble season. Stewart led the NHL with 133 PIM, showing that he was willing to use his large frame if necessary. Stewart returned somewhat to his goal-scoring ways in 1927-28, scoring 27 goals, good for third in the league. This was the beginning of Stewart’s reign as a consistent goal-scorer, only falling below 20 goals once in eight seasons. Stewart exploded offensively especially in 1929-30, scoring 39 goals and adding 16 assists for 55 points in just 44 games, good for fourth in goals in the NHL. The 1929-30 season was an offensive one, so numbers that would normally have dominated the league were closer to par than usual, but Stewart was still voted the winner of the Hart Trophy over Cooney Weiland, who had many more points, as Weiland had the likes of Dit Clapper helping him out, whereas Stewart had little help.

On January 3, 1931, Stewart set an NHL record that would last for over 60 years by scoring two goals in a span of four seconds. Stewart was traded at 30 years old just prior to the 1932-33 season to the Boston Bruins. Stewart continued to score goals as was his penchant and was a part of the first ever All-Star game in 1934 for the Ace Bailey Benefit Game. Stewart was traded to the New York Americans partway through the 1936-37 season and burst out with the Americans, scoring 20 goals in his 32 games with them to lead the league at 23 goals over the season.

While still respectable, Stewart’s numbers began to dwindle a bit in the late 30s and after a significant drop-off in the 1939-40 season, the 37-year old decided to call it quits. Stewart’s consistency as a goal scorer over such a long period of time was astounding and was the reason that Stewart retired at first all-time in goals by a whopping lead of 53 goals. He also retired as the all-time points leader with 515 points. At the time of his retirement, there were no active players close to him on the all-time goals list at 324 goals, so it was clear that his mark would last for a while.

As it would happen, it would take one of the greatest goal-scorers in NHL history, Maurice Richard, to pass Stewart finally in 1952, a whole 12 years after Stewart retired. Stewart’s point lead also lasted about five years until Syd Howe beat it. Stewart was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1962.

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