With his hat trick on Wednesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the ageless Martin St. Louis moved into the lead in the NHL’s scoring race.

St. Louis, with 58 points, holds a two-point edge over his Lightning teammate Steven Stamkos and the injury-idled Sidney Crosby heading into Thursday night’s action.

If St. Louis can hang on over the final two games of this 48-game season, he’ll break Gordie Howe’s 50-year old record as the oldest man ever to win the Art Ross Trophy. In fact, he’ll smash it: Howe was 34 when he captured the last of his six scoring titles in 1962-63. St. Louis is 37.

Whether he wins the Art Ross or not, St. Louis’s age-defying run illuminates an interesting point: The NHL scoring race is a young man’s game.

In the 61 times the Art Ross has been awarded since its inception (your first winner: Montreal’s Elmer Lach after the 1947-48 season) a player older than 30 has won it only five times.

Even the all-time greats have struggled to win the scoring championship in the back end of their careers. Just one of Wayne Gretzky’s record 10 Art Ross trophies came after age 30 (he was 33 in 1993-94). Mario Lemieux picked up his sixth and last one at age 31 in 1996-97. Phil Esposito and Jaromir Jagr were 31 and 28, respectively, when they won their fifth and final scoring titles.

The average age of the 61 Art Ross winners? 27.1, which squares with the conventional wisdom that NHL players peak at the age of 27.

And the recent trend seems to favour youth even more heavily. Since Lemieux’s last victory, in 1996-97, no one over 30 has won the scoring race (Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin was right on 30 in 2010-11). Since The Big Lockout of 2004-05, the average age of the seven Art Ross winners is 24.7.

Youth is served

A look at Art Ross Trophy winners since the 2004-05 lockout shows a small-sample trend toward younger scoring champions.

SeasonPlayerPointsAge
2011-12E. Malkin10925
2010-11D. Sedin10430
2009-10H. Sedin11229
2008-09E. Malkin11322
2007-08A. Ovechkin11222
2006-07S. Crosby12019
2005-06J. Thornton12526

Average Age: 24.7

Source: hockey-reference.com

The takeaway here? When it comes to predicting the next NHL scoring champ, seems we should heed that old slogan of the ‘60s counter culture: Don’t trust anyone over 30.