The Washington Times - April 15, 2011, 08:26AM

As I noted in a recent column, Mike Knuble’s NHL career has been sneakily historic. After scoring a mere 50 goals in his 20s, the Caps’ 38-year-old wing has racked up 218 in the eight seasons since – more than Wayne Gretzky (188) had in his 30s. By the time he’s done, Knuble could be in the top 20 all time in this (admittedly obscure) category. Not bad considering he’s 217th in career goals.

Who knew?

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Near as I can tell, the only player in league history who has had a career comparable to Knuble’s is Bill Cook, the Hall of Fame wing with the Rangers from 1926 to ’37. (Yes, you have to go that far back.) And with Cook there were extenuating circumstances. He played several seasons in the Western Hockey League, the “other” major league in those days, before moving to the NHL at the age of 30. He was also, unlike Knuble, a big-time goal-scorer in his 20s, with a high of 31 in his last season in the WHL. (Mike, on the other hand, averaged less than 10 goals in his first six seasons with the Red Wings, Rangers and Bruins.)

Among current players, Knuble’s closest “twin” is Mighty Ducks wing Jason Blake (as was pointed out to me by blogger – and numbers cruncher extraordinaire – Neil Greenberg). Blake had his breakout season before turning 30, though, and will probably never catch up to Mike in post-30 goals. He has 162 through the age of 37 (and has seen his production and ice time drop the past two seasons).

Gordie Howe holds the record for Most Goals After the Big Three-O with 415. Of course, Howe played forever. In fact, he might still be playing somewhere. Has anybody checked the Blue Jackets’ roster lately?

Here are the top 10 in this department – and where Knuble fits in:

*active

415 Gordie Howe

391 Phil Esposito

374 John Bucyk

337 Jean Ratelle

328 Brett Hull

309 Mark Messier

298 Joe Mullen

297 Mike Gartner

293 Marcel Dionne

291 Teemu Selanne*

THE NEXT 10

276 Brendan Shanahan

267 Dave Andreychuk

267 Mark Recchi*

252 Maurice Richard

250 Joe Sakic

245 Frank Mahovolich

245 Ron Francis

243 Bill Guerin

239 Norm Ullman

238 Alex Delvecchio

THE THIRD 10

237 Dino Ciccarelli

236 Peter Bondra

236 Joe Nieuwendyk

234 Luc Robitaille

233 Jean Beliveau

229 Bill Cook

219 Adam Oates

219 Daniel Alfredsson*

218 Dean Prentice

218 Mike Knuble*

Almost all of these guys are in the Hall of Fame or headed in that direction – and almost all were feared goal-scorers. Knuble is neither. That’s what makes his late-blooming career even more remarkable. Here are some other well-known players he ranks ahead of (besides The Great One):

217 Stan Mikita

217 Mats Sundin

212 Mike Modano*

211 Steve Yzerman

205 Rod Gilbert

205 Steve Thomas

201 Sergei Fedorov

One more Knuble stat: He has scored 20 or more goals in eight straight seasons in his 30s. The record is nine by Howe, Hull and Ratelle. (And if it hadn’t been for the lockout in 2004-05, Mike would probably be tied with them.) In any case, he’s in awfully good company. The aforementioned trio had over 2,000 career goals among them (2,033 to be exact).

So savor Knuble’s time with the Caps, however long it lasts. There aren’t many athletes you can look at and say, “This guy is unique.” He happens to be one of them.