The first Heart of Midlothian player to hit 20 league goals back-to-back seasons since Willie Wallace over half a century ago. The first Scottish Premiership player to achieve consecutive 20-goal campaigns since Gary Hooper over a decade ago. The league’s top scorer. Hearts’ top scorer this century.

It’s been a productive season for Lawrence Shankland. When it comes to notable achievements, you can pretty much take your pick. And now he has another prize for his sensational displays this term: the PFA Scotland Premiership Player of the Year award. The striker saw off competition from Celtic midfielder Matt O’Riley and Rangers pair Jack Butland and James Tavernier to become only the second non-Old Firm player since 1990 (Motherwell’s Michael Higdon won in 2013) to be voted by his fellow players as the country’s top performer – and, in doing so, became the first Hearts player to hold the honour.

It’s yet another area where the club captain has carved his name into Hearts’ history books, and he isn’t done yet: with three games left to play this season and Shankland sitting on 28 goals for Hearts in all competitions, there is every chance he can become the first player since the great John Robertson to breach the 30-goal barrier in a season while draped in maroon. Esteemed company indeed.

READ MORE: The Lawrence Shankland story: From Queen's Park to Hearts and Scotland star

Some supporters might be reluctant to mention Shankland and Robertson in the same breath – Robbo, after all, has longevity on his side – but the truth is that Sunday night’s award win means Shankland can take his place in the pantheon of Hearts greats regardless of what happens in the future. The Scotland internationalist has done something that no Hearts player has ever done before by being recognised as the top-flight’s standout player – and his status as a Gorgie legend is now beyond dispute.

It’s been a remarkable campaign for the 28-year-old, but it’s easy to forget that Shankland didn’t exactly hit the ground running. After prodding the ball into an empty net in the final stages of Hearts’ 2-0 win at McDiarmid Park on the opening day of the season, a barren spell in front of goal followed. In his next seven league outings, Shankland didn’t provide a single goal and the team’s form suffered as a result. But the Scotland internationalist was always confident that better times were coming.

“You need quality balls into the box and to try and find people,” Shankland said after Hearts’ 1-0 defeat away to St Mirren. “Are we getting that? Probably not. It’s not an individual thing, that’s a collective. Final balls need improved.”

Those final balls soon started to arrive and when they did, Shankland required no second invitation to do what he does best: sticking the white round thing into the back of the net. A consolation goal in October’s 4-1 home loss to Celtic broke his duck, and the striker simply never looked back.

Including that defeat to Brendan Rodgers’ side, Shankland would go on to score 20 in his next 24 Premiership outings. There were goals at Tynecastle, Ibrox, Celtic Park, Pittodrie, Easter Road: whatever the venue, the game usually finished with Shankland on the scoresheet. He has scored at nine of the 12 top-flight grounds – only Rugby Park, Victoria Park and the SMiSA Stadium remained untouched – and Kilmarnock are the only Premiership team not to have conceded a Shankland goal this season.

And then there’s the manner of the goals – all types of finishes in any scenario you can think of. The sensational outside-of-the-boot winner in December’s win at Easter Road. The instinctive first-time finishes against Celtic, Aberdeen and Livingston. The looped headers at Ibrox and Celtic Park. And, for someone often dubbed a ‘penalty merchant’ by opposing fans, just three of his 21 league goals have arrived from the penalty spot.

READ MORE: Lawrence Shankland's Hearts value far outweighs what clubs will be willing to pay

Shankland’s profligacy combined with his range of finishing has made the striker the Premiership’s most fearsome opponent – but it is when the goals were scored that has made the centre-forward the league’s most influential player. Some goals are more equal than others, after all. Shankland has provided nine match-winning goals in the league this season – other than Rangers striker Cyriel Dessers (six), no other player has more than four.

The goals are naturally what steal the headlines, but it is Shankland’s all-round play that truly sets him apart from many of his Premiership contemporaries. He is simultaneously Hearts’ top goal scorer and the team’s most creative playmaker, and his efforts in the team’s build-up play cannot be understated. Always willing to take the ball under pressure and protect it while his team-mates get up to support, Shankland is often the starting point and final destination of Hearts’ attacking moves.

No other top-flight player wields as much influence over their team. Take Shankland out of the starting line-up and Hearts become an altogether different beast; keep him in it, and you have a chance against pretty much everyone. As we all know, one opportunity is all it takes for Shankland to make his presence felt – and he does so time and time again.

With the striker entering the final 12 months of his contract this summer and no discussions taking place until the close season, Sunday’s award will only fuel the speculation surrounding the striker’s future that has been a constant feature of his time in the capital. Whether he moves when the window opens, signs a new deal or simply lets his contract run down ahead of a free transfer in the summer of 2025 remains to be seen. But there’s also nothing that supporters can do about it. The best policy is to simply enjoy the talisman while he’s here.

We previously wrote that Shankland was a once-in-a-generation talent for Heart of Midlothian, and the PFA Scotland Premiership Player of the Year Award only underlines that assertion. He has been the league’s standout player in the 2023/24 Scottish Premiership, a modern great in the making – and because of all that, he was an absolute shoo-in to lift the gong at the end of the season.

There was only ever one choice. No one else comes close. It simply had to be Shankland.