NHL futures: Hart Memorial Trophy picks and predictions
Chris Peters runs through the top contenders for this season's NHL MVP award and makes a darkhorse pick at a big price.
In a way we have not seen perhaps since Wayne Gretzky graced the NHL ice, Connor McDavid has established himself as the clear best player in the league. There is simply no one like the Edmonton Oilers captain when it comes to the things he can do, from his skating to his production.
McDavid is once again the rabbit everyone else in the league is chasing, but there are a lot of players that are going to be key pieces on better overall teams that might have a chance to knock the two-time Hart Trophy winner off the pedestal.
The thing about the MVP award is that most voters feel pretty strongly that a player on a team that does not reach the playoffs is not worthy of the Hart Trophy. I can go either way on that, but it’s a sentiment that exists. I’m not trying to say the Oilers won’t make the playoffs because I believe ultimately they will, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
If that happens, you’ll see others emerge.
Looking at the odds, McDavid is the clear favorite and quite frankly he’s my pick to do it again, but I wanted to look at some of the other players that are on the board to give you an idea of where you might be able to find some value that has a reasonable chance of cashing out.
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
Until further notice, you can just pencil in McDavid as the Hart Trophy favorite annually. There was a time we thought we wouldn’t see 100-point scorers in the NHL anymore, but he’s broken the century mark in four of his six NHL seasons including last year when there were only 56 games.
His speed is uncontainable, but it’s how fast he can process the game that really impresses. McDavid is always the most dangerous player on the ice no matter where he is. With a 1.41 points-per-game average for his career, he trails only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Mike Bossy in that category.
I honestly never thought we’d see numbers like the ones McDavid is putting up in this current NHL. He’s made it look easy.
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
There are at least a few people out there that will tell you MacKinnon has a case to be in the conversation with McDavid as the league’s best player and I think that’s largely true.
The big difference between the two is that MacKinnon is on a team most feel strongly could win the Stanley Cup and McDavid is still a ways away. MacKinnon has finished no lower than sixth in Hart Trophy voting in any of the last four years and was a top-three selection in three of those four seasons.
With the Avalanche potentially being the best team in the league, there’s a chance voters would view this as MacKinnon’s time to win the award. It’s not impossible for it to go down that way.
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
After winning his first Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer last season, Matthews is very much in the Hart mix this year. He was the runner-up to McDavid last season for MVP honors, too.
The big question right now is whether Matthews is fully healthy or not to start the season. He’s been dealing with a wrist injury that required surgery, but is expected to be back soon. Assuming he’s at full strength right away, few centers score goals the way Matthews does.
He has led the NHL in even-strength goals in three of his five NHL seasons and looks like he’s just getting warmed up. Recently named as one of the first three players to make Team USA for the Olympics, there’s a lot of excitement about what Matthews can do in his sixth NHL campaign.
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
A healthy Kucherov is one of the most dangerous players in the NHL. With a Hart Trophy already in his cabinet to sit next to his two Stanley Cups, he probably doesn’t need more hardware, but I’d bet he’s still gunning for it.
Kucherov did not play a single regular-season game last year, but was dominant in the playoffs, leading all players with 32 points. With back-to-back 30-plus-point postseason performances, he’s still one of the league’s most dangerous offensive players.
With the Lightning looking to win a third-straight Cup, you’d have to expect Kucherov to be a big part of it.
Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers
When it comes to players being most valuable to their team, few compare to Panarin. The Russian superstar was a Hart finalist two seasons ago, but ultimately missed out. Last season he had 58 points in 42 games, which included time away for a leave of absence from the team.
Assuming Panarin is both healthy and available, he’s been among the league’s best wings for the last four seasons while only getting better. The Rangers are a team that’s kind of in transition still, but they lean so heavily on Panarin that he’s a very good value bet.
Darkhorse pick: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
In each of the last four seasons, Vasilevskiy has finished top three in Vezina Trophy voting, winning in 2019-20. As we’ve seen through two postseason runs and his stellar regular-season play, the case should be made that he is the best goalie in the world.
He’s athletic, big, competes as hard as anybody and has won more games than any goalie over the last four seasons. He matched his career-best .925 save percentage last season before putting up a sparkling .937 save percentage in the playoffs.
After winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP last year, I like Vasilevskiy’s potential progression to a goalie we always talk about as a potential league MVP. No goalie has won the Hart Trophy since 2015 when Carey Price took home the top prize. Vasilveskiy very well could make it happen.