It’s time for the big one. The NHL has announced the finalists for the Hart Trophy, given annually to the “player judged most valuable to his team.” Last year’s winner, Nikita Kucherov, took home the Ted Lindsay and Art Ross as well in an impressive trifecta after scoring 128 points.
This year’s finalists are Leon Draisaitl from the Edmonton Oilers, Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche, and Artemi Panarin of the New York Rangers, the same three that were nominated by their peers for the Lindsay earlier this month.
Like with the Lindsay, Draisaitl seems to be the odds-on favorite after his incredible offensive season. The Oilers forward led all players with 110 points in just 71 games, including a league-leading ten game-winning goals. He even eclipsed teammate Connor McDavid in the scoring race and proved he can carry a line away from his fellow superstar. It’s hard to really discount anything he did, though some voters may feel as though he wasn’t quite as “valuable” to the Oilers because of McDavid’s presence.
MacKinnon, on the other hand, had to carry the Avalanche all by himself for stretches this season. His 93 points were 43 more than the second-highest player on the Colorado roster—rookie defenseman Cale Makar—thanks to major injuries to his normal running mates like Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen. Add that to the fact that MacKinnon has received Hart votes in each of the last two seasons (finishing 2nd in 2018 and 6th in 2019) and you could understand why he’s still a candidate to snatch the award from Draisaitl.
In Panarin’s case, you may not have even considered him in the running halfway through the season. Though he was still obviously one of the most skilled players in the league, his 34 points in 28 games weren’t enough to make the Rangers anything special. From that point in December on however, he put up 61 points in his last 41 games and formed a dynamic duo with Mika Zibanejad that made New York one of the most dangerous clubs in the Eastern Conference. At any point, they might put up a huge number of goals even if their overall team was still not quite polished enough to be a real Stanley Cup contender. With the expanded playoffs this summer they’re in, and Panarin’s game-breaking talent could change that contender assumption in an instant. There’s no question he is one of the most valuable players in the league, but will it be enough to take home the crown?