We’re already a little over the halfway point in the NHL season, and with that, it’s time to start looking ahead towards the playoffs and individual awards that will be handed out at the end of the year. The Hart Memorial Trophy is given out to the best player in the NHL, which basically means it’s the MVP award (NHL awards are really confusing). Last season, Carey Price took home the hardware, but due to his injuries this year for the Canadiens, he’s not in the running.
- Patrick Kane, Right Wing, Chicago Blackhawks- The leading point scorer in all of hockey plays on the best team in hockey. Patrick Kane has far and away been the best non-goaltender on the ice game in and game out. With 52 games down, Kane is the NHL’s only 30 goal scorer to this point and also leads the league in assists with 43. He’s has 73 points and his nearest competitor in Jamie Benn has 56 for the Dallas Stars. The American winger had a 26 game point streak earlier in the year and has clearly put all of his off-season troubles behind him. Kane was in the discussion of taking home the Hart last season but injuries down the stretch knocked him out until the playoffs, where he shined once again. His improved defensive work ethic has worked wonders the last two years and it’s a direct correlation into the success he’s been having. Of course playing with Jonathan Toews helps, but Patrick Kane bas taken on the burden of picking up the slack left by Brandon Saad among others. Without a doubt, Patrick Kane is the leading candidate for the MVP this season.
- Braden Holtby, Goaltender, Washington Capitals- The Caps have always been a team that can score. With Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, all this team needed was a decent goaltender. But what Braden Holtby has been doing this year is miraculous. He’s a mind-numbing 30-5 and has a 2.01 goals against average. His 93% save percentage ranks in the top five in the NHL. The Caps lead the NHL in points with 73, and Braden Holtby has been the main reason in that fact. Holtby’s transformation from above-average to elite has been something to admire. Since he became a full time starter, his first two seasons were extremely inconsistent, but his last two have been spectacular. His play this season has proven that last year wasn’t a fluke for Holtby. Under Ovi, the Caps have never made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but with Holtby being spectacular this season, his confidence heading down the stretch and into the playoffs should only carry over to a goaltender who has already been great in the playoffs when he gets there.
- Corey Crawford, Goaltender, Chicago Blackhawks-Further proof that the Chicago Blackhawks are the leagues best team, the goaltending they’ve gotten from Corey Crawford has been lights out. Crawford ranks in the top 10 in goals against average, save percentage and second in wins with 28. His seven shutouts paces the NHL and his most recent one came just last night against the St. Louis Blues where he had 25 saves. He’s 9-1 in the month of January and has gotten stronger, much like his team. Like Braden Holtby, he’s gotten better and better as his career progresses. In his age 30 season, he’s the best he’s ever been. Crawford has cleaned up his glove hand that has been his Achilles Heel his entire career. With Crawford in net and Patrick Kane on the offense, the Blackhawks have two top three MVP candidates
- Erik Karlsson, Defenseman, Ottawa Senators- The best offensive defenseman in the NHL has had a great year for a below average Senators team. Karlsson is fourth in the NHL in scoring with 51 points, including 41 assists. Averaging a point per game is unheard of for a defenseman nowadays, but Karlsson is doing his best to buck that trend. Karlsson had 66 points last season and is on a pace to score close to 90 this year, which would be a personal best. He’s dynamic with the puck on his stick and seems to create a scoring opportunity at least twice a game. He’s brilliant at moving the puck quickly and out of his zone. However, his actual defense still needs some work. The Senators have a good offense, but have one of the worst defenses in the league, and if they could fix that defense, Karlsson would be a couple spots higher on this list.
- Jamie Benn, Left Wing, Dallas Stars- Benn is one half of one of the best duos in hockey along with Tyler Seguin. Both got off to other worldly starts but have seen their production dip in recent weeks. So far this month Benn has five points in 10 games and stands at a -8. For the year, Benn is second in points with 57 and third in goals with 27. One of the best goal scorers in the NHL, Benn will have his third straight 30 goal season this year. He’s become an elite player and still has room to grow, as he’s just 26 years old. His production will continue to go up as he continues to gain chemistry with Tyler Seguin. The Stars are an elite team, but will need to rely on Seguin and more specifically Jamie Benn to get them to the Cup.
Honorable Mentions: Tyler Seguin, Center, Dallas Stars. Jonathan Quick, Goaltender, Los Angeles Kings. Roberto Luongo, Goaltender, Florida Panthers. Joe Pavelski, Center, San Jose Sharks. Patrice Bergeron, Center, Boston Bruins.
Cover Photo via ESPN
Stats via NHL.com