When it comes to the NHL’s annual awards during the offseason, the Hart Memorial Trophy is arguably the honor that carries the most anticipation from the league’s players and fans alike.
“The Hart Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association in all NHL cities at the end of the regular season,” according to NHL.com.
The Hart Memorial Trophy includes a recipient list of familiar All-Star caliber NHL players, and typically players who ended, or end, up being elected into the Hockey Hall Of Fame.
Notable hockey legends such as Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Joe Sakic, Brett Hull, Eric Lindros and Mario Lemieux all took home the Hart Trophy at some point during their memorable careers. More recently, stars such as Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Alex Ovechkin and even Montreal Canadiens netminder Carey Price have earned the MVP honor.
For this season, there will be some new names in contention for the illustrious award. But who will walk away with the Hart Trophy come season's end? Here are 15 players that not many would peg to take home the Hart this year, but could very well find themselves as a contender for the award come season's end.
15 Connor McDavid
As expected, the Edmonton Oilers' 2015 first-overall draft-pick lit the lamp from the get-go in Western Canada. Center Connor McDavid displayed flashes of MVP esque qualities last season with not only his performance on the ice, but McDavid's professionalism and leadership qualities away from his play too.
14 Wayne Simmonds
The name Wayne Simmonds and the Broad Street Bullies go hand-in-hand, and if you haven't already noticed, Simmonds was born to don a Philadelphia Flyers sweater. The 27-year-old was one of four Flyers to play in at least 80 games last season, and Simmonds also finished second on the team in points with 60. Yes, when you use the term "MVP" and in relation to the Philadelphia Flyers, one automatically thinks of team captain Claude Giroux...
Still, it was apparent last season during Philadelphia's historic comeback towards clinching a Stanley Cup Playoff berth that Simmonds was arguably the club's MVP; as his dedication and passion for his team was made known night-in-and-night-out. The past typically shows that whichever direction Simmonds' performance is going -- is what the results show for with the Flyers; if he's producing consistently then Philly wins.
13 Cory Schneider
The New Jersey Devils were one of the biggest surprises for the 2015-16 season, and Jersey's yeam didn't even clinch a Stanley Cup Playoff berth. How many times have NHL fans heard that statement since April, right? New Jersey can thank goaltender Cory Schneider for the entertaining season.
12 Phil Kessel
One of the Pittsburgh Penguins brightest stars from their 2016 Stanley Cup championship run was forward Phil Kessel. After getting called out for his play by general manager Jim Rutherford earlier in the season, there were Conn Smythe Trophy whispers around Kessel as the Pens hoisted their fourth Stanley Cup in club history.
Kessel appeared more than comfortable last postseason when the American born served in let's say a third fiddle role, behind captain Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. At this rate, Kessel should be expected to produce close to Crosby's number by the time April of 2017 roles around. And, don't be surprised if the former Toronto Maple Leaf flirts with the 40 goal mark this season. But how likely is it for another forward other then Crosby or Malkin to win the Hart Memorial Trophy? Then again, with Kessel -- anything is possible, right?
11 Nikita Kucherov
Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov stormed onto the scene during the 2014-15 regular season and hasn't looked back since. In fact, Kucherov led the Lightning in points last season; yes, ahead of team captain Steven Stamkos. It's hard to imagine that the Bolts would have another possible Hart Memorial Trophy winner on their roster (Stamkos), but the Russian native will make his case in the near future.
10 Nathan MacKinnon
The former Rookie of the Year winner has had his up and downs in a short time frame with the Colorado Avalanche. Yet, MacKinnon has shown flashes of MVP-like play for the Avs, and under a new coaching regime this season there's hope MacKinnon can blossom into a top tier NHL leader for Colorado.
9 Brent Burns
The 2017 Hart Memorial Trophy may receive his award in Las Vegas with a toothless smile, lumberjack beard and unique suit pattern. San Jose Sharks' defenseman Brent Burns proved how valuable he is to the Sharks last season, and when it matters most.
8 Aaron Ekblad
Aaron Ekblad has turned into a coach's dream and a top two defenseman that the Florida Panthers have been patiently waiting for, well, a long time. His maturity for a young defenseman is second to none, and his passion to make the Panthers Stanley Cup contenders, yes you read that correctly, is among the best compared to leaders around the NHL.
The list can go on forever when it comes to Ekblad's performance on the ice; he's clutch, offensive, well-rounded defensively, has size and can move the puck up ice better than most. He's the cornerstone for the Florida Panthers team overall. NHL.com has even ranked Ekblad at number 46 overall for the league's best players, which is interesting. If you weren't a Panthers fan one would probably assume that Ekblad has been in the league for at least four years already; but the 20-year-old will be entering his third NHL season this October.
7 Evgeny Kuznetsov
Like Kucherov, Washington Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov has some major competition on his own club in relation to the Hart Memorial Trophy. Capitals' captain Alex Ovechkin was won the Hart three times and is the heart beat of the Caps. Still, Ovechkin isn't getting any younger, and another Russian born is on the rise in the United States capital.
6 Blake Wheeler
Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets is the definition of the old saying, "a pro's, pro." Wheeler has transformed into one of those invaluable leaders, and for a hockey city such as Winnipeg. The Minnesota native can contribute in almost every aspect of the game, and arises to the occasion for the Jets whenever duty calls.
5 Johnny Gaudreau
The Calgary Flames' former fourth-round draft-pick has defied the odds the last two seasons. Johnny Gaudreau, or as most know him by, Johnny Hockey, avoided a sophomore slump last season and recorded an impressive 78 points with 30 goals and 48 assists.
Gaudreau is the Energizer Bunny that Calgary has been missing in the past few seasons, and there's no questioning that his skill level is MVP-like for the Flames' sake at least. At this rate, it would seem that Gaudreau's production will only progress, and could do even better with a new head coach behind Calgary's bench this season too. If he increases those numbers listed above while potentially counting the Flames in for a playoff berth, expect him to be a possible Hart Memorial Trophy winner.
4 Brandon Saad
Forward Brandon Saad finished a career high for goals scored and points last season, and a year which was also his first with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Saad proved he can still produce without a star player such as Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks -- Saad's former team. The Blue Jackets will look for Saad to lead them back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, especially after a disappointing 2015-16 season.
3 Jack Eichel
The Buffalo Sabres are hoping their 2015 second overall draft pick pans out to be a Hart Memorial Trophy winner, and in the near future. Yes, McDavid typically gets more of the spotlight than Sabres' youngster Jack Eichel, but don't be surprised if Eichel has a statement sophomore season.
2 Max Domi
The future is looking bright in the desert. The Arizona Coyotes are the owners of one of the most exciting players in all of hockey to watch. 2016 rookie sensation Max Domi crashed the McDavid-Eichel parade, and made his mark known in the NHL from day one. Domi not only posses the skills of a future all-star, but his two-way play and chippy attributes separates him from a young class of potential Hart Memorial Trophy winners.
1 P.K. Subban
For the first time in defenseman P.K. Subban's career he will dress for an NHL team other then the Montreal Canadiens. Subban was arguably the heart and soul for the Canadiens over the past three seasons, but the business side of the sport came back to haunt the Olympic Gold Medal winner as Subban was traded to the Nashville Predators in exchange for defenseman Shea Weber this offseason. While Subban had a "down" season in 2015-16, there's still plenty of room for optimism heading into 2016-17.
One thing for certain is that Subban is one of the most competitive skaters to hit the ice each night, and failure doesn't sit well with the 27-year-old. Keep in mind, Subban was also left off of Team Canada for the World Cup of Hockey 2016, which takes place in Toronto. If you thought number 76 was already going to play with a chip on his shoulder in the Music City -- now the wager has gone up with his motivation to succeed. The Toronto native should blossom into a better overall player in Nashville, and he'll inspire his Predators teammates with his uncanny energy off and on the ice. It was evident Subban wasn't happy about leaving Montreal, but change may be a blessing in disguise for one of the game's biggest names.
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