Brough: Lots of great options, but I’ll go with Devan Dubnyk. I can’t think of a single player who’s been more important to his team’s success. Dubnyk was decent last year, but he’s been spectacular this season. And I’ll admit it, I didn’t think the Wild would be all that good. I thought the Eric Staal signing was a desperation move that was unlikely to pan out, and I saw the hiring of Bruce Boudreau as a last-ditch attempt by GM Chuck Fletcher to squeeze the last bit of juice out of an aging roster. The Wild may fall back to earth in the second half, but thanks to Dubnyk, they’ve built a comfortable cushion in the standings. It would take a pretty big collapse to miss the playoffs now.
Gretz: I think at this point it has to be Connor McDavid. You can talk about Milan Lucic‘s presence in the locker room, or Adam Larsson improving the defense, or the “shake up” that came with trading a core player in Taylor Hall, but the single biggest reason the Oilers even have a chance to make the playoffs at this point is McDavid already being one of the two best players in hockey. The Oilers’ offense runs through him, and when he is not on the ice you still seem some glaring weaknesses with this team. There are not many individual non-goalies in the NHL that can have this big of an impact on their success or failure of their team. But McDavid has already proven to be one of them.
Alfieri: I’ve gotta go with Sergei Bobrovsky. Nobody expected the Columbus Blue Jackets to be competitive this year, but they’ve been fantastic for a few reasons, and the biggest is Bobrovsky. After going through a disappointing 2015-16 season, he’s bounced back in a big way. Sure, he’s had some help, but there’s no doubt that he’s the player the Jackets could least afford to lose if they’re going to make it back to the playoffs next spring. If they want to remain in the top three of the Metropolitan Division, they’ll need Bobrovsky to keep standing on his head. I think he can do it.
Tucker: McDavid. He has to be the front-runner right now, which is remarkable because he’s only 19 years old. He’s a second-year star leading the league in points. There are other candidates, as well. Without McDavid, though, I hate to think where the Oilers would be in the standings. Probably right around where they always were, before they got him.
O’Brien: When in doubt, go with the player you’d choose in a pick-up game, and for me, that would be Sidney Crosby. His 37 points in 28 games would prorate to a blistering 108 points over 82 games; by comparison, McDavid is on pace for about 94. The time Crosby missed due to his injury can actually help his Hart argument, too, as there’s a night-and-day difference between how the Penguins play with No. 87 versus without him.
Halford: Vladimir Tarasenko, who’s right in the thick of the scoring race. I really don’t think people understand how much he’s carried the Blues this year. Tarasenko leads the team in scoring and is 15 clear of St. Louis’ No. 2 point-getter (Kevin Shattenkirk). And it’s not like the Blues are getting great goaltending or otherworldly performances from other guys, either. Has McDavid been great? Yes, but so has Leon Draisaitl. Has Crosby been great? Yes, but so have Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. Dubnyk and Bobrovsky have been terrific too, but they’ve got really good teams in front of them. Tank, meanwhile, has been a one-man army at times.