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NHL Awards: Under-the-radar Hart Trophy candidates

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Nikita Kucherov has received most of the mainstream buzz when it comes to the 2017-18 Hart Trophy discussion and rightfully so. The Lightning forward has led the league in points for most of the season and he’s currently third in goals behind fellow Russians Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, who are also obvious candidates to be named league MVP.

Kucherov’s teammate, Steven Stamkos, was in the conversation for a while too, but that talk seems to have died down a little bit. Everyone seemed to be jumping on the Nathan MacKinnon bandwagon before he got injured, but missing eight games has put a damper on the hype train.

Even last year’s winner, Connor McDavid, has put together a solid season, but with the Oilers out of the playoffs there isn’t really much hope for him to take home the award for a second year in a row.

But there are still some quality candidates that haven’t received as much press this season. It’s important to remember that the Hart Trophy isn’t necessarily given to the best player. It’s “given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team”.

Here are some under-the-radar candidates that aren’t getting enough buzz:

Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils

The Hall-for-MVP talk started building over the weekend after the Devils forward picked up a point in his 18th consecutive game. No one picked the Devils to make the playoffs this season, so the fact that they’re currently in a Wild Card spot in pretty impressive. Hall isn’t the only reason they’re in a playoff position, but there’s no way they’re in this position without him. The 26-year-old has 24 goals and 62 points in 54 games this season. New Jersey has a 1-3-1 record with Hall out of the lineup this season.

Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets

Despite losing Mark Scheifele for over six weeks, the Jets managed to stay afloat for a few reasons. One of them is the way their captain played while Scheifele was on the shelf. Wheeler was forced to move to center for a little while and he definitely didn’t look out of place. In the 16 games that Scheifele missed, the Jets went 11-2-3 and Wheeler accumulated 16 points during that stretch. The 31-year-old is up to 67 points in 59 games this season.

Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

Let’s be totally clear, if the Kings don’t make the playoffs Kopitar can’t be considered a serious candidate. As of right now, Los Angeles is two points out of the final Wild Card spot in the West. Regardless of whether or not they make the postseason, no one can deny that Kopitar’s been a two-way beast for them in 2017-18. After posting just 52 points in 76 games last season, the Kings captain already has 63 points in 59 games, which puts him on pace to pick up 88. It’s clear that playing under new head coach John Stevens has done the 30-year-old a lot of good.

Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers

Many people have already counted the Panthers out of the playoff race because they’re six points back of the final Wild Card spot, but what people fail to realize is that Florida (sort of) controls their own destiny. They have four games in hand on the last playoff team, Carolina. The major reason why they’re still in striking distance is because of Barkov, who has really emerged as an NHL superstar. He’s often compared to Kopitar, and it’s easy to see why. They’re both big centers that can contribute offensively while playing sound hockey in their own end. Barkov has amassed 54 points in 55 games so far. If the Panthers get in, he needs to be a major part of the Hart Trophy discussion. In the one game he missed this season, Florida got obliterated 7-3 by Colorado.

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

Yes, you could easily put Patrice Bergeron in this slot, but he’s been getting a lot of love throughout the NHL. Rask, who got off to a rocky start, has been lights out for the Bruins. Since Nov. 29, he’s lost just two games in regulation. Sure, the Bruins are clearly more than a one-man team, but we have to give Rask some love. He overcame adversity at the start of the year, and he’s arguably been the best goalie in the league for the last three months.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Predators’ P.K. Subban named EA Sports NHL 19 cover athlete

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As announced during Wednesday’s NHL Awards, P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators will be the cover athlete for EA Sports’ NHL 19 video game.

This is Subban’s first time on the cover of the series, which featured Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid last year.

More details from EA:

For the first time in franchise history, NHL® 19 allows players to journey from the pond to the pros and play on outdoor rinks in new and returning game modes. Players can create a character and express their look and playstyle with over 900 new customization items including, for the first time, lifestyle apparel inspired by pond hockey. On the ice, the cutting-edge animation technology Real Player Motion (RPM) Tech delivers explosive-edge skating with more acceleration and responsiveness that looks and feels better. NHL® 19 also lets players compete with and against over 200 of the greatest hockey legends to ever play the sport, including Wayne Gretzky.

In NHL® 19, the sport returns to the ponds where players can compete under a unified progression hub called World of CHEL that unites EA SPORTS Hockey League, NHL THREES™ Drop In and two new modes, NHL ONES™ and Pro-Am. NHL ONES™ pits three players against each other in a 1v1v1 free-for-all with no rules and no stoppages. Players can win to rank up to new outdoor locations and defend their position as king-of-the-hill. Players can also play in any World of CHEL mode to progress their online Create-A-Character, unlock rewards, and customize their look and their playstyle.

EA Sports

Here’s the full trailer:

The game is set to be released Sept. 14 for Playstation 4 and XBOX One.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Golden Knights’ William Karlsson lands Lady Byng

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William Karlsson just finished a fantastic season, so it’s nice to see him take home a trophy at the 2018 NHL Awards.

Karlsson generated 43 goals, 78 points, and just 12 penalty minutes during the 2017-18 season on his way to winning the Lady Byng Trophy. The other finalists were Aleksander Barkov and Ryan O'Reilly.

(Note: it’s unclear if Karlsson edged out his competition by way of hair flips.)

Here are the voting results. Note that this was cut off at the top 20, while 49 players received at least one vote. As a reminder, the Lady Byng is “given to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

This is a nifty factoid about Karlsson’s win:

Devils’ Brian Boyle receives Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy

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Brian Boyle of the New Jersey Devils is the recipient of the 2018 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy

The award is given to the player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.” The Professional Hockey Writers’ Association nominate a player from each of their 31 chapters and three finalists are named after a vote.

Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers and Jordan Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes were the other two finalists.

A $2,500 grant from the PHWA is awarded annually to the Bill Masterton Scholarship Fund, based in Bloomington, Minn., in the name of the Masterton Trophy winner.

Boyle was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia in September and missed the opening month of the season before returning Nov. 1. One week later he scored an emotional first goal of the season. He inspired a mural in New York City and later represented the New Jersey Devils at the NHL All-Star Game in Tampa in place of teammate Taylor Hall.

The Devils forward didn’t only deal with a cancer diagnosis this season. Boyle and his wife, Lauren, also went through an ordeal where doctors believed their two-year-old son Declan was possibly dealing with Ewing sarcoma of the mandible. Turns out it was a rare condition that impacts blood flow and oxygen circulation, and after a handful of procedures the situation is under control.

Boyle’s red and white blood cell counts show little traces of CML remaining. He told Dan Rosen of NHL.com this week that he could be off medication in three to six months.

“I am in a good spot,” Boyle said. “I’m certainly not concerned.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Islanders’ Mathew Barzal claims Calder Trophy

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Mathew Barzal became the fifth New York Islander to win the Calder Trophy, which was handed out during Wednesday’s NHL Awards show in Las Vegas. The award is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association and given “to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League.”

Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and Bryan Berard were the previous Islanders players to win the rookie of the year award.

“This is an amazing honor to win the Calder Trophy,” Barzal said. “The players that have won this award, within the Islanders organization and then others around the league, includes Hall of Fame players and Stanley Cup Champions. To have my name next to those guys in the record books is very humbling.”

Barzal led all rookies with 85 points and 27 power play points, and finished sixth in goals with 22. He was also the only rookie to average over a point per game (1.04). He finished the season as the Islanders leading scorer and was fourth on the team in goals.

One of the many highlights of Barzal’s rookie season was the three 5-point games he recorded, which made him him the second rookie in league history to achieve the feat. Joe Malone last did it 100 years ago during the NHL’s first season in 1917-18.

Here’s what the voting looked like as Barzal beat out the other two finalists, Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks and Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.