It is time for another updated look at the race for the 2022 Conn Smythe Trophy as Stanley Cup Playoff MVP.
The Colorado Avalanche enter Game 4 of the series with a 2-1 series lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning, and have seen a collection of their players drift toward the top of the watch list with their impressive start to the series.
Defenseman Cale Makar is still the front-runner, but superstar forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen are also very much in play.
Andrei Vasilevskiy and Nikita Kucherov remain Tampa Bay’s best bets at the moment, but with the Lightning down in the series they drop a little in the rankings. That can change with a Game 4 win on Wednesday to even the series.
Let’s check in with the full Conn Smythe Watch going into Game 4 on Wednesday night.
1. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche. Simply an unbelievable talent and an absolutely incredible postseason to this point. In just his first three seasons in the league has already won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year; won his first Norris Trophy on Tuesday night; and now has a very realistic chance to add the Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup to his individual trophy case. He is at the center of pretty much everything that happens for the Avalanche this postseason. He is their leading scorer (and actually has an outside chance to catch Connor McDavid for the playoff lead), plays major minutes on defense, is a defensive force in his own zone, and completely dictates the pace of play when he is on the ice. If Colorado wins the Cup, Makar has to be the odds on favorite for playoff MVP at this moment.
2. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. MacKinnon might not have the most points, but he has been as dynamic as any Avalanche forward this postseason. He enters Game 4 with 11 goals and an absolutely mind blowing 96 shots on goal. Since 1960 only five players have ever recorded 100 shots on goal in a single playoff run: Evgeni Malkin, Henrik Zetterberg, Brian Propp, Pavel Bure, and Phil Esposito. Only one of those players (Esposito) reached that mark in fewer than 22 games. MacKinnon has 96 in only 17 games. If his current pace continues he should top 100 shots in his 18th playoff game on Wednesday night.
[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]
3. Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche. Rantanen is making a late push with his play over the past eight games. He only has five goals this postseason, but he has been an elite playmaker with 19 assists. He has been especially dominant with 14 points over the past seven games, including five multi-point games.
4. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning. He had a tough start to the Cup Final in Games 1 and 2 (especially the latter), but he has still been the Lightning’s best player this postseason and they would not be here in this position without him playing the way he has.
5. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. He’s been one of the great playoff performers of his this era and is having another stellar postseason for the Lightning. If they come back and win this series he is probably going to play a central role in it and rocket back up the rankings.
6. Valeri Nichushkin, Colorado Avalanche. Nichushkin might not win this award if Colorado takes the Cup, but he has played his way into an absolutely massive contract this summer. Not a bad trade-off for him.
[Related: Kuemper or Francouz for Avalanche in Game 4?]
7. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning. Stamkos has been really good this postseason, especially on a line with Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, but he would probably need to score five or six goals over the next four games in a Lightning series win to overtake Kucheror, Vasilevskiy, or any of the Avalanche players on the list.
8. Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning. Palat has been one of the most underrated — yet important — players of this era for the Lightning, and he is having a stellar postseason with some huge goals. He warrants mention in the discussion, but not sure he has enough to be ahead of anybody here.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.