Zach Werenski

NHL Power Rankings
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NHL Power Rankings: Top MVP candidates

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take a look at the biggest individual award race — the Hart Trophy for league MVP.

This is always a complicated argument because everyone has a different definition of what consists of “value.” Is it simply the the best player? Does the player have to be on a playoff team to be considered? Those are the questions that bring people to screaming matches the most in this discussion, and this season will almost certainly be the same. Especially since there does not seem to be a runaway favorite at this point.

With these rankings I’m trying to strike a balance between players I think deserve to win, and the players that have the most realistic chance of winning.

Who makes the list?

To the rankings!

The Favorites

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. He might be the perfect candidate this season because he checks absolutely every box any MVP voter could possibly have. He is the best player on one of the league’s best teams. He has helped carry that team through injuries. He is one of the league’s top scorers and, at this point, one of the best overall players. There is not a single mark against him or his case at this point.

2. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. Recent history suggests players that the scoring title by the margin Draisaitl is on pace to win it by tend to be slam-dunk MVP winners as long as their team makes the playoffs. Barring some kind of incredible meltdown over the next month, the Oilers will be in the playoffs, so he has that going for them. The only factors that might hold him back are the presence of Connor McDavid on his team, and the fact his defensive impact isn’t great. But another 50-goal season and 125 points would certainly get a lot of attention.

3. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins. He has a shot at becoming just the third-player in the past 20 years to hit the 60-goal mark while also taking the Rocket Richard award away from Alex Ovechkin. Both would be significant accomplishments. Combined with his all-around player he has rapidly become one of the league’s best players.

4. Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers. He has been worth every penny the Rangers paid him this summer. But with the team being a real long-shot to make the playoffs at this point his standing is going to take a hit in the eyes of many voters. But he will still get votes (probably a lot of them, too) because he has been the single biggest reason the Rangers have remained in playoff contention as long as they have.

5. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers. It is absolutely crazy that after losing out on the MVP award in each of the past two years because the team around him completely stunk, he is going to lose out on the MVP this year because he missed a few games and his teammate (Draisaitl) is having an historically great year.

The second tier contenders

6. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks. This guy needs more attention. Pettersson has been a franchise-changing talent in Vancouver, while presence has rapidly accelerated the team’s rebuild. He is quickly turning into a complete force all over the ice. A one-man highlight reel every shift.

7. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets. Hellebuyck is the single biggest reason the Jets are in playoff contention right now. He has not only been a workhorse in net, playing a ton of games and facing more shots than any other goalie in the league, he has also been outstanding. The Jets needed an MVP effort from him this season to be competitive, and he has more than delivered.

8. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. The reigning league MVP should probably be getting a little more attention than he currently is. He is on track for his third consecutive 100-point season.

9. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. Hate him all you want, the list of wingers in the NHL that make a bigger impact than him is small enough to be counted on one hand.

Worthy of consideration

10. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins. He faced a lot of criticism for his performance a year ago, but he has been a force for the Penguins this season and helped get them through a never-ending run of injuries. On a per-game level, this is the third-most productive seasons of his career behind only the 2008-09 and 2011-12 seasons. He finished in the top-two in MVP voting in those two years.

11. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs might be a disappointment as a team based on overall expectations, but Matthews is having one of the best offensive seasons in franchise history and is one of the few players on the roster that hasn’t failed to meet expectations.

12. John Carlson, Washington Capitals. He is having one of the best offensive seasons in NHL history. That alone will almost certainly get him the Norris Trophy, and it will probably get him more than a few MVP votes.

13. Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights. Coming into the season it seemed as if Pacioretty’s days as an elite goal scorer were in the rear-view mirror. Not the case. He is having one of the best seasons of his career and is on track for close to 40-goals while also posting dominant possession numbers. I don’t know that his performance is getting enough attention, though, to put him at the top of the list. Even if it is good enough.

14. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. I don’t think he’s going to win, but he still has a shot to league the lead in goals on a potential division champion. He’s finished in the top-10 in voting four of the past five years and will probably be somewhere in that neighborhood again this season.

15. Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars. Bishop is one of the league’s best goalies, and has proven that over several years now. He has been a finalist for the Vezina Trophy multiple times and very well could be there again this season. He also has a decent MVP argument given his overall play, combined with the fact the Stars are one of the league’s worst offensive teams among contenders.

16. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes. He is very quietly on track for 45 goals this season and is one of the best possession-drivers in the league. He is the face of the Hurricanes’ franchise and the foundation for everything they have built (and are continuing to build).

17.  Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets. In a season where almost the entire Blue Jackets roster has been decimated by injury (including Werenski himself for a stretch of games), Werenski has been a rock on their blue line and one of the driving forces of their offense. He’s on a 25-goal pace over 82 games and has helped keep his team in the race.

18. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres. If there was any justice he would have a much better chance to win this season. Not only because his season deserves it for the season he is having, but because it is a shame that one of the league’s best, most exciting, and most impactful players is stuck on a franchise that hasn’t given him a chance to win. As it stands, he has virtually zero chance of winning simply because his team stinks. HIs season still deserves recognition.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Werenski, Gaudreau, and Ovechkin all shine in big wins

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Three Stars

1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. He recorded his league-leading 12th multi-goal game of the season in the Capitals’ 4-3 win over the Minnesota Wild, scoring two goals from his signature spot on the ice. He is now at 45 goals for the season and is just two back of Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak for the league lead. You can read more about Ovechkin’s big game and the Capitals’ big win right here.

2. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames. Gaudreau found out on Saturday that his grandfather passed away before their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He came back on Sunday with a huge performance for one of his biggest supporters. Gaudreau was dominant for the Flames in a 3-0 win over the Florida Panthers, scoring a goal, recording an assist, and even drawing a penalty shot in the first period. After a slow start to the season offensively Gaudreau’s production has really started to pick up in recent weeks, averaging a point per game (25 points in 25 games) since the start of January.

3. Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets. Werenski was a beast for the Blue Jackets in their come-from-behind win against the Vancouver Canucks, playing 25 minutes, scoring the game-tying goal (his 20th of the season) in the third period, picking up an assist, and finishing the night as a plus-two. The Blue Jackets desperately needed this win and it is not a stretch to call it a potential season saver. With Seth Jones sidelined due to injury a lot of the Blue Jackets’ workload on defense is going to fall on Werenski, and he has been brilliant this season. You can read more about their big win on Sunday night here.

More Standout Performances From Sunday

  • Cory Schneider recorded his first shutout in more than a year for the New Jersey Devils in a 3-0 win over the Anaheim Ducks.
  • Anze Kopitar scored two goals and Cal Petersen was a wall for the Los Angeles Kings by stopping 42 out of 43 shots to help them put a stop to the Vegas Golden Knights’ winning streak. Read more about the Kings’ win here.

Highlights of the Night

Trevor Lewis helped the Kings pull the upset over the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday night with this beautiful spin-o-rama goal to beat Marc-Andre Fleury.

Derek Grant had a huge game for the Philadelphia Flyers with an assist on Michael Raffl‘s shorthanded goal, and this beautiful goal for himself. Read more about the Flyers’ big win here.

Ovechkin’s second goal of the night came on this beautiful passing play between him, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Ilya Kovalchuk.

Blooper of the Night

Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson absolutely levels Devils forward Kevin Rooney behind the net and earns himself a two-minute minor for interference.

Factoids

  • Werenski is the first Blue Jackets defensemen to ever score 20 goals in a single season. [NHL PR]
  • Artemi Panarin extended his point streak for the New York Rangers. [NHL PR]
  • Ovechkin now has 144 multi-goal games in his career, putting him into fifth place in NHL history. [NHL PR]

Scores

Philadelphia Flyers 5, New York Rangers 2
Calgary Flames 3, Florida Panthers 0
New Jersey Devils 3, Anaheim Ducks 0
Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Vancouver Canucks 3
Washington Capitals 4, Minnesota Wild 3
Los Angeles Kings 4, Vegas Golden Knights 1

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Blue Jackets rally for potential season saving win

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Thanks to an offensive outburst in the final seven minutes of regulation on Sunday night, the Columbus Blue Jackets were able to pick up a massive win against the Vancouver Canucks that they absolutely needed to have.

Columbus scored four goals in the final seven minutes of regulation to erase a two-goal deficit and storm back for a 5-3 win.

Zach Werenski scored his 20th goal of the season to tie the game with less than five minutes to play in regulation, while Emil Bemstrom scored the game-winner just three minutes later. Gustav Nyquist added an empty-net goal with 10 seconds to play.

It may not be much of a stretch to say the could be a season saving victory in Columbus.

Even though Columbus entered the game in a Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference (and improved that standing with Sunday’s win) they had a couple of hurdles standing in their way.

For one, they had been mired in a massive slump that had seen them lose 10 out of 11 games.

They are also about to face an absolute gauntlet of a schedule that will see them play their next seven games against Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Boston, Washington and Toronto. Every one of those teams currently occupies a playoff spot.

But perhaps their biggest issue is the fact every team they are in competition with for a playoff spot has two or three games in hand on them.

That matters quite a bit, and when you dig into the projected point paces and possible points that are still remaining the Blue Jackets were starting to get themselves in trouble.

Just look at the current Metropolitan Division/Wild Card standings for the teams after Washington (The Capitals still hold the top spot in the Metropolitan Division) as of Sunday night.

The Blue Jackets are clinging to one of those wild card spots based on current points, but with only 15 games remaining there are only so many points left for them to collect. Based on their current pace and the games they still have remaining, the Carolina Hurricanes (currently outside the playoff picture based on total points) are still on pace to finish with more points than Columbus this season.

Now, these are just projects and current paces and games in hand do not necessarily mean “wins” in hand. A lot can still happen when the games actually get played. But it does at least give a sense of how big of a swing Columbus’ win on Sunday was and how much work still needs to be done to get one of those spots. A loss on Sunday would have put them at a 92-93 point pace.

No matter what happens this has been an incredible effort by the Blue Jackets this season given all of the free agency departures over the summer and the absurd injury list they have dealt with all season (and are still dealing with now).

As for the Canucks, this one has to hurt. This looked to be a game they had completely wrapped up and it all disappeared in a matter of minutes. For the time being they fall out of the top-three in the Pacific Division but still hold one of the Wild Card spots. They still have games in hand on a lot of the teams around them, but the current injury situation that has them without Brock Boeser and starting goalie Jacob Markstrom is going to make things a little uncomfortable down the stretch.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Bemstrom, Foligno power Blue Jackets past Senators

Nick Foligno #71 of the Columbus Blue Jackets, right, and Boone Jenner #38 of the Columbus Blue Jackets celebrate Foligno's second period goal against the Ottawa Senators
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Three Stars

1) Nick Foligno, Columbus Blue Jackets

John Tortorella has long advocated for teams to not have games on the same day as the NHL Trade Deadline. Coincidentally, the Columbus Blue Jackets won the only game scheduled, defeating the Ottawa Senators in overtime, 4-3. Foligno opened the scoring when he slid a puck past Marcus Hogberg. He later knotted the game at 2-2 with a redirection 12:32 into the middle frame.

2) Emil Bemstrom, Columbus Blue Jackets

Right place, right time. Zach Werenski’s shot created a juicy rebound and Bemstrom was in the right place to put home the game-winning goal. Boone Jenner picked up his second assist of the night and the Blue Jackets moved into the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with the victory.

3) Connor Brown, Ottawa Senators

The human element in sports is often overlooked but the Ottawa Senators put together an admirable performance after seeing several significant pieces dealt earlier in the day. Brown led the way with two goals before the Senators ultimately came up short in overtime. Chris Tierney made a no-look backhand pass from behind the cage to set up Brown 10:48 into the first period. Brown would later add a power-play goal in the middle frame to give the Senators a 2-1 lead.

Highlight of the Night

Tierney showed off spectacular vision when this no-look pass made it to Brown.

Stat of the Night

Scores

Columbus Blue Jackets 4, Ottawa Senators 3 (OT)


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Blue Jackets suffer worst injury yet: Seth Jones out 8-10 weeks

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The Blue Jackets received their worst injury news yet: Seth Jones is expected to miss 8-10 weeks after surgery. The surgery addressed a sprain and hairline fracture of his ankle. It’s the latest bit of injury news on a tough Tuesday for such updates.

Seth Jones injury likely keeps him out of Blue Jackets playoff push

If that recovery window holds, Jones would miss the remainder of the regular season (which ends on April 4). Hockey players sometimes beat even optimistic recovery windows, though, so we’ll see.

Jones suffered the injury during this play on Saturday:

Jones leads the Blue Jackets in average time on ice (25:17), ranking sixth overall in the NHL. Jones earned his third All-Star appearance in 2019-20, generating 30 points in 56 games.

John Tortorella must find a way to replace a versatile player, not just a star. Jones spends almost as much time on the PK (2:25 SH TOI per game) as he does on the power play (2:34).

It will be interesting to see who steps up in Jones’ jarring absence. Zach Werenski has already been logging more than an extra minute of ice time per night (23:44 to 24:52) since Ryan Murray went down with an injury, with David Savard and Vladislav Gavrikov seeing similar increases. We’ll see if Torts can spread out that added burden in a way that keeps the Blue Jackets competitive.

About the only (weak) argument you can muster is that perhaps Jones’ loss might be exaggerated by some. There are certain measures, such as Evolving Hockey’s RAPM charts, where Jones looks great, but maybe not mind-blowing:

Seth Jones RAPM injury

To clarify: I don’t think such an argument goes very far, aside from maybe if you’re trying to choose between Jones vs. other of the NHL’s best.

The Blue Jackets have done a marvelous job limiting high-danger chances against (maybe carrying over from their sweep of the Lightning?). If the Blue Jackets can hang in there without Jones, it would be one heck of an argument for Torts as a Jack Adams candidate.

Banged-up Blue Jackets

Again, Columbus already faced waves of injuries this season.

Alexander Wennberg recently joined a list that includes Murray, Joonas Korpisalo, Cam Atkinson, Josh Anderson, Alexandre Texier, Brandon Dubinsky, and Dean Kukan. Jones shows that their injury list is a galling mix of quality and quantity.

The Blue Jackets deserve ample credit for hanging in the East playoff races, but they don’t enjoy much margin for error:

There are at least occasional reasons for optimism, mind you. Jackets Insider’s Jeff Svoboda reports that Anderson, Atkinson, and Korpisalo all were on the ice on Tuesday, if nothing else.

The larger point remains: it would be quite the story if the Blue Jackets can make the playoffs, especially after losing Jones.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.