Elias Pettersson

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: Geekie cool for Carolina; Wild continue wild-card push

Morgan Geekie Carolina Hurricanes debut The Buzzer
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Three Stars

1. Detroit Red Wings’ top line

Handing out a collective award feels appropriate here.

Both Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha managed one-goal, three-assist performances. Two of Mantha’s assists were primary ones, while Next Bert nabbed one. Dylan Larkin only finished a stride behind generating a goal and two assists (one primary) while also chipping in a shootout tally to help Detroit upset Tampa Bay. (Larkin even dominated in the faceoff circle, going 14-7.)

The Bertuzzi – Larkin – Mantha trio really seemed to catch fire during “garbage time” last season. Really, Bertuzzi especially saw the benefits start to kick in last March.

The Red Wings are so far behind everyone else for the highest draft lottery odds that they can enjoy these performances from the top line, and maybe some keyed-in work from Jonathan Bernier if this small pattern holds.

2. Morgan Geekie, Carolina Hurricanes

It’s cool enough that Geekie scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game. Like a cinematic nerd avenging a movie jock, Geekie went big. The 21-year-old generated a three-point debut, scoring two goals and one assist.

This makes Geekie the second player in Hurricanes/Whalers history to generate three points in a debut, and the second in said history to generate two goals in their debut.

In case you’re wondering, the 21-year-old presents some interesting potential to be more than a one-day curiosity.

While his draft pedigree his modest (third round [67th overall] in 2017), Geekie’s produced some solid offense at lower levels. After scoring 19 goals and 46 points in the AHL last season, Geekie already had 22 goals and 42 points in 55 AHL contests in 2019-20.

If nothing else, Geekie helped the Hurricanes complete a key weekend, as Carolina also beat the Islanders in OT on Saturday.

3. Jakob Silfverberg, Anaheim Ducks

Like Geekie, Silfverberg generated two goals and one assist for his team. Unlike Geekie, Silfverberg’s team lost, as Kevin Fiala continued his red-hot streak by scoring in OT for the skyrocketing Wild.

Nonetheless, SIlfverberg deserves recognition. By collecting those two tallies, Silfverberg reached the 20-goal mark for the second season in a row, and the fourth in his last five seasons. It’s unclear if Silfverberg can match his career-high for points (49), but he could enjoy one of his best campaigns with 38 points already.

Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog rank as honorable mentions with one-goal, two-assist nights in Colorado’s snug win. Jake Allen demands some attention for his 29-save shutout against Chicago, too.

Highlight of the Night

Elias Pettersson ranks high on the list of players you don’t want to let loose out of the penalty box. He probably climbed a rung or two up that ladder with this blazing bit of speed and fancy finish:

Standings after Sunday (big wins for Carolina, Minnesota, Columbus)

East

West

Scores

CAR 6 – PIT 2
DET 5 – TBL 4 (SO)
STL 2 – CHI 0
MIN 5 – ANA 4 (OT)
CBJ 2 – VAN 1
COL 4 – SJS 3

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Best fits for top trade targets; Bruins have room to work with

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Adam Gretz chooses ideal landing spots for top trade deadline targets. Chris Kreider making the Blues even more relentless? Yikes. (YardBarker)

• Gus Katsaros supplements that with an analytics-based look at those who have already been traded, and those who might move. (Rotoworld)

• Speaking of players who were already traded, Tyler Toffoli shares his experience hustling to join the Canucks. Yes, it involved sharing some joking texts with once-again-teammate Tanner Pearson. (Sportsnet)

• Breaking down how Brenden Dillon fits with the Capitals. Interesting point that while Dillon is prone to taking penalties, the Caps’ strong PK might mitigate that drawback. (Japers Rink)

• The Bruins possess healthy cap space, making a trade deadline move relatively simple by contender standards. They’d only need to juggle a bit if they landed a big-budget rental. (NBC Sports Boston)

• I’ve pondered how teams might practice “load management” with players plenty of times before. With that in mind, it’s nice to see a deeper discussion of the practice — or lack thereof — in the NHL. Dom Luszczyszyn discusses how parity makes NHL teams less likely to rest players than their NBA counterparts, but how smart hockey teams should explore similar tactics anyway. (The Athletic, sub required)

[MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker]

J.T. Miller has delivered at a staggering level for the Canucks on the ice. It turns out he’s elite when it comes to heartwarming gestures, too. (Canucks)

• Cycling back to Miller’s on-ice impact, The Point recently broke down his breakthrough. Sheng Peng discusses how well Miller gels with Canucks star Elias Pettersson. (The Point)

Braden Holtby has looked sharp lately. After struggling through much of this regular season, could Holtby be back on his game? (Nova Caps)

• Kim and Terry Pegula told Sabres GM Jason Botterill that they are not looking to hire a president of hockey operations. Botterill apparently said in the past that he prefers to report directly to ownership. All of that said, it’s not clear if the Pegulas might be looking for a new General Manager. (Buffalo News)

• Things were bad for Milan Lucic, particularly in November. With James Neal red-hot, people were making unkind comparisons. But even more directly, he found himself benched, and pondered retirement because the game just wasn’t fun anymore. Like a frosted tip, it seems like Lucic has his sparkle back at the moment, though. (Sporting News)

• Andrew Berkshire recently broke down the five best defensive pairings in the NHL, including Nashville’s Roman JosiRyan Ellis combo. (Sportsnet)

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Protecting Pettersson; more on Zucker trade

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Ken Campbell nails it in discussing the abuse thrown Elias Pettersson‘s way. Really, it applies not only to protecting Pettersson, but all star players. (The Hockey News)

• The Sedin Twins understand what Pettersson is going through. Unfortunately, their advice boils down to “you just gotta deal with it.” (Vancouver is Awesome)

• Believe it or not, the Sedin twins are still close friends. Who would have thought? (Although twins could get tired of each other, theoretically, so maybe it is impressive …) (Sportsnet)

• Need a connection between the NHL and the inescapable Coronavirus? Apparently the crisis is affecting the supply of sticks. Imagine a scenario where crusty hockey people live their random dream of wooden sticks making a brief comeback … (Boston Globe)

• Oilers fans winced at Connor McDavid hurting his knee. If they (and fans of the sport in general) want a slight silver lining, consider that McDavid claims it’s not related to his off-season injury. (Sportsnet)

• Mathieu Schneider came away from meetings regarding an Olympic return feeling “happy” from the NHLPA perspective. That might be a moot point if the league remains cool to the premise of participating in 2022, but it’s better than nothing. (TSN)

[NHL ON NBCSN: Ovechkin continues chase for 700 Thursday vs. Avalanche]

• During much of the season, the Penguins persisted with strong puck possession stats despite injuries. Adam Gretz details some discouraging recent trends, though. Then again, maybe generally defensively sound winger Jason Zucker could help a bit in that regard? (Pensburgh)

• Calen Addison ranks as one of the Wild’s most important returns in the Zucker trade. Corey Pronman breaks down what Minnesota is getting in the defensive prospect. (The Athletic, sub required)

• It’s tough to wrap your head around the idea of the Rangers actually buying out Henrik Lundqvist. Granted, that might be a pretty practical way to keep two younger goalie options. Blue Seat Blogs explains the potential pros and cons of such a buyout. (Blue Seat Blogs)

• Why the Maple Leafs should trade Tyson Barrie. (The Leafs Nation)

• Scroll through this interesting thread about how the 2012 NHL Draft ranks among the worst. Maybe the Blue Jackets were reasonable in rejecting the Islanders’ entire 2012 stock when Garth Snow came calling for Ryan Murray? (Benjamin Wendorf)

• Jaromir Jagr and Gordie Howe: two peas in a pod. (Featurd)

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.

On defending against Canucks’ Elias Pettersson and how he’s officiated

Elias Pettersson
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Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson is one of the NHL’s brightest young stars and a dynamic playmaker that is capable of changing a game every time he steps on the ice. As such, he is also going to be the focal point for every team defensively and is the kind of player that they want to play against physically.

In just his second season in the league he has already been on the receiving end of some big — and controversial — hits that have resulted in ejections and supplemental discipline.

On Tuesday, in the Canucks’ 4-0 loss to the Boston Bruins, he was on the receiving end of a late hit from Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk that infuriated coach Travis Green after the game.

Here is the play.

It is not the worst hit you will see, but it is clearly late, unnecessary and at a time when Pettersson should not be expecting to be hit. There was no penalty called on the play, even as an official had a direct line of sight to the contact.

Here was Green’s commentary after the game, via TSN:

“I’m so frustrated with it. This guy is one of the best young players in the league. He gets hit and he’s totally defenseless. It’s two seconds after he lets go of the puck. I’ve watched it a couple times. He feels like there’s no way he’s going to get hit like that. He’s in a vulnerable position. Those are hits that the league is trying to get out of the game, especially against top young guys, top players in the league, and I think that Petey’s shown he’s one of those guys.

“And it’s frustrating for me as a coach to see some of the abuse he takes, where (it) doesn’t get called and he works through this. He gets frustrated and they keep, I know he’s not the biggest guy, but that doesn’t mean you can take advantage of a player that’s not ready to be hit. It’s very late. That should have been a penalty all day long.”

Neither player talked after the game, but Pettersson addressed it on Thursday, as well questions on the officiating towards him and the way he’s defended by teams across the league. You can watch his entire media availability here.

Pettersson clearly did not like the hit or the lateness of it, calling it kind of a dirty play.

Still, he insisted he is not the type of player to go to the officials looking for a call.

“The refs already have a tough job, I’m not looking for calls. I don’t want to have that reputation about me. If they say I’m embellishing or diving to get penalties — I’m not about that. I’m trying to play hard hockey with respect against my opponents. Of course sometimes I feel I should get a penalty, but that’s something I can’t control. All I can control is trying to play my best hockey.”

He later added:  “I know I get a lot more attention now. I can feel it, get less time with the puck, I feel like I always have a guy around me. I feel like plays like that isn’t what we want in hockey. It’s a late hit, I’m not ready for it. I’m ready for it at first, but then two or three seconds later the hit comes.”

Pettersson also said that Grzelcyk checked on him after the play to make sure he was okay.

A few additional thoughts:

1. The Canucks and Pettersson were absolutely right to be livid about that hit on Tuesday. The problem is I don’t see this as a Pettersson-Canucks issue as much as it is an NHL officiating issue. All too often the grace period for when a hit is acceptable seems to be extended far beyond what it should be. As long as it doesn’t result in an injury, a clear hit directly to the head, or somebody being hit from behind it tends to be ignored.

2. Pettersson does take a beating. Sometimes it gets punished. Sometimes it doesn’t. Along with this hit, other notable incidents include the game in Florida last season when he was body-slammed by Mike Matheson, the flying elbow he took to the face from Chris Kreider, and this incident with Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Grzelcyk and Kotkaniemi received no penalties and no league discipline, but Matheson was suspended two games while Kreider was ejected and fined (but not suspended).

3. While those punishments and penalties may seem frustrating and inconsistent for the Canucks, Pettersson does draw penalties far more than than most players in the league. Among the 498 players that have logged at least 500 minutes of ice-time this season, Pettersson is 16th in the league in penalties drawn per 60 minutes. Overall, he’s drawn 24 penalties this season. Though, it is worth pointing out — as the Athletic’s Thomas Drance did on Thursday) the overwhelming majority of those calls came early in the season and have dried up over the past two months. None of those numbers should matter, though. A penalty is a penalty and all anybody should be looking for here is consistency. That, again, is an issue that extends far beyond Pettersson and the Canucks.

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.