Most teams in the NHL are through at least 25 games this season, so you can better assess who actually is on pace to have a career year versus who might’ve just had a hot start.
David Pastrnak appears on pace for a big year.
There always have been flashes of Hart Trophy-level skill from the youngster, but he’s never quite been in the thick of the conversation. But this year he is.
Locally, Bruins fans know what Pastrnak’s capable of on a nightly basis. The 23-year-old reaching 50 goals and 100 points seems like more of a when than if scenario this season, having posted 23 goals and 16 assists in just 25 games entering Friday’s tilt with the New York Rangers. If he stays healthy, something he was unable to do last season, there’s no reason to think he won’t continue to be an enormously productive player.
But around the league there are plenty of other players having successful seasons who ultimately could keep Pastrnak from winning the Hart this season.
Chiefly, the two candidates in Edmonton on an Oilers team that has been surprisingly successful: Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
McDavid is a no-brainer, as he’s far and away the most skilled player in the NHL. Durability hasn’t been an issue for him over the last few seasons, which has allowed him to post at least 100 points in each of his last three campaigns, including a 116-point year last season. So long as he’s in the league, he’s going to be in the conversation for the award, and if he manages to help get Edmonton back in the playoffs for the first time in three years, it’ll go a long way in getting him votes.
Then there’s the 24-year-old Draisaitl, who entered Wednesday in a share of the league lead for assists (32) and points (48). Draisaitl really took a step forward last season, which was his fourth full run in the NHL, so the lack of a demonstrated history of posting triple-digit scoring suggests he *might* flame out a touch as time goes on. Even then, he began the season at such a torrid pace that he should reach at least 100 points with relative ease even if he regresses or misses some time.
What could end up sinking both their chances eventually is the amount of ice time per game they presently are getting. Draisaitl is averaging 22:53 per game while McDavid is at 22:18 — both of those figures are highest of any forward in the league by a wide margin, as the next closest is Mark Scheifele at 21:43. That simply isn’t sustainable, and the Oilers either are going to have to scale back their ice time or keep gambling on the health of those players since they’re getting overworked.
The only other somewhat serious candidate is Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon, who finished second in Hart voting two seasons ago. He enters Friday with just 15 goals and 20 assists, but consider this: Edmonton has Draisaitl and McDavid skating on the same line. Pastrnak is playing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Now, when fully healthy, the Avs have Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog flanking MacKinnon, but Rantanen hasn’t played since Oct. 21 and Landeskog since Oct. 26.
With both of his star wingers out, MacKinnon still has kept Colorado competitive in a tough Central Division that arguably is the best division in the league. For a trophy that is about how valuable someone is to their team, it’s not unfair to say MacKinnon deserves to be right in the middle of the conversation because of how he’s kept his team in a good spot with significantly less talent (offensively, at least) on his line compared to other stars.
One fringe candidate to keep an eye on: Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson. You probably can just give him the Norris Trophy right now, but don’t be surprised if he pops up on a few Hart ballots in the spring. In addition to his defensive abilities, he’s done well to facilitate scoring for Washington, adding 28 assists to his eight goals. A defenseman hasn’t won the Hart since Chris Pronger in 1999-2000, and it’s tough imagining Carlson being the one to snap that streak given who he’s up against, but he has played at an insane level.
At this point, it seems Pastrnak is third behind Draisaitl and McDavid, but ahead of MacKinnon and Carlson. There’s plenty of hockey left, so a lot can change over the coming months, but if nothing else, we know Pastrnak very much belongs in the conversation.