On Tuesday, the NHL announced the three finalists for the Hart Trophy, awarded to the player most valuable to their team.
This year, along with former Blackhawks forward Artemi Panarin — now with the New York Rangers — Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl and Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon made the cut.
The winner will be announced during the Conference Finals or prior to the Stanley Cup Final per the NHL.
Out of the trio, Draisaitl had the most points (110) at the time of the NHL Pause on March 12, then Panarin (95), followed by MacKinnon (93).
But, the Hart Trophy isn't about the most points, that's what the Art Ross Trophy is for.
What it comes down to is: Who's doing it all for their squad? Who's putting a team over? Whose ability and contributions are head and shoulders above the rest of their teammates?
That's why the Bread Man has the best case.
He's been the model player the Rangers desperately needed. It's not just the way he plays hard every shift, it's not just his scoring prowess, it's not just the electrifying leg kick celebrations. It's everything, the complete game that he perpetually plays in full throttle.
Aside from being third in the league in points — tied with Boston's David Pastrnak — Panarin led the NHL in evength strength points (71) and touted the league's second best +/- rating this year (+36).
Yes, the Hart usually goes to a player who helped get his team in the traditional Stanley Cup Playoffs. This year, with the NHL's 24-team postseason, the Rangers are sneaking in at No. 11 in the Eastern Conference.
Regardless, the Rangers are in this year. With the long layoff in between and a top playmaker like Panarin, anything can happen.
Now for his competition.
Just how valuable was Draisaitl to the Oilers, anyway? I mean, extremely valuable, obviously, but take him out of the equation and Edmonton (No. 5 in the Western Conference) is probably still a playoff team because of Connor McDavid and co. Plus, Draisaitl played with McDavid for the first two months of the season.
As for MacKinnon... at No. 2 in the West, the Avalanche are a pretty complete club. He definitely helps put Colorado over in being a top team but they went 24-13-0, with a seven-game winning streak, in games that MacKinnon didn't score a goal. In other words, when he wasn't scoring, they were fine.
The opposite was true for Panarin.
New York was 34-16-4 when Panarin scored a point this season and 3-12-1 when he didn't.
Patrick Kane hasn't forgotten about the magic he and Artemi Panarin created together for the #Blackhawks:— Scott King (@ScottKingMedia) April 13, 2020
"The way he sees the game and the way he plays it was very similar to the way that I saw the game."https://t.co/2hkQ0xt12j
Artemi wasn't supposed to be his own superstar or an impact player every night, especially not without Patrick Kane. But he's proven he is and re-energized a dormant franchise in the process. It's Panarin's year. Hopefully he gets the required votes from the writers association. Just imagine the leg kicks if he does...