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Conn Smythe Trophy candidates

Potential MVP from all 24 teams in Stanley Cup Qualifiers identified

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

The Conn Smythe Trophy won't be awarded until late September at the earliest, but it's no fun to wait until then to start talking about some of the contenders.

There are 24 teams with a chance to win the Stanley Cup in a tournament that begins Saturday. That means there are, at minimum, 24 players with a chance to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, which is given to player voted most valuable for his team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Here is one contender from each team:

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Boston Bruins: Tuukka Rask, goalie

The Bruins were the best team in the NHL this season (44-14-12, 100 points) largely because of Rask, who was first in save percentage (.929) and goals-against average (2.12) among goalies who appeared in at least 35 games. He was 26-8-6 in 41 appearances, all starts. He is 50-39 with seven shutouts, a .927 save percentage and 2.19 GAA in 89 playoff games.

 

Tampa Bay Lightning: Andrei Vasilevskiy, goalie

The Lightning will run into opponents that will be able to limit their high-powered offense. That's what makes Vasilevskiy so important to their success. He led the League this season with 35 wins and finished with a .917 save percentage and 2.56 GAA. When the Lightning reached the Eastern Conference Final in 2018, losing in Game 7 against the Washington Capitals, Vasilevskiy started every game and had a 2.58 GAA and .918 save percentage.

 

Washington Capitals: Nicklas Backstrom, center

Backstrom is as important to the Capitals as left wing Alex Ovechkin because he's often the one setting Ovechkin up for his shot. Backstrom has been one of the League's dominant two-way centers for years. He had 54 points (12 goals, 42 assists) this season and has 106 points (36 goals, 70 assists) in 123 career playoff games.

 

Philadelphia Flyers: Sean Couturier, center

Couturier is arguably the Flyers' most important skater because of his two-way game. He's a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the NHL's top defensive forward. He scored 59 points (22 goals, 37 assists) in 69 games. He led the NHL in face-off winning percentage (59.6 percent) among players who took at least 500 face-offs. He won 59.5 percent of his draws in the defensive zone. He also had a 56.1 shot-attempts percentage and plus-21 rating. He had nine points (five goals, four assists) in five playoff games in 2018.

Video: CAR@PHI: Couturier scores 26 seconds after Aube-Kubel

 

Pittsburgh Penguins: Evgeni Malkin, center

Malkin, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 2009, had what by all accounts was an excellent training camp in advance of Phase 4. He'll try to build on a strong regular season, when he had 74 points (25 goals, 49 assists) in 55 games, two more points than he had last season in 13 fewer games.

 

Carolina Hurricanes: Sebastian Aho, center

The Hurricanes' strength is in their defensive game, but Aho is a huge part of making that work because he's one of their most effective two-way centers and penalty killers. He's also their leading scorer after finishing this season with 66 points, including a career-high 38 goals.

 

New York Islanders: Mathew Barzal, center

Similar to the Hurricanes, the Islanders' strength is in keeping the puck out of their net. But to advance deep in the postseason, they're going to need production from their best offensive player. Barzal led the Islanders with 60 points (19 goals, 41 assists) in 68 games.

 

Toronto Maple Leafs: Frederik Andersen, goalie

The Maple Leafs are much like the Lightning in that their high-powered offense might be able to carry them at times, but they won't go anywhere without elite goaltending. Andersen was 29-13-7 with a 2.85 GAA and .909 save percentage in 52 appearances, all starts, this season. Toronto was 7-12-2 and allowed 3.89 goals per game when Andersen didn't play.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets: Seth Jones, defenseman

Jones has to play 25-plus minutes and be a force on both ends of the ice for the Blue Jackets to have a chance against Toronto in the Qualifying Round. If Columbus goes on a run this postseason, it will be on the backs of players like Jones, who had 30 points (six goals, 24 assists) in 56 games this season before breaking his ankle on Feb. 8.

 

Florida Panthers: Aleksander Barkov, center

Barkov is in the same mold as Couturier, Backstrom and Aho in that he's the most important two-way player on his team. He had 62 points (20 goals, 42 assists) in 66 games this season, playing 20:01 per game and winning 54.3 percent of his face-offs.

 

New York Rangers: Mika Zibanejad, center

Zibanejad was the hottest player in the League when the season was paused on March 12, leading the League with 23 goals and 36 points in 22 games from Jan. 31-March 11. He plays in all situations and will have to pick up where he left off for the Rangers to have a chance at going on a playoff run.

Video: WSH@NYR: Zibanejad scores five goals, OT winner

 

Montreal Canadiens: Carey Price, goalie

The Canadiens will go as Price goes and hope that it's enough. If he plays well, they'll have a chance to defeat the Penguins in the qualifying round and go on a run after that. Price was 27-25-6 with a .909 save percentage and 2.79 GAA this season.

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

St. Louis Blues: Jordan Binnington, goalie

Binnington was among the top candidates to win the Conn Smythe Trophy last season, when the Blues won the Stanley Cup; he had a 2.46 GAA and .914 save percentage in 26 starts (16-10). Blues center Ryan O'Reilly won the Conn Smythe Trophy. Binnington followed his playoff heroics this season by going 30-13-7 with a 2.56 GAA and .912 save percentage.

 

Colorado Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon, center

If MacKinnon is scoring, the Avalanche are typically winning. He's a finalist for the Hart Trophy after finishing the regular season with 93 points (35 goals, 58 assists) in 69 games. He scored at least one point in 53 games. The Avalanche went 34-12-7 when he had at least one point, but were 7-8-1 when he didn't.

 

Vegas Golden Knights: Mark Stone, right wing

Stone is arguably the NHL's best and most versatile two-way wing. He scores because he's a part of the offense and he creates his own with his defense. Stone had 63 points (21 goals, 42 assists) in 65 games. He was also tied for second in the League in takeaways (78) and alone in second in takeaways per 60 minutes (3.70) among players who appeared in at least 15 games.

 

Dallas Stars: Ben Bishop, goalie

The Stars are a defensive-oriented team that relies on Bishop to keep the scores low. That makes him a prime Conn Smythe Trophy candidate if Dallas is able to go on a run. Bishop was 21-16-4 with a .920 save percentage and 2.50 GAA this season. The Stars led the Western Conference and were second in the League in goals-against per game (2.52).

Video: NJD@DAL: Bishop fends off Simmonds, Hughes in tight

 

Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid, center

McDavid had 97 points (34 goals, 63 assists) in 64 games. His teammate, center Leon Draisaitl, led the League with 110 points (43 goals, 67 assists) in 71 games and could easily be Edmonton's Conn Smythe Trophy favorite too. But McDavid is still the most feared player in the game and the one who leads the Oilers.

 

Nashville Predators: Roman Josi, defenseman

Josi has to play a shutdown role and an offensive role for the Predators to have success; he did each so well this season that he's a Norris Trophy finalist. He led Nashville and was second among all defenseman with 65 points (16 goals, 49 assists) in 69 games. He averaged 25:47 of ice time per game, the most of any skater on the 24 teams competing for the Cup.

 

Vancouver Canucks: Jacob Markstrom, goalie

The Canucks can score and play with pace, but they won't go anywhere if Markstrom is just ordinary. He was 23-16-4 with a .918 save percentage and 2.75 GAA. The Canucks allowed 33.3 shots on goal per game, fourth most in the League.

 

Calgary Flames: Johnny Gaudreau, left wing

Gaudreau's production was down this season from last season. He averaged 0.83 points per game (58 points; 18 goals, 40 assists in 70 games) after averaging 1.21 points per game last season (99 points; 36 goals, 63 assists in 82 games). Of all the Flames players, though, Gaudreau is the one most likely to get hot enough to carry the team.

Video: Gaudreau fires it off the post and in

 

Winnipeg Jets: Connor Hellebuyck, goalie

Hellebuyck was arguably the best goalie in the League this season, and even with the Jets' ability to score in bunches, he'll have to be their difference maker in the playoffs. Hellebuyck had a .922 save percentage, fifth among goalies who appeared in at least 30 games, despite facing the most shots in the League (1,796). The four goalies ahead of him in save percentage averaged 938 shots against.

 

Minnesota Wild: Ryan Suter, defenseman

Suter is the definition of minute-muncher (24:38 per game this season) whose overall play makes a difference. He won't wow anyone with offensive numbers, though he was ninth among all defenseman with 48 points (eight goals, 40 assists) this season. It's his overall game -- playing in a shutdown role against top lines and playing in all situations, including power play and penalty kill -- that make him the Wild's most impactful player.

 

Arizona Coyotes: Darcy Kuemper, goalie

Of the 14 teams this season that averaged fewer than 3.00 goals per game, the Coyotes and Stars were the only two that scored more than they gave up (2.71-2.61). The big reason was goaltending, especially when Kuemper was playing. He was limited to 29 starts because of injury, but he had a .928 save percentage and 2.22 GAA. The Coyotes were 16-11-2 in his starts.

 

Chicago Blackhawks: Patrick Kane, right wing

Kane, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2013, had 84 points (33 goals, 51 assists) in 70 games this season. If the Blackhawks are going to go on a run, Kane will likely be their leading scorer, with several multipoint games.

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