The Hart Trophy is given annually to the NHL player voted most valuable to his team by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

This season, Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers are the finalists.

The award will be given to one of these forwards during the NHL Awards on Thursday at Fontainebleau Las Vegas (7 p.m. ET; ESPN, SN).

It will be one of five awards handed out Thursday; the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year, the Vezina Trophy for top goalie, the Norris Trophy for best defenseman, and the Ted Lindsay Award, for most outstanding player as voted on by the NHLPA, will also be handed out.

While we wait to find out the winner of all five awards, NHL.com writers Derek Van Diest and Tom Gulitti, and senior writer Dan Rosen debate the merits of each Hart finalist in this Awards edition of State Your Case.

Nikita Kucherov

The Tampa Bay forward led the NHL and set a Lightning record with an NHL career-high 144 points (44 goals, 100 assists) to win the Art Ross Trophy for the second time (also 2018-19). Kucherov and McDavid were the first players to reach 100 assists in a season since Wayne Gretzky had 122 for the Los Angeles Kings in 1990-91. The 31-year-old also led the NHL with 53 power-play points (13 goals, 40 assists). But what was most impressive – and the reason why Kucherov deserves to win the Hart for the second time in his career (also 2018-19) – was that Kucherov had 54 points more than the next highest player on the Lightning, which was Brayden Point with 90. That’s the biggest gap between first and second on a team in points since Pavel Bure led the Florida Panthers in 2000-01 with 92 points, which was 55 more than Viktor Kozlov in second. Kucherov also factored in 50 percent of Tampa Bay’s 288 total goals, making him the second player since 1998-99 to score or assist on at least 50 percent of his team’s goals, joining McDavid (50.7 percent in 2018-19 and 57.4 percent in 2020-21). -- Tom Gulitti, staff writer

Nathan MacKinnon

My colleagues make valid points, but the Colorado Avalanche forward is the right choice. MacKinnon is because he scored. He is because he played with power, speed, physicality and skill. He is because he was clutch, evidenced by his nine game-winning goals. He is because he dominated on home ice. He is because he played a strong defensive game. MacKinnon's 140 points (51 goals, 89 assists) in 82 games were second to Kucherov. He had seven more goals than Kucherov and 19 more than McDavid. He had 41 even-strength goals, second in the NHL behind Auston Matthews (51), but 10 more than Kucherov and 17 more than McDavid. The hardest thing to do in hockey is score and MacKinnon did that at a much higher rate than the other two finalists. He scored 55 percent of his points (77 of 140) during his 35-game home point streak, the second longest in NHL history. He had a point in 39 of Colorado's 41 home games. But most importantly, MacKinnon impacted 82 games even when he didn't score by pushing defenses back, controlling the pace of the game and seemingly always having the puck. Kucherov distributed the puck well and won the Art Ross Trophy. McDavid helped pull the Oilers out of the basement and deserves to be nominated. But every day of this season, MacKinnon was the best player in the world and the most valuable to his team. He is the best choice. -- Dan Rosen, senior writer

Connor McDavid

The Edmonton Oilers captain has won the Hart Trophy three times (2017, 2021, 2023) and was one vote from becoming the first player to win unanimously last season. This season, it’s not been so cut and dry, but he’s still considered the best player in the NHL and should be the recipient of the award again. Without McDavid, the Oilers may not have pulled out of the hole they dug themselves with a 2-9-1 start and would not have gone on to finish second in the Pacific Division. McDavid sustained an upper-body injury early in the season, which was one of the reasons Edmonton got off to a slow start. Had he not been injured, McDavid could have won the scoring race for a fifth time, and he still finished with 132 points (32 goals, 100 assists) in 76 games. The fact he was in the mix with Kucherov and MacKinnon, temporarily taking over the lead at one point, was an amazing achievement considering his slow start. -- Derek Van Diest, staff writer