To mark the first quarter of the season, NHL.com is running its second installment of the Trophy Tracker series this week. Today, we look at the race for the Hart Trophy, given annually to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team as selected in a Professional Hockey Writers Association poll.
The Edmonton Oilers are in first place in the Pacific Division, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that their captain, Connor McDavid, is the leading candidate in the race for the Hart Trophy through a quarter of the season, according to a vote by a panel of 20 NHL.com writers.
But McDavid's closest competitor in the race for NHL MVP may be one of his linemates, Leon Draisaitl.
McDavid finished first in the panel's Hart Trophy vote with 87 points, buoyed by 11 first-place votes. Draisaitl was second with 62 points, helped by his five first-place votes. Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon received the other four first-place votes and was third with 55 points.
"It's pretty incredible to watch [McDavid and Draisaitl], and I think everyone here is pretty lucky to have a front-row seat to it every night," Edmonton defenseman Matt Benning said. "They've stepped it up to another level here this year in terms of how much they're leading our team and doing it on a nightly basis. It's been very impressive to see."
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McDavid's 46 points (18 goals, 28 assists) are second in the NHL to Draisaitl's 47 (16 goals, 31 assists). The next closest Edmonton player in points is their linemate, Zack Kassian, who has 18 (eight goals, 10 assists).
The Oilers lead the Pacific at 15-7-3, their best record through the first 25 games of a season since 2001-02, when they were 14-7-1 with three ties.
"They're the elite of the elite," Kassian said of McDavid and Draisaitl. "Edmonton is spoiled to get to watch these two guys every night."
McDavid said a key to their success together has been how coach Dave Tippett hasn't stifled them in any way. Tippett's philosophy is as long as McDavid and Draisaitl are responsible defensively, it's best to just get out of the way and let their skill and talent shine offensively.
"He's let us play our game," McDavid said. "When we have the puck, away from the puck, we still need to be a little bit better, manage the turnovers and stuff like that. But he's definitely given us a little freedom."
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If their joint success continues, McDavid and Draisaitl could become the fifth set of teammates to finish first and second in Hart Trophy voting in NHL history.
It hasn't happened since 1970-71, when Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito of the Boston Bruins were first and second. Prior to Orr and Esposito, it happened three times from 1940-55.
Bill Cowley edged Bruins teammate Dit Clapper in 1940-41. Elmer Lach was a step ahead of Montreal Canadiens teammate Maurice "Rocket" Richard in 1944-45. Ted Kennedy beat out Toronto Maple Leafs teammate Harry Lumley in 1954-55.
"I like them a lot, just the way they go about their business, the way they want to be the best, the way they practice, all those great qualities," Oilers forward James Neal said of McDavid and Draisaitl. "They make everybody around them better. When you watch their tendencies, watch the way they shoot, watch the way they make moves, you try to emulate that. You try to be that fast, try to be that good.
"A lot of times it's not going to work, but at least your pace will be up and everything you're doing will be at a different level. When you're around guys like that, you can see the effect they have on each guy in the locker room."
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1- basis): Connor McDavid, Oilers, 87 points (11 first-place votes); Leon Draisaitl, Oilers, 62 (five first-place votes); Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche, 55 (four first-place votes); David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins, 40; John Carlson, Washington Capitals, 25; Brad Marchand, Bruins, 8; Alex Ovechkin, Capitals, 6; Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes, 4; Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks, 3; Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs, 2; Roman Josi, Nashville Predators, 1; Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks, 1
NHL.com staff writer Tim Campbell contributed to this report