NHL.com asked 44 of the League's top players for their opinions on topics surrounding the game and its players during the 2019 NHL European and North American Player Media Tours during the offseason. An installment of their answers will run each Wednesday. The second edition of this season's NHL.com players poll focuses on which player the panel believes will win the Hart Trophy as the most valuable player in 2019-20.
The Hart Trophy is Connor McDavid's to lose this season, according to his peers.
The Edmonton Oilers center, who was voted the winner of the Hart as NHL most valuable player in 2016-17, earned 20 votes among the 44 players who took part in a poll to identify candidates who could win the award for 2019-20.
"If he stays healthy, [McDavid]'s a no-brainer for me," New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal said.
The Hart Trophy is awarded annually "to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team." The winner is selected by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.
McDavid, who was a Hart finalist last season when he had 116 points (41 goals, 75 assists), is coming off a torn PCL in his left knee, which he sustained in Edmonton's season finale against the Calgary Flames on April 6. However, he has played in Edmonton's first three games this season and has eight points (two goals, six assists).
Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon, who had an NHL career-high 99 points (41 goals, 58 assists) last season, finished second in the poll with nine votes. Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov, who won the award after he had 128 points (41 goals, 87 assists) last season, received three votes in this season's players poll.
"It's tough," San Jose Sharks forward Tomas Hertl said. "I think McDavid will come back because of how he plays, and he never has much help, like some other guys. Like, Kucherov has Steven Stamkos. But McDavid is kind of always by himself. So him or MacKinnon. I love how [MacKinnon] plays. Both these guys."
Video: VAN@EDM: McDavid uses speed to put Oilers on top
Vegas Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault said MacKinnon's performance in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when Colorado upset the Calgary Flames in the Western Conference First Round, may have swung the pendulum toward him. MacKinnon had 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 12 playoff games..
"It's hard not to take McDavid, but personally, I'm a big, big fan of MacKinnon," Marchessault said. "I think the last two years he stepped his game up, and he's got to be one of my favorite players to watch in the NHL. So, huge fan of him.
"He's phenomenal. That's what big players do. Every step in the playoffs, they take a step. That's what he did. Unfortunately, against San Jose [in the second round], he got hurt at the end, and I think that team, they improved so much this year that they won't have to rely as much on him, but he will give you as much still."
Arizona Coyotes center Derek Stepan has also come to appreciate MacKinnon's game since joining the Western Conference following a trade from the New York Rangers, and is stumping for him to win his first Hart.
"Since I started to play against him more, I've realized just how good he really is," Stepan said. "I think he could have a good year."
Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby received five votes to finish third in the players poll. The long-term injury sustained by teammate Evgeni Malkin in the second game this season could influence Crosby's candidacy as he will be asked to shoulder more of the load offensively for the Penguins.
Video: MacKinnon lands at No. 4 on the Top 50 Players list
Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane had three votes to finish in a fourth-place tie with Kucherov, and he has the support of teammate Alex DeBrincat, who says that Kane's NHL career-high110 points (44 goals, 66 assists) last season could be a harbinger of what is to come.
"I'll go [Kane]," DeBrincat said. "I mean, you saw what he did last year. If he can build on that, he's going to be the clear-cut winner."
However, Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews went in a different direction, tapping center Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers. Toews was one of two players to vote for Barkov, who had an NHL career-high 96 points (35 goals, 61 assists) last season.
The other? Florida forward Jonathan Huberdeau, who has been teammates with Barkov since he joined the Panthers for the 2013-14 season.
"I would like him to win a Hart Trophy one day, so why not this year?" he said.
2019-20 Hart Trophy voting (44 total votes)
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers, 20; Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche, 9; Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins, 5; Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks, 3; Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning 3; Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers, 2; Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs, 2.