Typically, the end of Round 2 marks the midway point of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and that’s a good time to assess the Conn Smythe Trophy race. But since the round-robin and play-in series were admissible for official playoff stats, the 2019-20 Conn Smythe will be awarded based on five rounds of play. That makes 2.5 rounds – a.k.a. right now, partway through Round 2 – the halfway mark for Conn Smythe discussion.
Who has major momentum for playoff MVP consideration? Consider these 10 candidates, with their teams’ current positions in their series factored in.
1. Miro Heiskanen, D, Dallas Stars
All-around greatness was the projection the day Dallas drafted him in 2017, and he’s done nothing but live up to it in his first two seasons, flashing tremendous poise, intelligence and puck movement, especially considering he’s still just 21. But Heiskanen has surged from rising star to full-on dominator during the 2020 playoffs. Partway through the second round, he’s already set a franchise record for points by a defenseman in a single post-season. The Stars lean on him for 25:46 per game, and they’ve outscored opponents 13-7 with him on the ice at 5-on-5. What a beast.
2. Nathan MacKinnon, C, Colorado Avalanche
Even with the Avs facing elimination at the moment, I can’t drop MacKinnon lower than No. 2. He’s been that otherworldly. Through 12 Colorado games, his 21 points are four more than any other NHLer. His 1.75 points per game ties him with 2017-18 Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel for the highest playoff mark among players with 12 or more games played since Mario Lemieux in 1991-92. Colorado has scored 46 goals this post-season, and MacKinnon has been on the ice for 27 of them, or 58.7 percent.
3. Shea Theodore, D, Vegas Golden Knights
In terms of shot attempt ratio when he was on the ice, Theodore had the most positive impact of any NHL defenseman this season, and he continues to tilt the ice in bubble play. Only Heiskanen has more points or points per 60 among the blueliners still in the playoffs. With Theodore on the ice at 5-on-5, Vegas more than doubles its opponents in high-danger chances and almost doubles them in scoring chances. Theodore is known more as an offensive defenseman, but he deserves more credit for his improving shutdown skills. His most common matchups in the playoffs include Patrick Kane and Elias Pettersson. The score when he’s been on the ice against those two at 5-on-5: 9-2 Vegas.
4. Anthony Beauvillier, LW, New York Islanders
The feisty Beauvillier has averaged more shots per 60 minutes than any player besides Brendan Gallagher this post-season. Beauvillier’s seven goals in 13 games include three game-winners, and he’s closed out each of the Isles’ series wins so far with multi-goal games. Are we witnessing a breakout that will carry over into the 2020-21 regular season, or is Beauvillier just showing the ability to elevate his game specifically for the playoffs and become this generation’s Justin Williams?
5. Brayden Point, C, Tampa Bay Lightning
With Steven Stamkos still yet to suit up, Point’s role as the Bolts’ No. 1 center is more important than ever, and he’s delivered massively with 16 points in 12 games, including two game-winners and two game-tying goals, while winning more than 56 percent of his faceoffs. Amazingly, he’s only been held pointless in one game this entire post-season.
6. Mark Stone, RW, Vegas Golden Knights
Teams just don’t have an answer for Vegas’ top line so far in these playoffs, and Stone is the main reason why. For every 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play, the Golden Knights outshoot opponents 43-23 with Stone on the ice. As usual, he also ranks among the league leaders in takeaways per 60. The other team just doesn’t have the puck much when he’s out there, and his 14 points tie him with Theodore for the team lead.
7. Elias Pettersson, C, Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks are a game away from going home, but Pettersson has done everything he can to keep them alive. His three points in Vancouver’s Game-3 win over Vegas gave him his sixth multi-point game of the post-season so far. He has repeatedly shown the ability to go off and carry his team to wins, and he withstands punishment. No player has drawn more penalties than Petersson’s 10 in these playoffs.
8. Semyon Varlamov, G, New York Islanders
That Varlamov doesn’t rank higher despite his league-best .935 save percentage in the playoffs, including .955 at 5-on-5, reflects the stingy defensive play in front of him. He’s been outstanding, but he ranks near the bottom in shots faced and high-danger shots faced per 60 minutes. The Isles are funnelling lower-quality looks toward him, and he’s acing those.
9. Nazem Kadri, C, Colorado Avalanche
He’s a net-front monster with a league-best five power-play goals in the playoffs. His four-game winners also lead the league. Kadri’s fiery style has given Colorado a lethal complement to its finesse, and Kadri can excel in that kind of game, too, thank to his quick hands.
10. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, C, New York Islanders
Ovechkin. Kuznetsov. Giroux. Couturier. Isles coach Barry Trotz has glued Pageau to opponents’ top forward lines, and he’s gotten the better of them with his smothering two-way play. He’s also chipped in seven goals. Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello looks brilliant for signing Pageau to a six-year contract extension hours after acquiring him in February.
Other Conn Smythe Trophy candidates: Jacob Markstrom, Carter Hart, Alex Tuch, Joe Pavelski, Nikita Kucherov, Jamie Benn, Bo Horvat, Cale Makar, Quinn Hughes, Denis Gurianov