Hart Trophy Power Rankings: MacKinnon stands out in the crowd
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It's no exaggeration to suggest more than a dozen players could make a case for the Hart Trophy this year. The landscape could shift a bit over the final two weeks of the regular season, but here we narrow it down to five MVP candidates, with a few honorable mentions.

5. Claude Giroux

In training camp, Philadelphia Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol decided to shift captain and longtime top center Giroux to the wing, allowing Sean Couturier to establish himself as the man down the middle.

Giroux accepted the move, and it's worked out beautifully. He ranks fifth in scoring with 26 goals and 64 assists for 90 points through 75 games, and he's helped Couturier break out to the tune of 30 goals and 40 assists, both career highs.

The Flyers are also sitting comfortably in a playoff spot, and Giroux's flexibility has made a huge impact up and down the lineup. It's the productivity, however, that matters most, and the 30-year-old could very well establish new career highs of his own in goals and points by season's end.

4. Alex Ovechkin

After loading up over the past few seasons in order to maximize their chances of winning, the Washington Capitals were expected to take a step backward this season after losing some key players last summer.

Lo and behold, they're back atop the Metropolitan Division, in large part due to Ovechkin's pursuit of a seventh Maurice Richard Trophy as the NHL's leading goal-scorer.

Ovechkin's 44 goals are good enough for the lead entering play Friday, and he clearly remains the straw that stirs the drink for a still-successful (at least in the regular season) Washington club.

3. Evgeni Malkin

A year after being left off the NHL's list of the top 100 players of all time, Malkin is highlighting the egregiousness of that omission.

Malkin ranks third in goals (41) and fourth in points (91), and is in contention for both the Maurice Richard and Art Ross Trophies. Should he collect both, adding the Hart should be an automatic.

He also ranks third in points per game (1.30), behind only the next two players in these rankings, and leads all players in scoring since Jan. 1 with 55 points in 34 games.

Even if he falls short of the goals lead, points lead, or both, he continues to prove the Pittsburgh Penguins are considerably more than Sidney Crosby's team. At the very least, it's way past time to stop overlooking just how good Malkin is.

2. Nikita Kucherov

The Tampa Bay Lightning have been the top team in hockey since puck drop, with Kucherov in front of the scoring race all along. With eight games remaining on his schedule, he leads the NHL with 95 points.

The Lightning boast a rather stacked roster and teammate Steven Stamkos has also been playing elite hockey, but voters tend to default to the league's leading scorer when it comes to the Hart, especially if he plays on a first-place club.

The fact he's surrounded by so much talent, however, may ultimately discount his performance enough to open the door for a different winner.

1. Nathan MacKinnon

This time last year, the Colorado Avalanche were on the verge of making the wrong kind of history as the worst team over an 82-game schedule since the shootout was adopted in 2005.

Now, Jared Bednar's squad is close to clinching a playoff spot on the strength of what's by far MacKinnon's best season as a pro.

The first overall pick from the 2013 NHL Draft has recorded 38 goals and 54 assists through only 66 games, having missed some time due to injury. He ranks third in overall scoring, but first in primary points and points per game.

Naysayers will point to the Avalanche's league-high shooting percentage as proof that their success is based on luck, but MacKinnon's performance combined with the club's remarkable turnaround is enough to make this decision rather easy.

Honorable mentions

Connor McDavid: The last player to win the Hart on a non-playoff team was Mario Lemieux in 1988, and he captured the scoring title by 19 points over Wayne Gretzky.

McDavid remains the best player in hockey despite the Edmonton Oilers' sad record. He could win the Art Ross, but he isn't lapping the field enough to offset his team's failures, and that will hurt his case.

Taylor Hall: The Florida Panthers currently have a better chance of grabbing a playoff spot than the New Jersey Devils, and Hall's point total and per-game average lags a bit too far behind the NHL leaders for legitimate MVP candidacy.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

Hart Trophy Power Rankings: MacKinnon stands out in the crowd
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