No. 5: Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, Washington Capitals
Some Western Conference fans will look at this name and have no idea who this is. Don’t worry, he’s terrifying the East on a near-nightly basis. The team that comes out of the West for the Stanley Cup Final should probably hope this guy isn’t waiting.
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At 23 years old, Kuznetsov has more room for development, which is scary considering he has a team-best 48 points on an offensively-loaded Capitals roster, including a team-leading 33 assists. And he isn’t getting these numbers playing alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom — he’s setting up Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky instead. Doesn’t seem to hurt him too badly.
Adding to his Hart resume, Kuznetsov holds claim to the second-best plus/minus mark at 25 and has 14 powerplay points, three game-winning goals and two overtime markers. He also carries play at a 56.85 percent clip across all scenarios, and while he’s sub-.500 at the dot, he makes up for it just fine in puck pursuit and management.
Hart Trophy voters seem to prefer a skater win the award each season, so Kuznetsov would have the edge over goaltender teammate Holtby if it somehow came down to those two. Of course, we have four more players on this list. Shocker: Three of the four are Central Division forwards.