Nick Goss

Why Bruins' David Pastrnak should be NHL's Hart Trophy favorite

Pastrnak could be the Bruins' first MVP winner since 1974.

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Boston Bruins players and coaches have taken home plenty of NHL awards over the last 15 years.

Patrice Bergeron won the Selke Trophy a record six times. Tim Thomas (twice), Tuukka Rask and Linus Ullmark won the Vezina Trophy. Zdeno Chara won the Norris Trophy. David Pastrnak was a co-winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy. Chara and Bergeron both won the Mark Messier Leadership Award. Claude Julien, Bruce Cassidy and Jim Montgomery have all won the Jack Adams Award.

One award that has eluded Bruins players for nearly 50 years is the Hart Trophy -- given out annually to the league's most valuable player.

Bobby Orr (three times) and Phil Esposito (twice) won the Hart five times in a six-year span from 1968-69 through 1973-74. But not since Esposito's win in 1973-74 has a Bruins player taken home MVP. Ray Bourque came up two votes short in 1990 when Mark Messier won the closest vote tally in the award's history.

The Bruins' Hart Trophy drought could end soon, though, because Pastrnak is putting together a very special 2023-24 season.

The Bruins, despite losing their top two centers -- Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci -- and several other really good players over the offseason, enter Tuesday tied atop the league standings with a 17-4-3 record (37 points). Boston lost players over the summer who represented a third of the team's goal output from last season (102 of 301), and yet this team still ranks tied for seventh in goals scored with 80. In fact, the Bruins are the only team to score at least two goals in all of its games.

Pastrnak is driving much of this success.

The superstar right wing leads the Bruins in goals (14), assists (22) and points (36). The next-highest scorer on the B's is Brad Marchand at 23 points. Pastrnak also leads the team in shots (114), power-play points (15) and individual scoring chances (115, which is 34 more than the next Bruin).

He also ranks near the top of the league leaderboards in many of these stats and others.

When the Bruins lost three games in a row last week, they needed their top players to step and swing momentum back into the team's favor. Pastrnak, along with Marchand, helped lead the charge. The result? A three-game win streak.

It started Thursday night when Pastrnak picked up two assists in a 3-0 win over the Sharks. Two nights later, Pastrnak's elite offensive talent was on full display against the Maple Leafs in Toronto. He factored into three of Boston's four goals. Pastrnak got the scoring started in the first period with his 14th goal of the season.

Pastrnak's first assist against the Leafs was a great feed to Kevin Shattenkirk. His second assist of the game came in overtime when he set up Marchand's game-winning tally.

Pastrnak isn't just putting up ridiculous stats, he's been remarkably consistent as well. The 27-year-old forward has tallied at least one point in 18 of 24 games. He has twice as many multi-point games (12) as zero-point games (six). He also has produced against quality opponents. Eighteen of his 36 points -- seven goals and 11 assists -- have come versus teams currently in a playoff spot.

His role as a leader has increased, too. Pastrnak is now a core member of the leadership team with an "A" on his sweater.

“On the bench, he’s much more talkative," Montgomery told reporters Saturday night when asked about Pastrnak's leadership. "He’s very positive on the bench. Last year, he didn’t concern himself with having to do that because we had so many other great leaders. He’s grown like that and he’s also grown in his playmaking.”

Playmaking is one area where Pastrnak has taken his game to a new level this season. He's always been an underrated passer, but he's really improved his ability to create quality scoring chances for teammates. Pastrnak's 2.82 assists per 60 minutes represents a career-high and would shatter his previous best of 2.12 assists per 60.

This assist to set up a Pavel Zacha goal against the Lightning on Nov. 20 was a thing of beauty.

Bergeron and Krejci were excellent playmaking centers. Someone needed to step up and help fill that void following their retirements, and Pastrnak has delivered in a major way.

Shattenkirk didn't play much against Pastrnak over the last three seasons as a member of the Ducks. Since coming to Boston in July, Shattenkirk has learned that Pastrnak isn't just a great goal scorer, he's a pretty good playmaker as well.

"I probably just assumed he was just a pure goal scorer," Shattenkirk told reporters after Saturday's win in Toronto. "I think he's tremendous at creating off the rush off of entries. We call it down the boards, pulling up and making those little touch plays and those little seam passes. The way that he sees the ice, he sees plays happening three steps ahead. I think that's a special talent."

Although centers most often win the Hart Trophy, wingers can and do take home this award, too. Three of them won in a four-year span from 2015-16 through 2018-19.

Pastrnak deserves to be the Hart favorite right now, and the case is pretty simple. He's the best player on the league's best team. He's easily the most valuable player on the Bruins, a team that lost significant pieces in the offseason and still sits in first place. The stats speak for themselves.

It's important to remember there's a lot of season left to play, and the Hart race will change quite a bit between now and April. Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov, who won in 2018-19, is a top candidate again. Oilers center Connor McDavid overcame injury earlier in the season and he's putting up strong numbers again. Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes is making a good push to be the first blueliner to win the award since Chris Pronger in 1999-00. Rangers right wing Artemi Panarin is a top-tier candidate as well.

Pastrnak has plenty of competition for the Hart, but if he keeps producing at his current rate and the Bruins finish atop the Atlantic Division again, he would deserve serious consideration for the award. Few players in the world make the kind of impact Pastrnak does on a consistent basis.

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