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Nathan MacKinnon deserves to be in the Hart Trophy conversation

Nathan MacKinnon is going to drag the Avalanche into the playoffs by any means necessary

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Last summer, Colorado Avalanche superstar Nathan MacKinnon finished second in Hart Trophy voting as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player. While there is a feeling that MacKinnon was most deserving, he ultimately fell a few votes behind Taylor Hall.

This season, MacKinnon’s name hasn’t been in the MVP discussion nearly as much despite the fact that what he’s doing might be even more impressive. Maybe it’s because this year’s Avalanche team has spent most of the season looking like a disappointment compared to last season’s overachievers. Or maybe it’s simply that people are used to Nathan MacKinnon being one of the best forwards in hockey and that greatness is boring.

A year ago Nathan MacKinnon broke out in a big way. He set career highs in goals (38) and points (97) while playing only 74 games. He led the Avalanche back from the historically bad 2016-17 season and was finally living up to the expectations that were attached to him when he was drafted first overall in 2013.

Now he’s 23, a legitimate superstar and trails only Connor McDavid and Nikita Kucherov in points over the last two seasons.

After a goal and an assist Wednesday night against the Vegas Golden Knights - a win that pulled the Avalanche two points up on Arizona for the final Wild Card position - MacKinnon is now within one goal and three points of his totals from last season.

What’s most impressive is that he’s doing it without his All Star linemates. Despite the absence of Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, the Avalanche have been on a winning streak for the last two weeks and now look like a team that could very well be in the postseason when they kick off the second week of April.

When the team lost their captain on March 7th, they were four points out of the playoffs and looked as if all hope was lost. In the nine games since the Landeskog injury, the team has climbed the standings on the back of 10 points from MacKinnon.

He currently sits sixth in the NHL in points, but what makes the total so impressive is the gap between himself and his current teammates. In the game against Vegas, Carl Soderberg was the second highest scoring Avalanche forward in the lineup. His 46 points are less than half the total MacKinnon has put up - and Soderberg was the only other Avs forward in the lineup to have hit the 40 point mark.

The Avalanche aren’t just playing without two of their three All Stars, they’re winning and their star center is the main reason why. Philipp Grubauer is playing his best hockey of the season, Tyson Barrie has been incredible, but it’s MacKinnon who is the heartbeat of the team. He leads the NHL in shots on net - by a wide margin - and is the reason Colorado is one of the highest scoring teams in the league.

What MacKinnon has done to pull his team back into a playoff spot is at least as impressive as what he did last season. He’s scoring, he’s helping his team win, and he’s going it without his best teammates.

Nikita Kucherov has two teammates in the top-10 in league scoring. Right now, MacKinnon is doing it alone. Connor McDavid and Patrick Kane haven't been able to get their teams into true contention for the playoffs. MacKinnon has.

The Hart Trophy isn’t supposed to go to the highest scoring player in the league, or even the one considered to be the best. It’s supposed to go to the player who is most valuable to his team and anyone who watches the Avalanche on a regular basis knows that MacKinnon has to at least be in the conversation.

He likely won’t win - Kucherov probably has it locked up - but it’s time the hockey world starts to recognize that Nathan MacKinnon deserves at last as many votes as he got last year.