2024 Conn Smythe Trophy Favorites

Author:
The Hockey Writers

The 2024 Stanley Cup Final is officially set for June 8. On that date, the Edmonton Oilers will visit the Florida Panthers at Amerant Bank Arena as each team tries to win the Stanley Cup. Before we get there, it’s important to appreciate the players who helped their respective teams climb this mountain.

The Conn Smythe Trophy is handed out annually to the most valuable player of the playoffs. This time around, there are some very compelling candidates on each side. Who are three of the top favorites for both the Oilers and Panthers alike?

Oilers: Connor McDavid

Now 27 years of age, it would be an utter travesty if Connor McDavid didn’t end his career winning at least one Conn Smythe Trophy. Just like he has done his entire postseason career, the Oiler captain has shown that he is a tier above even the greatest superstars the league has to offer. With five goals and 26 assists for 31 points in just 18 games, McDavid seems to be the obvious Conn Smythe choice for Edmonton.

Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and Aleksander Barkov Conn Smythe Trophy Favorites
Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and Aleksander Barkov (The Hockey Writers)

Seeing as McDavid had more points (33) in fewer games (16) back in the 2022 playoffs, this is nothing new for him. Now that the Oilers are in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2006, he will look to show the world that even on the highest stage, he will still be the best player on the ice at all times. This is a legacy series for him.

Since he has been dazzling no matter what the stakes have been, it’s safe to say McDavid can do it again, even against a defensively sound Panthers team. If he can do so and the Oilers end up winning, he seems to be the definitive pick for the Conn Smythe. However, that’s not to say his teammates can’t make it close.

Oilers: Leon Draisaitl

For as incredible as McDavid has been, Leon Draisaitl is right there with him. Sitting on 10 goals and 18 assists for 28 points, he has taken control in the biggest moments. Scoring at least a point in 16 of his 18 postseason contests (88.9 percent), he is all but inevitable. On a nightly basis, he has shown up no matter the opponent.

Related: 7 Cool Things About Leon Draisaitl

Consistently one of the Oilers’ best players in creating scoring opportunities, Draisaitl is behind but still very much in the same conversation as McDavid for the Conn Smythe Trophy. The best players in the world can be great in both the regular season and playoffs — Draisaitl gets even better when the stage is the toughest. In his first Stanley Cup Final, he’ll look to prove this once more.

Oilers: Evan Bouchard

If McDavid and Draisaitl weren’t always getting all of the attention, the ludicrous play of defenseman Evan Bouchard would likely be talked about a lot more. He and partner Mattias Ekholm were arguably the best defensive pairing in the NHL in the regular season — they have somehow gotten better.

Bouchard has an absurd six goals and 21 assists for 27 points in 18 contests for the Oilers, giving him the fifth-best all-time point total for a defender in a single playoff season. The best part about this is that the 24-year-old blue liner has been unstoppable on defense, too. With an even-strength expected goals against per 60 (xGA/60) of just 2.13, he has been one of the best defenders at both ends of the ice. Among the 46 defensemen with at least 18 minutes of average ice time these playoffs, he ranks third in xGA/60. In terms of points, he is ahead of second place by 11.

Again, Bouchard won’t end up being in the same conversation as his two superstar teammates at the end of the day, but his numbers have been incredible. Having one of the best postseason runs of any defenseman in recent memory, he should be considered for the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Panthers: Aleksander Barkov

Getting to the Panthers, it seems as though their likeliest contender for the Conn Smythe Trophy also happens to be their captain. These playoffs, Aleksander Barkov has taken his 2023-24 Selke Trophy victory to a whole new level. In the regular season, he was shutting down all teams left and right. Now, he’s doing so to the best players in the world.

Despite playing prominent minutes against superstar talents like Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning, David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins, and Artemi Panarin of the New York Rangers, Barkov’s defensive numbers have been superb. At even strength, he has an elite xGA/60 of 2.16 in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs. As the primary shutdown player of his lines, it would be hard for him to be any better.

Fortunately for the Panthers, Barkov’s defense isn’t the only notable thing about him. With six goals and 11 assists for 17 points in 17 games, he is tied for second on the team in points. By generating offense at a high rate and suppressing scoring chances at an even better one, there should be no doubts that Barkov is among the Conn Smythe Trophy favorites for 2024.

Panthers: Sergei Bobrovsky

While Barkov has been fantastic, 35-year-old goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky deserves his flowers more than ever. In a continuation of his 2023 postseason run that helped lead the Panthers to the Stanley Cup Final, he has been fantastic for them. Albeit in a bit of a regression campaign for him stats-wise versus 2023, he is in the Final for a reason — he has been unbeatable in goal.

Overall, Bobrovsky is sitting on a .908 save percentage (SV%), a 2.20 goals-against average (GAA), and 4.8 goals saved above expected (GSAx). In his last two rounds, he has a high-end .921 SV% and a 1.76 GAA. Perhaps it’s recency bias with him, but the 35-year-old has arguably been the best netminder in the postseason aside from the Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin.

While goaltender Stuart Skinner for the Oilers has his moments, Bobrovsky has the highest upside of the goalies this series. If he can play otherworldly in the net, he could surpass Barkov and take the Conn Smythe Trophy home.

Panthers: Matthew Tkachuk

This last pick could have been a lot of players: Carter Verhaeghe, Sam Reinhart, or even Gustav Forsling. However, it would be hard to leave Florida’s top scorer of these playoffs off of their Conn Smythe Trophy favorites. While Matthew Tkachuk is a bit behind Barkov and Bobrovsky, he’s still in the discussion. If he can dominate in the Stanley Cup Final, he could make himself a front-runner.

Tkachuk was at his best against the Lightning in the first round, scoring nine points in just five contests. With five goals and 14 assists for 19 points total, he hasn’t quite been as productive since then (10 points in 12 games) but is still a top-notch player. The Panthers as a whole played a lower-scoring series against the Bruins and especially the Rangers, so he shouldn’t be docked too much for that.

While Tkachuk isn’t as noticeably dynamic as players like McDavid and Draisaitl, he has still provided scoring. At the end of the day, points are valued more than any other metric for the Conn Smythe Trophy. While Forsling’s elite shutdown ability or Verhaeghe’s offensive dominance should put them in the conversation, having 19 points ultimately seems to put Tkachuk above some of the rest.

In 2024, we are being treated to one of the most star-packed Stanley Cup Final series in recent memory. This Conn Smythe Trophy, perhaps a little bit more than others won in the past, will carry some extra weight. It’s anyone’s game right now.

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