New York Rangers early candidates for NHL Awards

Coming into this season the New York Rangers were considered a borderline playoff team. Despite hiring Gerard Gallant and making some key moves in the summer, there were plenty of legitimate questions.

Could this team make up for the scoring lost when they traded Pavel Buchnevich? Was the defense going to be better? Will Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniére take the next steps in their development?

These uncertainties may still persist but what can’t be denied is the 2021-22 Rangers are looking like the real deal. They are 16-4-3 for 35 points which is tied for second most points in the team’s first 23 games.

It has me thinking about a few notable Blueshirts that are candidates for some serious hardware at the end of this campaign.

Norris Trophy (Best Defenseman): Adam Fox

Adam Fox is making a strong bid to become the first NHL defenseman to win back-back-Norris Trophies since Nicklas Lidstrom won three consecutive years for the Red Wings (2001-2003). Fox is currently leading the league for scoring among defensemen with 25 points.

The 23 year-old is not just putting up points, he’s getting things done in his own end too. Fox has a +10 rating while averaging 24:36 minutes per game. He’s tied for 4th in the NHL with 52 blocks and continues to be rock steady with the puck.

Fox is not only a candidate to win the Norris Trophy, he’s probably the lead horse in the race.

Vezina Trophy (Best Goalie): Igor Shesterkin

igor shesterkin vezina
Oct 25, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin (31) crouches in the net after allowing a goal against the Calgary Flames during the third period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Before Igor Shesterkin went down with a lower-body injury, he was making a serious bid for Vezina consideration. His play has raised eyebrows and received praise from around the NHL.

“He’s an absolute hovercraft on the ice,” Vancouver Canucks goalie coach Ian Clark said of the 25 year-old Russian.

This season, Shesterkin has propelled the Rangers to one of the top teams in the NHL and stole games early on as the team adjusted to a new system. His numbers are up there with several goalies, but it’s his number of high danger saves that gets him serious consideration. He’s 13-3-2 with a .937 SV% and a 2.05 GAA.

Shesterkin is expected to only miss a week of action. Should he be able to return to form quickly there’s no reason he can’t get right back into the mix.

Jack Adams Trophy (Best Coach): Gerard Gallant

gerard gallant
Dec 3, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant speaks to the media after a 1-0 win against the San Jose Sharks at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

While Carolina’s Rod Brind’Amour seems to be a media darling for coach of the year, what Gerard Gallant has done in his first season in New York can’t be ignored.

He has the Rangers among the one of the top team’s in the league with a .761 points percentage. That is good for second best behind the Florida Panthers’ .771, a team they beat earlier in the season.

Gallant last coached in the NHL during the 2019-20 season, but it looks like the 58 year-old bench boss hasn’t missed a beat. If the Rangers continue at this pace he should be considered a favorite for the award.

Hart Trophy (MVP): Artemi Panarin

panarin mvp
Nov 23, 2019; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; New York Rangers center Artemi Panarin (10) during a third period face-off against Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to the Hart Trophy for NHL MVP, I find it difficult for anyone to beat out either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers. They have each won the award in the last two seasons (McDavid 2021 and Draisaitl 2020).

However, if there was one other player not named Alex Ovechkin that could challenge them, it’s Artemi Panarin.

The Rangers best player got off to a slow start this season but has been on a tear of late with 22 points in his last 16 games. That’s a 1.37 points per game pace.

Since he joined the Blueshirts in 2019-20, Panarin’s point per game average is 1.34. That’s 4th best in league over that span behind McDavid (1.72), Draisaitl (1.59), and Nathan MacKinnon (1.36).

If the Rangers can finish atop the NHL, Panarin could make the race interesting.

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