Pittsburgh Penguins forward Chris Kunitz is ranked second in the NHL in scoring through the first half of the season, but does the veteran winger actually have a realistic chance of winning the Art Ross Trophy in 2013?
To answer that question, you have to look at who he's competing with, and his top competition for the award is his teammate Sidney Crosby.
To the surprise of many, Kunitz has scored 39 points (18 goals, 21 assists) through 28 games, but Crosby has started to open up a significant lead in the scoring race with 47 points (12 goals, 35 assists) in 28 games.
The problem for Kunitz is that he plays on the same line as Crosby, so when one of them scores, the other usually earns an assist.
This will make it hard for Kunitz to gain ground in the scoring race, especially since the two Pittsburgh forwards also feature on the same power-play unit when Evgeni Malkin is injured and out of the lineup.
As the chart below shows, both players have contributed quite a bit to the other's success offensively this season.
|2013 Stats||Goals||Goals Assisted by Crosby|
|Goals||Goals Assisted by Kunitz|
|Sidney Crosby ||12||5|
There's no question that Kunitz benefits tremendously from playing alongside Crosby, who is one of the best players of all time and has the best playmaking ability of anyone in the league.
However, it would be unfair to assume that Kunitz's success is based purely on the fact that he plays alongside Crosby on the Penguins' top line.
The 33-year-old forward is on pace to set career highs in goals (30), assists (36) and points (66) despite the fact that this is a 48-game shortened season.
That's incredibly impressive, and there are a number of reasons for his improved play, but the most notable one is his willingness to go to the front of the net and battle for loose pucks.
Playing in this area also allows him to be on the receiving end of many passes from Crosby when the Penguins center is in "Gretzky's office" behind the net. These two players have superb chemistry on top line, and they know exactly where to look for each other in the attacking zone.
One of the most remarkable parts of Kunitz's brilliant season thus far has been his consistency. He has failed to tally a single point in just six of the 28 games he's played this year.
In addition to Crosby, Kunitz will also have to battle a number of other superstar players to win the scoring title.
These players include Tampa Bay Lightning stars Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, who are no strangers to being among the league's leading scorers. Stamkos and St. Louis rank third and fourth in the league in scoring, respectively, and also play on the second-highest scoring team in the NHL.
Stamkos will likely pass Kunitz at some point in the near future because of his consistent goal scoring and the role he plays on the Lightning power play. He also leads the NHL with 20 goals, and just like Kunitz, he plays alongside an elite playmaker (St. Louis).
Here's what the NHL's scoring leaderboard looks like (as of March 15):
- Sidney Crosby (PIT) - 47 points
- Chris Kunitz (PIT) - 39 points
- Steven Stamkos (TBL) - 38 points
- Martin St. Louis (TBL) - 36 points
- Eric Staal (CAR) - 32 points
Will Kunitz finish in the top three in scoring this year?
The Penguins rank first in goals scored and their power play is the fourth-best unit in the NHL, converting at a 24.3 percent rate.
There will be plenty of opportunities for Kunitz to rack up a lot of points by playing next to Crosby at even strength and on the power play, but the chances of him finishing ahead of his teammate in the scoring race are quite small—especially since Crosby already has an eight-point advantage and is arguably playing the best hockey of his career.
Crosby will help Kunitz finish in the top 10 in scoring this season, but the Penguins captain will be the one who wins the Art Ross Trophy.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs.