NHL Playoffs 2012: Top 10 Players in the Running for the Conn Smythe Trophy

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IMay 29, 2012

NHL Playoffs 2012: Top 10 Players in the Running for the Conn Smythe Trophy

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    This week the 2012 Stanley Cup Final begins between the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings. Game 1 is tonight in Jersey.

    We have been tracking the favorites for the Conn Smythe Trophy ever since the second round of the postseason got under way.

    Remember that the award is for the most valuable player throughout the entire Stanley Cup playoffs, not just the final round. Players from the losing team in the final have won the trophy before, the most recent being J.S. Giguere, who won in 2003 with the Anaheim Ducks even though the Devils captured the Stanley Cup that year.

    Now, with just two teams remaining in the hunt, here is a look at the top 10 contenders for the Conn Smythe Trophy listed in order. These positions are subject to change as the final round unfolds.

10. Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils

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    Rookie Adam Henrique has been a big part of the New Jersey Devils' success this season.

    The 22-year-old center has been effective on each line, including a stint at the top during a lengthy stretch of the regular season.

    In the playoffs, he is second on the Devils with a plus-nine rating and is tied for fourth among skaters with 11 points in 18 playoff contests.

    It's not just the number of goals Henrique has scored, but when he scores them. Two of Henrique's tallies have been series-clinchers.

    He scored the winning goal that eliminated the Florida Panthers in Game 7 of the Devils' Round 1 victory and then eliminated the Rangers with an overtime game winner in Game 6 at "The Rock" last Friday.

9. Mike Richards, Los Angeles Kings

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    Mike Richards had what could only be described as a disappointing regular season after joining the Kings last summer in a trade from Philadelphia. His point total dropped by 22 from 2010-11 and he never seemed to be comfortable in the Kings' defense-first system.

    In the playoffs, however, Richards has picked up his game, and his postseason experience and leadership have helped the Kings make their first run to the Stanley Cup Final since '93.

    Richards got LA's postseason off to a fast start with a three-point effort in Game 1 against the Canucks. He later scored the game-winner in Game 3 against St. Louis that all but put the series out of reach for the Blues.

    Overall, Richards has 11 points in 14 games—much closer to the pace the Kings expected from him when they brought him over from Philadelphia. If he has a strong final series, he could make a run at the Conn Smythe Trophy as well.

8. Bryce Salvador, New Jersey Devils

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    When people talk about the Devils defense, they always talk about what the team used to have during their three Stanley Cup title years: players like Ken Daneyko, Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer.

    While nobody on the current defense stands out like those three superstars did, veteran blueliner Bryce Salvador has provided New Jersey with consistent play in his own zone and made some timely offensive contributions.

    Overall, Salvador has three goals and 11 points while leading all Devils players with a plus-10 rating. He was particularly strong against the Rangers, scoring five points in the six-game series against New York (many of them coming in key situations).

7. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

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    When the Kings signed the 22-year-old Doughty to a long-term extension just before the season, fans were relieved they had locked up a key part of their future for the long haul.

    But Doughty struggled to live up to the contract early in the season and the Kings offense suffered with him.

    In the playoffs, however, the London, Ontario, native has shown why he is worth all the money and attention. He leads all Kings players with nearly 26 minutes per game of ice time and is a plus-10 through 14 playoff games.

    Doughty has proven to be dependable in his own end and capable of the spectacular on offense. Best of all, he is learning when to pick his spots and join the attack without hurting his team defensively.

    The best is yet to come for Doughty as he may develop into one of the best blueliners in the league.

6. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils

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    For years now, critics have said Martin Brodeur is past his prime and no longer the goalie who led the New Jersey Devils to four Stanley Cup Final appearances and three championships.

    While Brodeur is not the same goalie at 40 that he was 10 years ago, he is still capable of raising his game when needed to get his team through any rough patch.

    Anybody who saw the Devils-Rangers series knows that it was Brodeur who kept the Rangers off the board during the third periods of Games 5 and 6 after they had tied the game. The Devils ended up winning both games, one on a late third-period goal and the other in overtime.

    There is nothing Brodeur hasn't seen before and he won't be intimidated by the pressure of the Stanley Cup Final. The future Hall of Famer remains a major reason for the Devils' title run, and if New Jersey wins Lord Stanley's Cup, Brodeur will be a candidate for his first-ever Conn Smythe Trophy.

5. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

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    Anze Kopitar is considered the top offensive weapon in the Kings' arsenal and has been a consistent point-producer throughout LA's postseason run.

    The 24-year-old is the Kings' first-line center and has pitched in with 15 points in 14 games while leading all Kings forwards with over 22 minutes of ice time per game. He is also tied for the league lead with a plus-13 ranking throughout the playoffs.

    Perhaps the best part of Kopitar's game has been his consistency. He registered a point in each of his team's first four playoff games and has scored at least one point in 11 of 14 postseason contests.

    Kopitar is an important part of the Kings' special teams. He has set up four power-play goals while scoring twice short-handed for Los Angeles.

    If he continues to produce and play consistent hockey, Kopitar will be part of the Conn Smythe discussion.

4. Travis Zajac, New Jersey Devils

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    Travis Zajac missed nearly all of the 2011-12 season due to injury, playing in just 15 regular-season games and scoring just six points.

    In the playoffs, however, the 27-year-old Winnipeg, Manitoba, native has been a key cog in the New Jersey attack, scoring seven goals, which ties him for the team lead and doubles his regular-season point total.

    Two of Zajac's goals have been game-winners, including an overtime marker in Game 6 against the Panthers that kept the Devils' season alive in the opening round.

    Having a veteran forward like Zajac back in the lineup has been a key difference between the Devils' good regular season and their excellent play in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

3. Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey Devils

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    This year's Stanley Cup playoffs have been sweet redemption for Devils sniper Ilya Kovalchuk.

    The 29-year-old Russian winger had built a reputation as a great goal scorer, but the lack of playoff success for the Devils and Atlanta Thrashers raised many question about whether Kovalchuk was a clutch player who could make those around him better when it counted most.

    This year, Kovalchuk has cast the doubters aside. He presently leads all playoff scorers with 18 points and 11 assists. His five power-play goals also lead the league and have been a major key to the Devils' playoff success.

    He has also been a positive influence in the locker room for many of his younger teammates and is New Jersey's leading candidate for the Conn Smythe.

2. Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings

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    Kings captain Dustin Brown has really picked up his game after a rather ordinary regular season.

    While he leads all Kings skaters with 16 points through 14 playoff contests, his contributions go well beyond the stat sheet.

    The 27-year-old winger has been the spiritual leader of the Kings on and off the ice and his physical play sets the tone for his team. His hitting toes (or goes a little beyond, depending on who you ask) the line of what's legal, but makes his teammates bolder and more confident on the ice.

    Brown has come through in the clutch, scoring three game-winning goals and is a plus-13 through three playoff rounds. Of all the skaters on the Kings, he is the clear front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy heading into the final.

1. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings

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    Goalie Jonathan Quick has been the key to LA's success both during the regular season and the playoffs.

    He leads all playoff goalies with a 1.54 GAA and a .946 save percentage.

    The Kings struggled to score goals all throughout the season, but the spectacular and consistent play of Quick allowed them to qualify for the playoffs despite ranking next-to-last in the league with just 2.25 goals scored per game.

    In the playoffs, Quick has two shutouts and gives his teammates confidence that if they make a mistake, he will be there to cover it up and prevent it from costing the Kings on the scoreboard.

    Stat of the postseason: Quick has allowed more than two goals only twice in 14 games and has yet to give up more than three goals in a single contest.

    Nobody has been as consistently dominant as Jonathan Quick these playoffs. If he plays well in the Stanley Cup Final, he may win the Conn Smythe even if the Kings lose the series.

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