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Matthew Tkachuk for MVP? If Florida Panthers Make a Run, Maybe

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Matthew Tkachuk and Anton Lundell celebrate after Tkachuk scored an empy-net goal to lead the Florida Panthers to a win over the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 29. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

If the Florida Panthers are going to dig themselves out of their midseason hole, Matthew Tkachuk is going to have to play at an MVP-type level.

So far, he has.

Tkachuk is currently eighth in the NHL in points (51) and tied for 14th in goals while, at times, singlehandedly winning games for the Panthers.

And he did that for the Panthers on Tuesday night.

The 24-year-old superstar helped shut down a three-goal, third-period comeback by the Colorado Avalanche with a game-winning goal with 3:30 to go.

He has been the engine that has kept Florida going this season and coming through in moments they needed him most has been a common theme throughout the season.

And he has done it in just about every way possible.

Tkachuk has been dubbed the NHL’s ‘Unicorn’ for a reason — he is a physical player who possesses soft hands that allow him to make plays in areas where there isn’t much space.

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He spends a lot of his time near the front of the net and does everything he can to get his stick on the puck and make something happen.

If the Panthers need him to use his 6-foot-2, 201-pound frame to create havoc in front of the goaltender, he does it.

If a rebound is coming his way with tight space around him, he can use his unique combination of skill and strength to win the battle for the puck and score a goal.

If Florida needs him on the perimeter, he can make use of an elite shot.

Tkachuk is a one-stop shop as a player and has been able to mesh with whomever the Panthers put on his line — which has been a huge reason why they are not out of the Eastern Conference playoff race just yet.

With injuries and illnesses plaguing Florida’s lineup throughout December, he has had to adjust his game to countless different linemates and yet he still finds himself in the Top 10 of just about every statistical category there is.

So should he get MVP consideration?

And who is he going up against?

That all depends on how the Panthers finish the season.

If Florida — which sit six points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the final wildcard spot in the East — is able to bridge that gap and make the playoffs, he should get some consideration.

Especially because that late-season run will have to start and end with Tkachuk’s play.

But the Hart Trophy race may be too deep for Tkachuk to scrape up much of any votes if the Panthers fall short of that.

For one, Connor McDavid is lapping the rest of the league with 77 points in 42 games and likely runs away with the trophy if the Edmonton Oilers make the postseason.

If they miss the playoffs, it opens the floor for other candidates but McDavid has been a large chunk of the reason they are currently hanging onto a wild card spot.

Make the argument that Leon Draisaitl — who has 62 of his own points in 40 games — also resides in Edmonton all you want, McDavid is still the driver of that team and his unprecedented numbers should make him a heavy favorite.

Draisaitl should be a solid candidate in his own right, however.

Jason Robertson also should be a front-runner for the award for helping the Dallas Stars to the top seed in the Central Division and racking up 29 goals and 58 points at the midway point of the season.

David Pastrnak completes the current Top-3 in the race with 58 points in 40 games for the league-leading Boston Bruins, who are currently on pace to break the NHL’s single-season wins record.

Nikita Kucherov (59 points in 39 games) and Tage Thompson (57 points in 39 games) also deserve heavy consideration for piling up points on competitive Atlantic Division teams.

So where would Tkachuk end up if the NHL Awards were voted on today?

Likely just outside the Top 5 at sixth given the current state of the Panthers.

McDavid, Robertson, Pastrnak, Kucherov and Thompson each present a much more compelling case with teams that are in much better spots than Florida right now.

But if Tkachuk and the Panthers make a late-season run, watch out.

He may find himself near the top by the end of the season.

PANTHERS ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS AT VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

  • When: Thursday, 10 p.m.
  • Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
  • Last season: Split 1-1
  • All-time regular season series: Vegas leads 5-2-1
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Saturday vs. Vancouver, 7 p.m.

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