The 2023-24 Hart Trophy as the National Hockey League’s Most Valuable Player is Connor McDavid’s to lose — just as it was in 2022-23. The 26-year-old has completely separated himself from the pack after an unfathomable 64-goal, 153-point campaign last season that hasn’t been matched in professional hockey since the days of arguably the game’s two best players in Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.

For that reason, you won’t see Leon Draisaitl on this list, although if he were on any other team he would be a contender. The same goes for the superstar trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar in Colorado; although any of the three could potentially win the award, they each share teams with perennial MVP threats. That point was proven in 2019-20, when McDavid got hurt and Draisaitl snagged the Hart Trophy. He hasn’t finished higher than seventh in voting any other season despite having the second-most points in the NHL over the past seven years, per Daily Faceoff’s Matt Larkin.

This list mainly centers around players who have solidified themselves as the best player on their respective teams, and seem poised to have massive campaigns in 2023-24. Knocking off McDavid for this award will take nothing less than a gargantuan effort from any of these four players, but if it is going to happen, one of them probably has the best chance. Here are our Hart Trophy contenders for what promises to be another electric NHL campaign.

Honorable mentions: Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Nikita Kucherov, Auston Matthews, David Pastrnak

5) Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks

Elias Pettersson was mildly surprisingly not named the 15th captain of the Vancouver Canucks earlier this week, instead watching as star defenseman Quinn Hughes got the honor. But it doesn’t change the fact that Pete is the best player on the team, and has been since he broke onto the scene and won the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie in 2019.

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After scoring at just under a point-per-game clip in his first four seasons in Vancouver, Pettersson proved he belongs in the game’s upper echelon in 2022-23. He put together a marvellous 39-goal, 102-point campaign, good enough for 10th in league scoring. The Swedish superstar figures to only get better, and with the instant chemistry he formed with Russian import Andrei Kuzmenko entering its second season, expect another phenomenal season from the former No. 5 overall pick.

4) Jason Robertson, Dallas Stars

Jason Robertson continues to get better and better, and it’s hard to believe a player of his skill and maturity is entering just his fourth full season in the league. The 24-year-old quietly scored 41 goals and 79 points in 74 games in 2021-22, and very loudly amassed 46 tallies and 109 points in 2022-23, firmly entrenching himself in superstar territory.

The young California native is far and away the best player on his team, and he also has excellent chemistry with two other stars in Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski. Those three form one of the most potent first lines in hockey, and after finishing sixth in scoring last year, he is in an excellent position to reach even greater heights in 2023-24.

3) Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils

Jack Hughes is an absolute treat to watch on the ice. Like Pettersson and Robertson, he broke out last year with 99 points in 78 games. After dealing with injuries early in his career, Hughes looks poised to dominate at the NHL level for years to come. His skill with the puck is outrageous, and translates similarly to Patrick Kane in his prime.

Hughes is the future of the New Jersey Devils, and the former No. 1 overall pick will play with one of the league’s best top-six forward groups in 2023-24 and beyond. Although a Hart Trophy is a stretch for the 22-year-old, he has an incredibly high ceiling, and all the skills to separate himself from his draft class and become a top-five player in the game.

2) Matthew Tkachuk, Florida Panthers

The critics were out in full force when the Florida Panthers traded the farm to acquire Matthew Tkachuk last summer, dealing away Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar as well as draft capital. Just over one year later, it’s hard to argue that the Panthers didn’t absolutely fleece the Flames by bringing the superstar American to Sunrise.

Tkachuk was a revelation in Florida, beating his amazing 104 point season with the Flames in 2021-22 by five points after scoring 40 goals and 109 points last year. But he saved his best for the playoffs, putting the team on his back and amassing 24 points in 20 games. The team ran out of gas, but not before a magical run to the Stanley Cup Final that saw Tkachuk score game-winning goal after game-winning goal.

Tkachuk confirmed that he will be healthy going into camp, and he probably has the best chance to dethrone McDavid next season if the Panthers can return to the dance in a very competitive Eastern Conference.

1) Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

There’s not much more to be said that hasn’t already been hammered into the brains of hockey fans regarding Connor McDavid. He has already won the Hart Trophy three times, most notably in 2016-17 when he put up 100 points to lead the league in scoring as a 19-year-old. McDavid is already entering the conversation as one of the game’s greatest players, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t win this trophy again next year.

McDavid doesn’t care about the Hart, he just wants a Stanley Cup, and the Oilers look to be in very good shape to compete for the latter in 2024. But it would take a miracle for the NHL’s premier player to not be the 2023-24 MVP, and if Connor McDavid stays healthy, it’s a sure thing.