The NHL season reaches the quarter pole this week, a good time to assess who are the early frontrunners for the league's postseason awards.
Not surprisingly, quite a few names associated with the red-hot, league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning show up in our awards discussion 20 or so games into the season.
Let's take a look at the top three candidates -- listed in order -- for the NHL's major hardware:
Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Seriously splitting hairs here for the top spot as the league's MVP with teammate Nikita Kucherov. Stamkos leads the NHL with 35 points and 20 assists. His league-high 15 power-play points still would leave him as a point-per-game player if they were subtracted (20 even strength points in 20 games). He's been so consistent, recording points in 17 of 20 games, including 11 multi-point games. Healthy again, Stamkos fuels the Lightning's drive to the top of the standings.
Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Side by side with Stamkos is his teammate, and linemate, Kucherov, who leads the NHL with 17 goals and is second behind Stamkos with 33 points. Flashy and dynamic, Kucherov became a star last year when Stamkos was sidelined. Now he benefits greatly playing with No. 91. Like Stamkos, Kucherov has points in 17 of 20 games. He also has four game-winning goals and 12 multi-point games.
Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg Jets)
Tied for sixth in the NHL with 25 points and tied for second with 20 assists through 19 games. Streaky scoring -- he's been held off the scoresheet seven times already -- but always consistent with his effort and play at both ends of the ice. Averaging nearly 21 minutes of ice-time per game for a Jets team surprising in Western Conference. Edges out Jaden Schwartz of the Blues, teammate Mark Scheifele and Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau.
Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis Blues)
Not only is he tied for the league-lead in scoring among defensemen with 19 points, but Pietrangelo logs more than 26 minutes per night and is the bedrock of one of the NHL's top defensive teams -- and top team overall in the Western Conference. A minus player just three times this season, the Blues captain is the league's top two-way defenseman, so far, this season.
Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators)
Had offseason ankle surgery that required removal of part of his bone and subsequently missed the first five games of the season. Since then, Karlsson has 17 points in 14 games for a league-best 1.21 points-per-game among defensemen. He is tied for second among d-men with 16 assists and is third in scoring. Incredibly those totals include the fact that he's gone scoreless in his last the games after a scorching return to the Ottawa lineup.
Morgan Rielly (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Tough competition for this third spot, but Rielly edges Victor Hedman (Lightning), John Klingberg (Stars), John Carlson (Capitals) and Shayne Gostisbehere (Flyers) because of his strong two-way play, which did not waver even during Toronto's skid a couple of weeks ago. His 17 points are tied for third-most among defensemen in the league. At age 23, living up to being the fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft.
Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus Blue Jackets)
The reigning Vezina Trophy winner continues to be the league's best goaltender. Bobrovsky leads all regular netminders with a 2.02 GAA and .933 save percentage. He has 11 wins while starting 16 of his team's 20 games, leading the Blue Jackets to a share of first place in the Metropolitan Division at the quarter mark of the season. Simply spectacular of late, allowing two goals in his last three starts including Friday's shutout of the Rangers.
Connor Hellebuyck (Winnipeg Jets)
The 24-year-old Hellebuyck has bounced back from a disappointing 2016-17 campaign and take the No. 1 spot away from veteran Steve Mason in Winnipeg. In 14 starts, Hellebuyck has just one loss in regulation, compiling an outstanding 11-1-2 mark overall. He allowed two goals or fewer in all but three of those starts. Hellebuyck is top ten both with a 2.27 GAA and .931 save percentage.
Andrei Vasilevsky (Tampa Bay Lightning)
He flies a bit under the radar because of Tampa Bay's high-flying offense, but Vasilevsky is a rock on the back end for the league's best team. Vasilevsky leads the league with 17 starts and 1024 minutes played between the pipes, and has a 14-2-1 record, best in the NHL. His 2.34 GAA and .928 save percentage are solid. Honorable mention here to Martin Jones of the Sharks, Corey Crawford of the Blackhawks and Jonathan Quick of the Kings.
Mathew Barzal (New York Islanders)
For much of the first quarter, Clayton Keller was the league's top rookie, but the 20-year-old Barzal burst past him by averaging nearly a point per game (19 points in 20 games) and taking over as the NHL's top-scoring rookie. Barzal has five points in his last three games, produced a five-assist game against the Avalanche on Nov. 5 and provided the Islanders a reliable second-line option behind John Tavares. His 15 assists top all rookies and his seven power play points are second most.
Clayton Keller (Arizona Coyotes)
Keller has a rookie-best 11 goals and is second with 18 points. The 19-year-old former Boston University star leads the moribund Coyotes in scoring and logs nearly 20 minutes a night in his rookie season. This trophy may be his when all is said and done.
Mikhail Sergachev (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Yes, he plays on a terrific team and, yes, coach Jon Cooper limits his minutes, putting him in the most advantageous of positions on the ice, but the 19-year-old Sergachecv is a star waiting to happen, making that offseason deal for Jonathan Drouin look pretty darn good. Sergachev has five goals -- four at even strength -- and 14 points while averaging just 14 minutes of ice time. Only New Jersey's Will Butcher has more points (15) among rookie defensemen. Playing well in own end and on second power play unit, too. Honorable mentions include Butcher, Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt of the Devils, Brock Boeser of the Canucks and Alex Kerfoot of the Avalanche.
Jack Adams Trophy
Jon Cooper (Tampa Bay Lightning)
The Lightning are the NHL's best team in the first quarter with 15 wins and 32 points, and while the return of Stamkos has a lot to do with this, much credit also goes to Cooper. This is no major surprise, he proved long ago with consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference Final and a berth in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final that he is one of the best coaches in the business. But after an injury-ravaged season a year ago, Cooper had his club ready to fire on all cylinders to start this season and hasn't let his foot off the gas pedal since.
John Hynes (New Jersey Devils)
Last season, Hynes' Devils finished last in the East with 70 points. At the quarter mark this season, they are tied for first place in the Metro with 25 points. Yes, GM Ray Shero did a terrific job shaking up the Devils roster this past offseason, but Hynes has his club playing a fast-paced, aggressive style, well-suited to the new personnel. Hynes also holds his players accountable and set the tone at the end of last season that more was expected of this group in 2017-18.
Gerard Gallant (Vegas Golden Knights)
Despite being fired in Florida last year, Gallant is still considered a solid National Hockey League coach. But no one could have predicted the miracles he's worked, so far, in Vegas where the expansion Golden Knights are 12-6-1 and sitting in second place in the Pacific despite that disastrous 1-4-1 road trip recently. The Golden Knights have a +10 goal differential, and most importantly, they believe. Credit the coach. Honorable mentions: Mike Yeo (Blues), John Stevens (Kings) and Paul Maurice (Jets).