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Conn Smythe Watch: Who's leading the NHL playoff MVP race?

The 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs have reached their second round, and that means it’s time to start really noodling through which players are candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy, an annual award given by the Professional Hockey Writers Association to the most valuable player for his team in the playoffs. 

(Or to Connor McDavid, whom we assume will be a finalist despite the Oilers missing the playoffs.)

Here’s how we see the field through Thursday night’s games. Please keep in mind that for the Conn Smythe Watch, we weigh candidates more if their teams appear headed to advancement. Also keep in mind that the PHWA's potential favorites were also factored in.

10. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues

Joe Pavelski, Tyler Johnson and Colin Wilson were close here, but the No. 10 spot goes to Tarasenko for his 11 points in 11 games performance, including six goals. Five of them have come at even strength. A rough one-goal-in-four-game stretch prevents him from being higher.  

9. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins

Hey, they won Game 4 without him! What a bum! Yeah, except for the fact that Letang has seven points in eight games and is skating 29:13 per night for the Penguins, without question their top skater this postseason.

8. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

If the Capitals end up eliminated in the second round, it won’t be on Holtby. He has a .936 EV save percentage and pitched a shutout in their elimination game against the Philadelphia Flyers. He's building quite a postseason legacy on a team that has ... well, it's own postseason legacy. 

7. Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues

Elliott outplayed Corey Crawford in Round 1 and has a .943 EV save percentage through 11 games. The backbone of the Blues’ playoff push … even if he’d like that Cody Eakin goal in overtime back from Game 4.

6. John Tavares, New York Islanders

The Islanders aren’t in the second round were it not for Johnny T.’s 11 points in nine games and legendary performance in Game 6 of their series against the Florida Panthers. 

5. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

Rinne may have hopped up a spot or two with his 44-save performance in the Preds’ triple-OT win over the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night. But overall, his .934 EV save percentage and that two-game stretch against the Ducks when he stopped 62 of 64 shots in winning Games 6 and 7 put him in the mix.

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 13: Nikita Kucherov #86 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates a goal against the Detroit Red Wings during the second period in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on April 13, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

4. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

Arguments can be made for Johnson and for Victor Hedman, but you can’t ignore seven goals in eight games, leading the NHL postseason. That includes the game-tying goal on the road in Game 3 against the Islanders. He’s also tied for the playoff lead in scoring the first goal of the game with three.

3. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars

All Benn has done is put up 14 points in 10 games, including five goals, and is tied for the league lead in even-strength goals with five. And let’s not lose sight of the fact that he continues to do this without Tyler Seguin.

2. Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins

Murray has it all as a Conn Smythe candidate: The narrative (rookie savior leads Penguins, in the tradition of Cam Ward and Ken Dryden) and the numbers (6-1-1, .950 EV save percentage). And yet he could still lose his gig to Marc-Andre Fleury at some point.

1. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks

The most must-watch player in the NHL postseason, and not just because there’s likely a family of woodland creatures living in his beard. Burns is second overall in scoring with 13 goals in nine games, and despite a couple of lapses continues to be great in his own end. The Sharks defeated the Kings and are two wins away from the conference final. People ask what’s different about them this time. Burns, and his electrifying play, is a primary reason. 

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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