by: Ty Anderson on Thu, 03/09/2017 - 7:58am

Brad Marchand has put himself in the MVP discussion this season. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)It used to be about simply making the NHL roster for the 5-foot-9 Brad Marchand

But now, the agitator-turned-superstar talent that’s consistently crashed through his own ceiling for actual years now, sits just four points behind Oilers superstar (and 2015 No. 1 overall pick) Connor McDavid for the league lead in points. 

“I guess the goal every year is to get better and better, but it was always just to be here and be part of the team,” admitted the 28-year-old Marchand, “I never really kinda looked ahead to where I could be today.” 

Today -- and legitimately in the hunt for the league’s scoring title this season -- Marchand remains tied with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Patrick Kane for the second-most points in the National Hockey League. Those three players even with No. 63 have combined for seven Stanley Cups, four Hart Trophy victories, five Art Ross wins, and three Conn Smythe wins as the MVP of the playoffs, by the way.

They are obviously elite players. So what does that make Marchand? 

How about elite? 

“I think I’m just playing with elite players,” Marchand, who now has 32 goals for the year (tied with Jets rookie Patrik Laine and just two off from the Penguins’ Crosby for the most in the NHL), said after another two-goal night on Wednesday. “In our group you’re expected to play at the same level as those guys, and I’ve been fortunate enough to play with great players for a long time now.”

A fixture to Patrice Bergeron’s left since 2011, that was once the belief. But it’s so painfully incorrect at this point, and Marchand has to know it, right? There’s no way he still believes he’s simply the benefitting passenger to the three-zone excellence of B’s center Patrice Bergeron. He simply couldn’t. 

Not this season, anyways. Not to be outdone by fellow 5-foot-9 TD Garden Thriller Isaiah Thomas this year, there’s no doubt in my mind that Marchand has emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate (or the Hart Memorial Trophy, for you hockey purists out there) with this ridiculous, borderline year-long run. 

In what’s become a year-long demolition of NHL goaltenders, Wednesday’s effort has left Marchand with 22 goals and 36 points -- both of which are league-bests -- in his last 26 games alone. Cut that games played figure down a bit and he’s scored 15 goals and 25 points in his last 17 games. Fine, let's just splice it down to just the last seven games, just for the fun of it, and he’s tallied seven goals and 11 points. In a league that’s become borderline impossible to score goals in -- the league wants to decrease goalie pads and make nets larger and become soccer on ice by the year 2030, I imagine -- Marchand has made goaltenders look straight-up foolish and left ‘em swimming in their own crease on a consistent basis for almost two months straight. Preposterous. He’s also done that while the Bruins have gone through a coaching change that checked the egos of everybody in that locker room and came with some style changes on a quick turnaround of two practice days. Preposterous!

“It’s hard to score in this league, but when you’re that tenacious and hard on the puck and have it that much, you’re going to get your chances. I guess you can say some games – some years – they go in and sometimes they don’t,” Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy said of Marchand. “He is finishing better on breakaways it looks. He has more confidence in that area, in different moves. He’s going to get his share with his speed and the way the game is played now. Teams press up, you can certainly catch them. But he is streaky and let’s enjoy his streak right now and hopefully he keeps it going because he certainly deserves it. He’s earned his chances to score with his tenacity on the puck.”

That night-in, night-out tenacity has helped bump Marchand’s season total to 70 points, too, which made him the first B’s skater to record at least 70 points in a season since Marc Savard accomplished the feat in 2008-09 behind an 88-point campaign. Marchand is currently one of just nine NHL players with at least 59 games played to have produced at a point-per-game pace, too, and is paced to finish this season with 86 points, which would beat his previous career high by a whopping 25 points (set with last year's 61-point season). 

“It’s a nice accomplishment. It just speaks volumes to how well guys are playing on our team, and benefitting a lot from that,” Marchand said of the milestone. “[David Pastrnak] has been hot all year, being put on the power play unit I’ve had success, but Bergeron the last 30 games I think is over a point-per-game, and I’m just playing with guys that are having great years and benefitting from that.”

But even he doesn’t hit the 86-point mark, an 82-point season (if healthy) would make Marchand the first point-per-game Bruins player since Savard did it three years in a row from 2006 to 2009, and would make him the first winger to produce at that rate since Glen Murray had 92 points in 2003. 

“It doesn’t happen very often, but I’m still a long ways away from that,” Marchand, whose closest call at such a mark came with an 0.79 point-per-game mark last season, reiterated with a chuckle. “I’ve gone 15 games without a goal [before] so that could be the rest of the year. Hopefully that doesn’t happen.”

Let’s not kid ourselves though, Brad. Because we both know it won’t. I know it. You know it. Your teammates know it, too. You’re going to be in this MVP hunt until the bitter end, as it would be in line with everything that your career trajectory has told us to this point, with consistent improvements and a failure to stop producing at this rate, even when teams now know more about you than ever before. 

Without Marchand, this team is lost. Sure, they got all-world goaltending from Tuukka Rask for the first three months of the season and David Pastrnak has taken that next step everyone in Boston seemed to envision for him at 20 years old. But it's Marchand that has been the constant for this club, and helped keep them afloat when some of the club's higher-priced talents -- Bergeron, David Backes, and David Krejci -- struggled with health and consistency issues at the early stages of this season. And this is a Black and Gold squad that's 27-13-6 on the year when Marchand registers at least one point, and just 8-13-0 when he's held off the scoresheet. That 27-13-6 record becomes 16-4-4 in games in which Marchand has scored a goal. 

The impact Marchand makes for this team has not been lost on his teammates, either. Not even the new ones. 

“You look back to even last year, and I don’t really know if [Marchand]’s missed a step in a long time,” Bruins defenseman Colin Miller said. “He’s a huge player for us, and he continues to carry us.”

“It’s all about execution. He’s burying his chances. A guy like him — he’s a top line player, an elite player in the league — he’s going to get his looks, he’s gonna get his ice time, it’s just a matter of him executing, and he has been,” Drew Stafford said. “He’s riding that wave and it’s only good for us.” 

This jump to stardom didn’t happen overnight, however, nor did it come without speed bumps in the form of repeated incidents and suspensions from the league’s disciplinary office. 

But molded by the core pieces -- some of which are still in stalls around Marchand’s corner stall in the Garden dressing room, a locker once occupied by an underrated locker leader in Shawn Thornton -- from the height of a Stanley Cup contention window that served as his intro to the NHL, Marchand has focused less on pigeonholing himself into the role of a shift-disturber, and used the voices around him to shape himself into the leader you see lead not with a letter, a rah-rah speech captured for a behind the scenes television show, but actual, tangible production when the club needs it the most. 

“When you learn from guys like Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, and [in] previous years -- [Mark] Recchi, Chris Kelly, Andrew Ference -- you learn to become a pro,” Marchand said. “It just shows the leadership that we’ve had over the years to help our young guys grow, and fortunately I’ve been put in a position where things are going well, and blessed to be part of this organization for a long time.”

“He is clearly one of our hardest workers every day. This isn’t just what you’re seeing on game days, this is practice, the way he prepares to play off ice. So it’s certainly not a surprise with the timing and effort he’s put into improving his game, both on and off the ice. And he’s a leader on our team, he’s a guy we rely on to play in all situations,” Cassidy said of Marchand’s importance to the team. “We’ve built up his power play role this year, that’s helped his offensive game as well – those little games around the net. But the other parts of his game – his penalty killing has always been solid, he can play against anybody, will play against anybody and can probably play with anybody.”

Sounds like an elite talent to me.