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Updated: November 22nd, 2013 2:15pm
Ryan Suter, Josh Harding on NHL awards watch lists for roles with Wild

Ryan Suter, Josh Harding on NHL awards watch lists for roles with Wild

by Derek Wetmore
1500ESPN.com
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The Wild have played at a high level this season, propelled by several elite players.

They're currently fourth in the crowded Central division, but Ryan Suter and Josh Harding have given the team hope that it can compete with the elite teams in the NHL. With one quarter of the season in the books, both are officially on awards watch.

Suter, who devours minutes nightly for the Wild, has played so well that he is the early favorite to win the Norris Tropy, according to Dan Rosen. A quarter of the way through the season, the NHL.com columnist writes that Suter has distinguished himself from other defensemen.

Here's a snippet from Rosen's praise of Suter:

Suter has been the NHL's busiest and best defenseman through the first quarter of the season. He plays nearly half the game and most of the time it's 30 mistake-free minutes. He had 13 assists entering the Wild's game Tuesday at the Montreal Canadiens, but that number doesn't even come close to describing Suter's effectiveness this season.

...

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Suter's total time on ice of 108:19 in three games (36:06 per game) from Nov. 7-13 is the most ice time any NHL player has played in three straight games since the League started tracking time on ice in 2000-01. He played more than 30 minutes in 10 of his first 21 games this season.

Suter was runner-up for the Norris Trophy a season ago and he'll certainly be in the conversation at year's end. He's also currently projected to play for Team U.S.A. in the Olympics, which will place him at the center of the hockey world for a stretch in the middle of the season.

The two other names Rosen listed were Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Phoenix Coyotes and Marc-Edouard Vlasic of the San Jose Sharks. Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban last season won the trophy given annually to the league's best blue-liner.

Harding, meanwhile, is solidly in the running for the Vezina Trophy, the award given to the league's best goalie. Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask is having a great season, as well, and NHL.com staff writer Corey Masisak gives Rask the slight edge at this point.

Here's the explanation Masisak gives for favoring Rask at this point:

Harding's numbers are astonishing. He's 13-3-2 with a .939 save percentage and 1.48 goals-against average.

...

His form even has sparked talk of Harding joining the discussion for a place on Canada's entry at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

...

The reason Rask gets the nod is workload, in number of starts (18 for Rask, 16 for Harding) and in-game action. Minnesota has been the best shot-suppressing team in the League (24.7 per game, nearly six fewer than the League average and five a game more than the Bruins), and because of both of those factors Rask has faced 116 more shots this season than Harding.

Both would be deserving winners. Harding's backstory, one of the best in sports currently, is seemingly underplayed because he prefers to not talk about his multiple sclerosis condition. It will be fascinating to see at the end of the season if Harding sustains this elite level of play.

His performance, coupled with Suter's strong play, has the Wild in contention in the West, just two points shy of the NHL-best Chicago Blackhawks. The Wild play the Jets on Saturday at 2 p.m. in Winnipeg.

Derek Wetmore is the senior editor for 1500ESPN.com. His previous stops include MLB.com and the Minnesota Daily.
Email Derek | @DerekWetmore
In this story: Josh Harding, Ryan Suter
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