By Chris Nosek
Named after the former Montreal and Detroit general manager, this award is granted to the forward who plays the defensive aspect of their game the best. Only 5 players have taken the award home at least 3 times, with only Montreal’s Bob Gainey and Boston’s Patrice Bergeron having taken it home 4 times.
Patrice Bergeron, Ryan O’Reilly, and Sean Couturier are going to be on the list for most people. O’Reilly won the award in 2018-19, while Couturier took it home this past season – Bergeron has become synonymous with the award so much that some have started to think about petitioning to rename the award after him. As one of the most respected players league wide, Bergeron will always be a favorite for this award as long as he’s playing in the NHL.
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The newly anointed captain of the Vegas Golden Knights has finished top 5 in the Selke voting for each of the past 2 seasons. With Vegas a cup favorite for this season, he will have the eyes of the NHL on him and as the top center for the Knights, he will likely see his average time on ice increase from the 19 minutes he’s been seeing since joining the team. Last season, Ryan O’Reilly beat out Stone by merely 6 first place votes. While it doesn’t sound like much, the almost 2 minutes more of average ice time for O’Reilly likely made the difference for some voters. Donning the captain’s “C” now, Stone certainly still has a solid chance to take home the hardware.
Yes, the former 1st round selection IS in fact still playing and while on a struggling LA team, he is still playing very well. Last season he finished just shy of a point per game scoring pace and winning more than 55% of his faceoffs. Now 33 years old, Kopitar is still a top center in the league and will be looking to show just that. The realigned Honda West will mean the Kings won’t have to face the Oilers, Flames, and Canucks all season. Kopitar could surprise some folks and find himself taking home his 3rd Selke.
Another previous top 5 vote receiver who’s been keeping a low profile playing on a struggling team, the 36-year-old Kesler (like Kopitar) finds himself in a division weaker than usual while looking to remind others he’s still around. In the last season of his current contract, there are many young prospects in the organization who could help the veteran find the fountain of youth or decide to hang them up after the season is over – which one remains to be seen, but defensively he’s still as solid as it comes when it comes for centermen.
Entering his 8th season, the former 2nd round pick from Anaheim has shown to be a very solid two-way player for the Vegas Golden Knights. With all eyes on his teammate, Mark Stone, Karlsson will likely continue to play under the radar compared to others and fall short of the first place votes necessary to win. At only 28-years-old, if he continues to play in 98% plus of the games Vegas plays – a games played pattern he started back in the 2015-16 season while with the Columbus Blue Jackets – then he will get more looks during his career. With just under 19 minutes of ice time, he will fight for more playing time as the number two center and will continue to go underrated until he takes over as the top line guy. Will Karlsson’s play help bring more eyes to the Vegas Golden Knights and earn him some recognition, or just help a teammate get some that he too has deserved for a while?
Danault found himself starting to receive 1st place votes just two seasons ago and has seen two straight seasons with enough votes to put him in the top 10 (he finished 7th in 2018-19 and 6th 2019-20). At just 27 years old, Danault will continue to find himself creeping up this list as his career continues to develop. Last season, he averaged more ice time than ever in his career at 18:51 per night and as the Canadiens top centerman, that will continue to increase. His offensive numbers certainly won’t suffer playing with Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher, but if head coach Claude Julien needs to shake things up he could find time with Jonathan Drouin, Josh Anderson, Tyler Toffoli and/or Corey Perry – all of whom know how to find the back of the net. While the offensive numbers will be important, it’ll be his time on the penalty kill that could help push him ahead for this award. Already seeing over 85% of his faceoffs in his defensive zone, this will only get higher as he goes up against Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Austin Matthews, and so many top players in the league on a regular basis. While the Scotia North division is tougher for the Canadiens as an organization to compete in, it could really help Danault put himself up with the top defensive forwards in the league.
With an elite goaltender in Sergei Bobrovsky looking to have a bounce-back season, Barkov and his teammates will be able to help him do that with solid defensive play. With both teams from last season’s finals, including 3 additional teams from at least the play-in round for last season’s playoffs, this year will be a chance for the young Panthers team to show they can compete with some of the better teams in the league right now. The 25-year-old top line center will be a crucial piece as this team, with an average age of just 26.8 (per capfriendly), will rely on him to not only center their top offensive line, but as a top penalty killer as well. On the powerplay, Barkov takes over 90% of his faceoffs in his own defensive zone, which will be a key way to set himself apart from other centermen. With other teams having higher Stanley Cup aspirations, will there be enough eyes on Barkov to see just how well he handles his spotlight?