The Frank J. Selke trophy is awarded every year to the forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game. Over the years, the Selke Trophy’s become a bit of a reputation award in that only a handful of people have won it. In the past 8 years, 4 players have won the award, including 4 wins for Patrice Bergeron and 2 wins for Anze Kopitar. The most recent recipient is Kopitar with Bergeron and Sean Couturier as the other finalists.
As Kopitar and Bergeron get older it’s time to start paying attention to a younger generation who are pushing up against them for that coveted Selke distinction. One guy who’s more than ready and should’ve been a finalist last year is Aleksander Barkov.
Barkov’s quickly been making a name for himself as one of the best two-way forwards around while staying under the radar in Florida. In 79 games, he scored 78 points while averaging 22:04 minutes per game which is more than anyone not named Kopitar, who averaged 1 second more. His worth to Florida is recognized by his teammates as well, with Vincent Trochek saying: “His skill is second to none. You’ve seen it in his shootout moves, he can pretty much do anything he wants with the puck whenever he wants. He’s got size, speed and he plays the defensive zone – he should be up for the Selke [Trophy] every year.” Roberto Luongo saying: “He’s probably the most complete player I’ve ever played with. Both ends of the rink. He’s so smart and strong. Always in good position. I’ve played with some great players, but the fact he’s so good offensively and responsible defensively. It’s tough to find guys like that.” And my brother Michael Matheson claiming: “There isn’t a guy in the league that wouldn’t love to be on his line. He’s the most complete player I’ve ever played with.”
To highlight just how good Barkov is, I’m going to compare his season last year to Kopitar’s Selke winning season. Traditionally, the award has been won by a player who played on a playoff team with a strong team defense which ruled Barkov out when his Panthers missed the playoffs by 1 point. As a centerman, he does have an automatic advantage since over the last 20 years the award’s been won by a center all but 3 times and all 3 were won by Jere Lehtinen.
Statistically, it would look like Kopitar has the edge with his 92 points scored last year and while points are always important, they don’t tell the story for who should be winning the Selke. So, what categories are important when considering defensive skill?
An easy way to excel defensively is by winning a good portion of your faceoffs. If you’re winning your faceoffs you’re possessing the puck which is a great way to keep the opposition from creating any offense. This is best exemplified by Bergeron who statistically has been one of the best if not the best faceoff man in the league for a long time. In Kopitar’s case, last season he had a 55.8% success rate on faceoffs, just behind Barkov’s 55.9%.
Kopitar led the league in defensive plays in the defensive zone while finishing with the most successful blocked defensive zone passes but coming in second every time was Barkov. Barkov might be blocking a lot of passes but what really sets him apart are his stick checks.
His stick is unbelievable. He finished 1st in total successful stick checks while Kopitar for his part finished 50th. Using his long reach and exceptionally good stick makes Barkov incredibly frustrating to play against. Any time an opponent thinks they have a step on him he uses his stick to disrupt the play and create turnovers. Whenever Barkov’s around, opponents are constantly forced to bury their head and battle to keep the puck on their stick, limiting their vision of the ice and making it hard for them to make a good play.
Bob Boughner re: Barkov: "It's the little things that impress me more than anything.....how good his stick is."
Barkov leads all forwards with 124 stick checks - the only forward with over 100.
Here's a minute of his finest work...#SelkeTalk pic.twitter.com/Hoa2ciD5H0
— Mike Kelly (@MikeKellyNHL) January 11, 2018
Barkov also finished 1st in total defensive plays followed closely by Kopitar in 2nd. Barkov is clearly unbelievably good in all areas of the ice which begs the question: why hasn’t Barkov been a Selke finalist?
As the recently named captain of the up-and-coming Panthers team, Barkov should be in for another strong season. If he continues to put up the numbers he had last year, there’s no reason for him not to be in the Selke conversation. With Barkov’s Panthers looking primed to make the playoffs this season, this could be the year Barkov takes over the Selke.
(Photo by Aaron Poole/NHLI via Getty Images)