Duncan Keith did not lose any of the luster he has gained this season while he donned the Canadian uniform for his Olympic experience in Sochi.
Keith anchored the Canadian defense and helped pave the way to that nation's hockey gold medal, much as he has driven the Chicago Blackhawks this season.
Keith has played this season as if he is ready to win the second Norris Trophy of his career. He won it in 2009-10, the year the Blackhawks beat the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup Final and won their first league championship since 1961.
He has remained the ace of the Chicago blue-line crew since then, but he has seen Nicklas Lidstrom, Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban bring home the Norris Trophy the last three seasons.
If Keith continues to play down the homestretch of the season the way he has through his first 59 games, he should win his second Norris Trophy.
"There's two things you have to like about the way Duncan Keith has played this season," said NBC analyst Ed Olczyk. "The first, and most important thing is that he brings it every night. He does not coast and he does not take a night off. The second is that he makes his best plays when it matters most. He is strong when the game is on the line. He plays with emotion but he also plays with his head. He makes the smart play and he doesn't take unnecessary risks."
Keith's numbers indicate the kind of year he is having. Keith is the league's second-highest scoring defenseman with three goals and an eye-catching 45 assists. Only Erik Karlsson, with 55 points, has scored more points from the blue line.
However, there's a huge difference between Keith and Karlsson. The Ottawa defenseman may have a blazing slap shot and the ability to carry the puck up the ice and create plays, but his play in the defensive zone is indifferent. Keith is one of the sharpest defensive defensemen in the world.
Keith has a plus-19 rating while Karlsson has a minus-14 rating.
Not only does he man the Blackhawks' first pair with Brent Seabrook, he paired with Shea Weber in Sochi to form Canada's top defensive pair. Weber played 131 minutes for Canada, while Keith played 126:36.
Keith ranks with the best defensemen in the league, according to the more modern metrics. Keith has a 57.0 Corsi for percentage, a figure that ranks sixth among defensemen. Jake Muzzin of the Los Angeles Kings is first with a percentage of 61.0, but the next five defensemen are all within 1.5 percent of each other.
Keith can do it all on the ice, but it's the combination of his superb skating and ability to think through every play and make the right decision that has made him so dominant this season.
Head coach Joel Quenneville said Keith has raised his play to a new level this season. “He does so many good things out there with the puck, with his gap,” Quenneville told Tracey Myers of CSNChicago.com. “He’s chipping it in offensively at a different rate than we’ve seen, and we like what he’s bringing.”
Keith rarely likes to talk about his own game, and he is more than willing to let his numbers stand on their own merit. However, he is willing to speak about his defensive play.
“I’m trying to have a good gap and be good defensively," Keith said, per Myers. "That’s your first and foremost job: how you defend. It’s something I take a lot of pride in. The offense just takes care of itself.”
Karlsson, Weber, Ryan Suter, Zdeno Chara, Keith Yandle and Victor Hedman are all having fine years and are worthy of All-Star discussion.
However, Keith is in the driver's seat, and it may be his award to lose at this point.
(All quotes are obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated.)
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!