It was announced on Tuesday that Pittsburgh Penguins' center Jordan Staal is one of the three finalists for the annual Selke Trophy for the NHL's best defensive forward, along with Ryan Kesler and two-time winner Pavel Datsyuk.
The 21-year-old who normally makes his home on the third line was nominated for his first ever Selke Trophy, but it is not the first time he is a candidate for hardware, as he was named a finalist for the Calder Trophy back in 2007.
For the Penguins' Iron Man, Staal has missed only one game in his entire NHL career and also set the bar high when he set a new record for shorthanded goals by a rookie (7) in the 2006-07 season. It seemed like only a matter of time before he was nominated for this award.
But does he deserve the nomination this soon, when there are quite a handful of other fine defensive forwards in the league?
In the regular season, only one forward in the league, Jay McClement of St. Louis, logged more shorthanded time on ice than Staal. He also posted a career-best plus-19 rating, despite never playing on a "scoring" line and consistently being thrown out on the ice against the opposing team's best offensive players.
The number may be even more impressive given the fact that Staal was on the ice 45 times when an opposing team scored at even-strength.
Staal also put up a career high in points with 49, which at first glance is no impressive total, but it is excellent when you dig deeper.
Nearly 90 percent of his points came at even-strength or shorthanded, as he almost never saw power play time, and 55 percent of those points came away from the Mellon Arena.
But with all that being said, does he realistically have a chance of winning it as a first time nominee up against two players who have been here before? Kesler's play in the Olympics really turned some heads and it's nearly impossible to argue with the results Datsyuk has put up.
Why could Jordan Staal win the Selke?
The first major part of Staal's game that separates him from the other two is his penalty killing. After all, the award is given to the best defensive forward, correct? Staal nearly played as many shorthanded minutes as Datsyuk and Kesler combined (277-274).
The physical ability of Staal and his enormous wingspan has almost allowed him to count as two men on the penalty kill. A fixture in the middle of the ice that can take away passes that most teams will get the luxury of making, he is always a major shorthanded threat.
Today's offensive-minded game, it's often the power play that can give a team momentum, but the excellence of Staal's penalty killing often became a boost to the Penguins.
Staal also has a spectacular plus/minus that neither Kesler or Datsyuk can brag. His plus-19 is indeed a better mark than both other nominees. While that may not tell the entire story by itself, looking at the goals against while each player was on the ice sheds a better light. Numbers do not include power play goals allowed.
Kesler: 61 goals against
Datsyuk: 44 goals against
Staal: 45 goals against
Kesler's record can be eliminated immediately. Datsyuk and Staal have nearly the same defensive mark, except for one obvious side note. Datsyuk had the luxury of playing on Detroit's top offensive line nearly every game, drawing the best defensive players from the other team. Staal couldn't have been much more opposite.
A member of Pittsburgh's shut-down defensive line, Staal often saw the best offensive players the opposing team had to offer (Ovechkin, Carter, Parise, Tavares).
For a man in his situation, Staal also creates a surprising amount of offense. To be honest, the point totals aren't even close. Datsyuk and Kesler both have over 70 points apiece while Staal didn't break 50. But what's all the noise about here then?
By simply taking away the power play, because they have nothing to do with a player's defensive capabilities, Staal's goal production is actually the best of all the Selke nominees. With 20 goals during the regular season not coming on the power play, Staal leads both Kesler (13) and Datsyuk (18) in terms of goals produced 5-on-5 or shorthanded.
But with every story, there is a second side.
Why might Jordan Staal not win the Selke?
The first one is plain as day. He doesn't have the experience.
Staal is only 21, while Kesler and Datsyuk are 25 and 31, respectively. Both of the other nominations have also been finalists for the Selke in the past, with Datsyuk actually winning it both of the past two season.
The track record just isn't there. Not that it's necessarily Staal's fault—he's only been in the league four seasons—and even though he has been known as a shut down center during his career, the other two have been around longer.
One of the biggest measureables in a defensive player, the ratio of takeaways to giveaways, Staal considerably lacks behind the other two. A ratio of 41/31 just doesn't compare.
Kesler for one, has less giveaways but double the takeaways that Staal has. Datsyuk has far more giveaways than either of the other two, but he also makes up for it by setting a career high in steals with 132, a mark that lead the league by a gigantic margin.
Finally, all three players are centers. So arguably, the most important function of the center position is their ability to win faceoffs. Being able to control the puck, especially while shorthanded, is a major asset to a team's penalty killing effort. Which one does it best? Not Jordan Staal.
Despite being a penalty-killing expert, Staal is the only player of the three who was under 50 percent on the season in faceoffs won.
Even worse, Staal only won 44 percent of draws shorthanded, while both Kesler and Datsyuk are both again winning around half. Maybe that comes with experience, but winning draws is not a major strength of his game.
What are your thoughts? Will Staal take home his first major NHL award, or will he have to wait another year?
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