Hockey Hall of Fame: Pavel Datsyuk and the Top 15 Defensive Forwards of All Time
As we head into the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremonies to honor four former NHL players, we take a look back at some of the best defensive forwards of all time.
Some of these players are strictly defensive players, while others are incredible two-way defenders who can also pot a few goals.
Two-way forwards are honored by the NHL with the Frank J. Selke Trophy, awarded to the best defensive forward as voted on by a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.
It has been awarded 33 times, to 21 players, since its inception in 1977-78.
Without further interruption, we start off the slideshow with...
15. Bobby Holik
For years, I could remember countless Leafs-Devils playoff battles that would usually involve Bobby Holik pinned tightly to Mats Sundin's backside, hounding him all game.
Holik played great defensive hockey not only against Sundin, but against the whole league. The Devils gave the toughest assignment to him every night, and Holik usually didn't disappoint.
The Devils had three great centermen who were shutdown players, and funny enough, they almost came in succession. Bobby Carpenter was followed by Holik and then John Madden, who could have easily made this list as well.
With the Devils, Holik won Stanley Cups and the hearts of all Devils fans. When he signed in New York with the Rangers, he was brought in with a hefty contract but asked to do something he shouldn't have been: to score. After all, Holik never eclipsed the 65-point plateau in his career.
After two rather grim years with the Rangers, he moved on to the Thrashers and continued to disappoint. He would return to the Devils for his final season in the NHL and retire as a New Jersey Devil.
14. Mike Richards
Mike Richards hasn't won a Selke Trophy, but he has been long considered one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL.
At 5'11", he's not the biggest player, although he plays a big-man game. He plays with the size and grit of a power forward, but he has the hands and vision of a world-class playmaker and finisher.
The modern-day Doug Gilmour, Richards still holds the NHL record for most 5-on-3 short-handed goals in history. He has also scored over 23 short-handed goals in just over six seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles Kings.
13. Ryan Kesler
One of the NHL's best two-way forwards, Kesler has taken off since the departures of such Canuck greats as Markus Naslund, Trevor Linden and Brendan Morrison, along with Mats Sundin and Pavol Demitra.
Annually ranking in the top 10 in takeaways, blocked shots and hits as a forward, Kesler is not only a defensive forward but can also put up goals at a furious pace.
Last season he scored a career-high 41 goals. Due to a hip ailment this offseason, however, Kesler has been off to a slow start this season.
Most of Kesler's success is purely because he outworks his opponents and is willing to do the dirty work.
By the time his career is over, Kesler will likely rank higher in my rankings, but for now, he'll hold the unlucky 13th position.
12. Jari Kurri
Although Kurri never won a Selke Trophy, he is still regarded as one of the best defensive forwards of his era, playing alongside such greats as "The Great One" Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey and a ton of other players.
Kurri was Gretzky's linemate for many years and, as a result, scored plenty of points.
However, when Gretzky was dealt by Peter Pocklington and the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings in 1990, Kurri would not accept a new contract with the Oilers, opting to go play in the Italian league.
After destroying that league (75 points in 30 games), Kurri would return to the NHL with—guess who—the Los Angeles Kings, where he would return to his better than point-per-game form.
However, after the lockout of 1994-95, Kurri would play more of a defensive role, as he eventually landed in Colorado—the Stanley Cup champs from the season previous—and finished out his career there.
When he retired, he was the highest-scoring European skater of all time but has since been passed by Jaromir Jagr.
11. Dave Keon
Keon was one of the best two-way forwards of all time but also one of the cleanest players of all time. What do I mean? He only accumulated 151 penalty minutes in 1,275 career games (both regular season and playoffs in both the NHL and WHA).
Keon was a relentless checker, a great faceoff man and likely one of the smartest players of his time.
Although he never won a Selke Trophy, he won the Lady Byng multiple times, managed to lead the Leafs to four Stanley Cup wins and won a Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP.
As a Leaf fan, I was never able to watch him live; however, in the tapes I've seen of him, I can easily say he would have been one of my favorite players if he played today.
After being mistreated and downright thrown away like trash by then-Leafs owner Harold Ballard, Keon swore off pretty much anything Leaf-related.
He has since started to let the Leafs back into his life, and hopefully one day he will allow them to honor him the way they should.
10. Doug Jarvis
Regarded as one of the NHL's best penalty killers ever, Jarvis helped guide the Montreal Canadiens to four straight Stanley Cups from 1976 to 1979.
He played alongside fellow Habs great Bob Gainey but was never considered a top scoring threat, only eclipsing the 20-goal mark once in his career.
Originally drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs No. 24 overall in the 1975 draft, Jarvis was immediately traded for Greg Hubick, who proceeded to land himself in Leafs history as part of one of the worst trades in the franchise's history.
Hubick would only play 77 games in the NHL and score a measly 15 points in his time in the NHL.
Meanwhile, Jarvis would become a Habs legend and helped them win four Cups in his time. Talk about a trade that comes back and bites you in your backside.
9. Doug Gilmour
Likely the most loved Leaf of all time, "Killer" never brought a Stanley Cup to Toronto—but it wasn't for a lack of trying.
With the Leafs up three games to two in the 1993 Western Conference Finals, Gilmour was high-sticked by Wayne Gretzky, drew blood and needed some medical attention. On the play, Gretzky was given a four-minute double minor for high sticking...
Oh wait, I got that wrong. Gretzky wasn't even given a two-minute penalty, as Kerry Fraser missed the play and Gretzky stayed on the ice.
With Gilmour off the ice, Gretzky would score the game-winning goal and help ignite the 100th Stanley Cup Controversy.
Gilmour was the Leafs' best defensive forward in his time but was also their leading scorer, scoring 127 points and 111 points in consecutive years, along with accumulating over 100 penalty minutes in both seasons. In those two seasons, you could compare Gilmour to Peter Forsberg.
He also still holds the Leafs record for playoff points. In both seasons, Gilmour and the Leafs would reach the conference finals, eventually losing to the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks respectively.
8. Rod Brind'Amour
Rod "The Bod" Brind'Amour was one of the NHL's premier penalty killers in his time and likely the best faceoff center in the entire NHL.
In his time with Philadelphia—playing with such greats as Eric Lindros and John LeClair—he grew into the shutdown center he became famous for in his career.
After his time with Philadelphia, he moved on to Carolina in a trade for Keith Primeau, and his career exploded from there on.
He formed one-third of the BBC line in Carolina along with Erik Cole and Bates Battaglia when they made a Cup run in 2002, eventually losing out to the Detroit Red Wings.
In the years that followed, Brind'Amour would be named captain of the Hurricanes and helped lead them to a Stanley Cup in 2006, beating out the Edmonton Oilers in seven games.
He won Selke Trophies in 2006 and 2007 and retired after the 2009-10 season with the Carolina Hurricanes.
7. Mike Peca
Injuries ended what ended up being a pretty good NHL career for Peca. Regarded as one of the NHL's hardest open-ice hitters for his size, Peca was primarily used as a shutdown defensive forward, often found glued to the opposition's best players.
Peca won the Selke Trophy twice in his NHL career—in 1997 and 2002 with the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders respectively.
In 2002, the eventual Selke Trophy winner was hip-checked by Maple Leafs forward Darcy Tucker; the crushing blow obliterated the ACL and MCL in his left knee.
Oddly enough, in 2006 the Leafs signed Peca to a one-year contract worth $2.5 million, and he would eventually become linemates with Tucker. Peca's career with the Leafs was cut short after he collided knee-on-knee with Hawks defenseman Jim Vandermeer. This time his right knee suffered ligament damage and a fractured tibia.
Peca ended his NHL career with the Columbus Blue Jackets and in 2010 announced his retirement from the NHL.
6. Bob (Bobby) Clarke
One of the NHL's greatest agitators of all time, Clarke also had a great defensive game, was a world-class playmaker and was one of the best ever in the faceoff circle.
As a player, Clarke was never a minus player, accumulating a plus-506 rating over 1,144 games, fifth all-time. He also scored 1,210 points to finish out his NHL career on a high note, good for No. 42 all-time in points.
At the age of 23, Clarke would be named the captain of the Flyers, at the time the youngest captain ever for a franchise.
Not only did Clarke win a Selke Trophy, but he also won the Hart Trophy twice—the award given to the NHL's most valuable player.
The addition of Bob Clarke was an easy one.
5. Jere Lehtinen
One of the more underrated players in the Stars' Cup run, Lehtinen repeatedly showed he could be relied upon to shut down the opposition, regardless of who it was.
He often led the Stars in plus/minus, and his leadership and defensive tenacity led the Stars to a Stanley Cup and multiple playoff appearances.
Often found at the top of the Selke Trophy nominees, Lehtinen won the award three times. However, injuries hurt what was a wonderful, quiet career.
In today's modern era, sticking with one team throughout your tenure in the NHL is considered incredibly rare, so for Lehtinen to stick with the Stars for so long says a lot about his attitude, skill and, of course, dedication to the game and the franchise.
4. Ron Francis
Ron Francis is the epitome of a gentleman when it comes to NHL hockey. Not many rookies average more than a point per game, but Francis did just that with the Carolina Hurricanes.
I've found Francis was extremely under-appreciated for how great of a career he really had. He only made the All-Star team four times in his illustrious 22-year career despite being a consistent performer year in and year out.
Francis won the Selke Trophy once, in 1995. In the same year, he won the Lady Byng and led the NHL in plus/minus. He would go on to win two more Lady Byngs in his career.
A few records Francis was close to reaching:
* Currently in fourth place among all-time regular season NHL point leaders with 1,798 points
* Currently in 24th place in all-time regular season NHL goals with 549 goals
* Currently in second place in all-time regular season NHL assists with 1,249 assists
* Currently in third place in all-time NHL regular season games played with 1,731 games
Francis would finish out his NHL career with the Toronto Maple Leafs, playing in 12 games and scoring 10 points, finishing his career in fine fashion.
3. Guy Carbonneau
Anywhere Guy went, he was always loved and admired by the people and the fans of the organization. Whether it was with the Montreal Canadiens, St. Louis Blues for one season or the Dallas Stars, Guy always left a lasting impression on the organizations.
Considered one of the best two-way centers of all time, Carbonneau was never considered an offensive threat—even though he scored 72 goals in 72 games with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens and finished the season with 182 points.
It was his furious forecheck, his ferocious back-check and his relentless ability to block shots and kill penalties that won him the hearts of many fans.
He won the Selke Trophy three times in his career—once in 1988, again in 1989 and once more in 1992.
Carbonneau went on to coach the Canadiens for three seasons following his retirement in 2000, accumulating a 124-83-23 record in 230 games. To this day, I still don't know how he doesn't have a job in the NHL.
Today, Carbonneau coaches the team he co-owns, the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, the team he played his junior career with over 30 years ago.
2. Pavel Datsyuk
At only 33 years of age, Pavel Datsyuk has quite the résumé.
Selected three times to the All-Star game, he won the Stanley Cup in 2002 and 2008 with the Red Wings, won the Lady Byng Trophy in four consecutive years from 2006-2009 and lastly won the Selke Trophy three straight years from 2008 to 2010.
Not only that, but he could also win scoring titles and Conn Smythes if he put his mind to it; the game just comes that easily to him.
Before his career is over, I'm sure Datsyuk will win another Selke and possibly win another Cup because he plays so well in all areas of the game, both offensively and defensively.
1. Bob Gainey
Bob "Le Capitaine" Gainey was never an offensive threat, never scoring more than 47 points in a season, but his skill in his own end helped him to four straight Cup titles from 1976 to 1979 with the Habs and again in 1986.
His skill defensively helped him to a Conn Smythe Trophy in 1979 in the Habs' last Cup run of the '70s.
Even though he never outscored anyone, finishing with only 501 points in 1,160 career games played, Gainey's tenure with the Habs was a memorable one—enough for the Habs to retire his No. 23 before a sold-out Bell Centre crowd.
Even today, he remains the only player to ever win the Frank J. Selke Trophy four times in a career, with Pavel Datsyuk, Jere Lehtinen and Guy Carbonneau the only other players with at least three Selke Trophies.