by PuckStopsHere on 12/09/09 at 01:44 PM ET
The Frank J Selke Trophy for best defensive forward is usually a tough award to select. There is rarely a consensus as to who to nominate for the award. This year might be even worse than normal. When Jams Mirtle looked at the top defensive forwards in the league so far, he noted that a lot of new faces were on the list. It is also noteworthy that last year’s Selke nominees, Pavel Datsyuk, Mike Richards and Ryan Kesler are not on the list. This suggests there is a wide open field for the Selke Trophy and that somebody who has not been a contender in the past might win it.
I think the leader at this point is Travis Zajac of the New Jersey Devils. I scoffed at the fact that he received a sizable number of votes last season. I thought it was a recognition of his high +/- rating (+33 last year) than his skill level and the role he played with New Jersey. Afterall last season it was John Madden who was used as the number one defensive centre on the Devils. Madden led Devil forwards by a significant margin in penalty kill time (Zajac was 2nd but with about 50% less penalty kill time).
This season, John Madden left the Devils to join the Chicago Blackhawks. This put Zajac in the job as the number one defensive forward on the Devils. An injury to Rob Niedermayer (who was brought in partly to take Madden’s role) pushed Zajac forward in his importance to the Devils.
Travis Zajac has not disappointed. He is playing against some very high competition. He is the number one penalty killing forward on the Devils. While doing this, the opposition is not scoring. This is shown in part by Zajac’s +/- rating, which is again very high (his +15 is third best in the league). Travis Zajac suggested that he had the talent to do this last year, but was not given the opportunity with John Madden around. This year, he has been the top defensive forward in the league.
The fact that he plays on a defensively sound Jacques Lemaire coached New Jersey team does help his case. It is easier to win a defensive award on a defensive team, just as it is easier to win an offensive award on an offensive team. This is a knock on the Zajac selection. Should a player appear to be roughly his equal as a defensive forward on a more offensive team, that player would be a better Selke candidate. Thus far, there is no such player available.
Travis Zajac has made significant strides as a defensive forward. I think he has emerged as the Selke Trophy leader. This is a significant improvement in his game both this year and last year. I will go as far as saying that Travis Zajac would be an excelled choice for Team Canada in the Olympics, but it is almost certain that he will not be selected for that team.
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