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Trevor Presiloski

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Note: This is a slighty older entry from my blog, but I was invited to come here and contribute in the Fan Zone, so I'd figure I'd go the lazy route for my debut and go with reruns. The stats are a little off because I had written this prior to the Dallas game. That said, enjoy!

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So we're officially at the midway point of the season. We have a relatively solid understanding on how things look right now in the NHL. For the Canucks, things are looking good, as they're starting to carve out a playoff berth and are playing some great hockey. It's a good time to do some evaluating of talent, which is what this post is about.

Today marked the announcement of America's men's hockey roster and as expected, Ryan Kesler was named to the squad, making it the first time he'll be representing his nation at the Olympic level.

That by itself is a major accomplishment and is something Ryan Kesler can take pride in. I would suggest, though, that Kesler's Olympic nomination provides a great opportunity for the 25 year old. Namely, that he has a great chance to capture the attention of the collective hockey media, a group that rarely has all of its attention focused on the west coast, nevermind Vancouver proper.

This isn't meant to be a 'TSN = Toronto Sports Network' jab. I understand that the majority of the larger markets are out east (Toronto, Montreal, New York, Boston, etc.) so it's understandable that most writers will be paying attention to teams that they cover. Given the fast turnaround you have to have with being a journalist, most publications don't have the luxury of staying up until midnight to cover west coast games.

Fortunately, they won't have much of a choice in the matter when the Olympics roll around, as the NHL shuts down to let their top players participate.

Why would this be important? Well, aside from having a shot at winning some hardware at the Olympics, Kesler also has a chance to gain some fans in the press that may not otherwise have watched him. This would have implications for winning the Selke trophy, awarded to the best defensive forward. The winner is selected by members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.

Yeah, I think you can see where I'm going with this. While the Olympics won't have a direct impact on earning Selke votes, they're a good way to showcase oneself and get your name out there because everyone will be watching.

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Fans of the Canucks know that Kesler is a great two way player and we also know that Kesler has really come on in recent memory. Prior to last season, he was typically tasked with shutting down the top forwards on opposing teams and has been a key component in the Canucks penalty killing unit pretty much since his arrival with the club. He was seen as a good defensive forward, but questions about his offensive capabilities abounded.Last season, most critics were silenced, as he went on an offensive tear, setting a career high in points. This season, he is well on his way to his third straight 20 goal season and is on pace to surpass 60 points, which would be a new career high for him.

We, the fans, know that Kesler is a great player. The problem is getting the message out there to the rest of the hockey world.

Kesler's got some brand recognition right now, thanks to the votes he received last season as he was the second runner-up for Selke voting. The Olympic nomination puts his stock at an all-time high and thanks to issues plaguing the other Selke finalists from last year (Detroit's injury woes and Philly just sucking in general), Kesler stands poised to earn his first piece of NHL hardware.

It's not all about making friends with the media, though I'd argue that it helps significantly. Kesler also has the stats to back up both a Selke nomination and a Selke win. For the purposes of this article, I'm going to compare Kesler against Datsyuk and Richards, as well as Patrick Marleau, Tomas Plekanec and Travis Zajac, all players who have been getting some consideration for a Selke nod this season as well. I'll be looking primarily at their stats from this season and last to try and explain why Kesler has a great chance at winning the Selke.

Short Handed

Kesler logs a lot of time on the penalty kill. Last season, he spent more time on the PK than the other six players listed. His numbers are slightly lower this season, but that's because the Canucks have been taking less penalties and are on pace to actually take less minors than they did last season. In addition to playing slightly less, Kesler has also not been on the ice for as many goals against, on pace for 20 compared to 28 shorthanded GA last season.

Datsyuk, thanks to Detroit being such a disciplined team, doesn't log a ton of minutes on the PK, but when he is out there he is quite good as he only allowed 15 goals against on the PK last season and has only been around for 3 this season.

At first glance, Plekanec seems to compare well to Datsyuk on the penalty kill: the Hab was on ice for only 9 goals against shorthanded last season while getting a comparable amount of icetime to Datsyuk. This season, however, his minutes have more than doubled and he's on pace for 18 goals against.

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Marleau tends to be rather consistent, year over year his penalty killing numbers are looking to be more or less on pace, although he has logged more time on the PK this season (due to the Sharks taking more trips to the sin bin.)

Richards and Zajac are two interesting players to compare, as Richards was a Selke nominee last year while Zajac is getting some praise this season. However, Zajac doesn't seem to be an effective penalty killer: despite seeing the 4th least amount of playing time last season and the 5th least of PK time this season, he was 2nd overall in shorthanded goals against in 08/09 and tied for third this season.

For Kesler, we see that he's a horse on the penalty kill and that his short handed goals against have been improving, as he was on the ice for 32 GA in 07/08, 28 last season and on pace for 20 this season (which would put him one better than his short handed GA in 06/07 of 21. Remember, Kesler was serving primarily in a shutdown role that season and was on our third line.) Marleau is arguably his biggest competitor here as he's been seeing more icetime without a noticeable increase in goals against.

Richards, who was 2nd in icetime last season, has seen a greatly reduced profile on the PK but is having a terrible season as a penalty killer. Plekanec and Zajac don't look that great when compared to Kesler, while Datsyuk remains quietly efficient.

Selke Nominees based on penalty kill: Datsyuk, Kesler and Marleau

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5 on 5 Play

Note: Keep in mind that I'm referring to 5 on 5 play here, not +/-. Plus/Minus considers short handed goals scored, which is what I'm not really looking at here. So if you see discrepancies when I'm talking about players being plus or minus, that's why.

Kesler struggles a bit here, based on Goals For and Against. His differential is the smallest out of all the players being compared here as last season his differential was +6. It's better than Plekanec's -7. But when compared to everyone else, it gets pretty ugly. Richards and Marleau were both +13, Zajac was +24 and Datsyuk +36.

Things are a little better this season, as Richards and Datsyuk have both struggled and are both a +4. Zajac leads the way, as he's +17 5 on 5. Marleau is also looking good as he's a +15 this season. However, Kesler is a -1 5 on 5 and Plekanec is a +2. Not good company to be keeping.

A possible explanation for this would be that Kesler typically draws up against opposing team's top lines, while guys like Marleau, Datsyuk and Zajac are on teams that are stacked up front and are playing against lesser lines…but I'm not familiar with how players on these other teams are utilized by their coaches and in some instances there have been situations where the coaching staff has changed (notably with Jersey and Montreal, who both switched to more defensive minded coaches this season.) That said, Kesler isn't that great 5 on 5, while other players are, whatever the reason may be.

Icetime doesn't really explain it, either, as Kesler averages the least amount of even strength time per game and is middle of the pack for total icetime. Zajac and Marleau are the clear winners here, as they have a great 5 on 5 differential and they eat up a lot of even strength minutes. Richards as well, especially when you factor in how horrible Philly has been all season.

Five on five play is certainly Kesler's weakest area when thinking about Selke aspirations although he is no slouch.

Selke Nominees based on 5 on 5 play: Marleau, Richards, Zajac

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Overall 'Defensive' Statistics

This is where things get interesting. Looking at some other stats, like blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways and faceoff percentage, we begin to see some players really start to assert themselves, both for bad and for worse.

Plekanec would be the worst of the lot. Looking at him year over year, an increased role seems to have hurt him, as he's coughing up the puck with more regularity and his faceoff stats have dropped below 50%, the only player in this group that has done so for this season. He has become far more adept at blocking shots, though, but when you factor in his PK and 5 on 5 performance, an increase in blocked shots is hardly cause for celebration, as he's regressed more overall, which has to hurt his chances.

Richards isn't the greatest faceoff guy (49% last season, 51.6% this season) and he is a turnover machine, but he is a great shot blocker, having led all forwards (alongside Chris Drury) in blocked shots last season. Richards is like Plekanec in that he is okay in some areas but excels in others (and is also vastly more talented than him!)

Marleau, on the other hand, has actually gotten better at hanging onto the puck, as he has slightly more takeaways than giveaways at the midway mark, a vast improvement compared to last season where he has 46 takeaways and 61 giveaways. He's also managed to slightly improve his shot block and faceoff percentage. If he can keep it up, having a demonstratable area of improvement will help.

Datsyuk is the model of consistency with these stats, as he continues to be very talented at stealing the puck, is on pace for the same amount of shots blocked (although he isn't a great shot blocker) and he remains at the head of the pack with a solid faceoff percentage (56% last season vs. 56.9% this season.) Zajac as well, although his faceoff percentage has slipped by about 3% this season (53.1% to 50.9%)

Kesler has been a beast in ALL of these categories. He had the third most takeaways last season (behind Richards and Datsyuk) and the second best ratio behind only Datsyuk this season. He's also a shot blocking fiend (2nd last year and leading the way this season) and is second best at faceoffs with 54% effectiveness last season and 55.4% this season (again, behind only Datsyuk.) No other player is as good as Kesler in all categories and this is why he is such a great two way player.

Selke nominations based on 'Overall Defensive Stats': Datsyuk, Marleau, Kesler

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Offensive Performance

Like or not, offense is a factor when it comes to deciding who wins the Selke. The award is for the best 2 way forward, and the other end of the ice is where goals are scored, so, yeah.

Unlike last year, where Richards and Datsyuk were offensive juggernauts (80 and 97 points respectively), both players have cooled down significantly when it comes to offensive production. This is no doubt because of the Flyers struggling this season and the glut of injuries the Red Wings have suffered. While unfortunate, having them fall off the map does open things up for other players, as the offense is, more or less, on a far more even playing field.

Plekanec leads the way offensively, with 46 points. If there's one category that Plekanec has on lockdown it would be offense. That said, there are glaring problems in other areas, as discussed earlier, which really take the shine off of him being a great 2 way player and one worthy of Selke consideration. What is noteworthy here, though, is that Plekanec has had significantly less powerplay icetime than the rest of the players I'm looking at: most players are around the 125-130 mark for PP time, while Plekanec has only had 104. All but one of his points has come from 5 on 5 play.

Marleau is on pace to slightly improve his numbers from last year, but looks to be doing it primarily through scoring goals, as he's on track for 50. His offensive stats, when combined with his performance in other areas and being more or less consistent year over year makes him very attractive for potential Selke voters.

Zajac has also rbeen reliable with his offensive production, as he's on pace for more or less the same offensive totals as last season. Kesler is as well, but he has the added bonus of doing it essentially 'on his own', critics of Kesler would say that his going on a tear coincided with the arrival of Mats Sundin and that he rode both Sundin's and Demitra's coattails last season to career highs. Well, Sundin is retired and Demitra hasn't played all season, which means Kesler has been generating his offense with a combination of Mason Raymond, Mikael Samuelsson and Michael Grabner. Grabner is a rookie and Kesler can't be 'leeching' off of him. Raymond's been the only one to have shown any consistency through the course of the season, as Samuelsson has been streaky. It's an important distinction that has to be considered when looking at Kesler's numbers.

Selke nominees based on offense: Kesler, Marleau, Plekanec

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Conclusion

I think that Kesler stands a very good chance of earning another Selke nomination if things continue along the pace that they're at for all players involved. He's great on the penalty kill, does all the 'little things' that defensive players do and is being consistent with his offense. The other two players I see making some Selke noise are Patrick Marleau and Travis Zajac, who garnered a number of votes last season.

Plekanec I can't see getting too many (outside of the Quebec based writers), as he seems to be struggling defensively with an increased role. This becomes especially true if his team doesn't manage to make the playoffs.

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While things may be different if the Red Wings weren't the walking wounded or if Philly was playing better overall, Kesler is the only nominee from last year who is still looking dangerous. If he has a strong Olympics and is able to turn some heads and get his name out there by having a great tournament, he has an excellent chance at winning the Selke. Especially since it's entirely possible that Patrick Marleau may get lost in the shuffle amidst all the other great Team Canada players.

He's got the resume, he just needs to be able to win the 'interview', so to speak.

Trevor Presiloski is a Westerner stuck out East in Toronto. You can check out his website, which features more coverage on the Canucks, at http://www.trevorpresiloski.com. He can also be found over on Twitter at twitter.com/nettrashcan. He is also a fan of chinchillas and regularly partakes in Chinchilli Day.

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Awesome job. That was very well written.

Kesler is on the verge of reaching his full potential and we're just catching the first glimpses of it.

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Awesome job. That was very well written.

Kesler is on the verge of reaching his full potential and we're just catching the first glimpses of it.

Thanks much!

I'm really excited about Kesler's chances and I hope that he has a big Olympics, medalling in Silver, of course ;)

America is really going to live and die by the strength of their goaltending and defensive game. Kesler could be a huge key component with that, alongside Chris Drury (who I think leads the NHL in blocked shots right now.)

So many sub-plots and ways to get into the Olympics this year. Is it February yet?

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If one were a casual Canuck game viewer...that person would never ever guess that he is a minus player (not that im trying to use that as per the article as a barometer).

He really does the little things exceedingly well......but i am actually shocked that he doesnt produce more goals 5 on 5.

He is certainly a huge part of why that second line produces, for sure.....i think some of what Sundin did has rubbed off on him, much to Kesler's assesment that he wants to score more goals.

While he is an excellent 2-way player...i would even say he is a hybrid player.

He actually is a more-than-decent playmaker.

I remember waxing about Kes' potential w. you on that radio show.....at that time his hands were not very soft.

But he worked on his shot over the last few seasons...and its paid off.

And for sure....Kesler will be a big reason why the Yanks will be a team to contend with.

BTW....anyone see J.R.'s crtique on Drury being added to the Olympic team?

Funny read: http://www.ctvolympics.ca/hockey/news/newsid=24743.html#roenick+baffled+that+drury+named+team+usa

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