The Los Angeles Kings haven't gotten much in the way of good news lately, trailing 3-0 to the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but they did get good tidings on Thursday as it was announced that center Anze Kopitar had been named one of three nominees for the league's Frank Selke Award.
The award, given to the best defensive forward in the NHL, is a very prestigious one, with recent winners like Pavel Datsyuk and Jonathan Toews both being regarded as some of the best players in the game. In recent years, Kopitar has been forcing his way into that discussion more regularly, and with a season in which he scored 29 goals and added 41 assists, the center finally got his first nomination for the award for his play this season.
Despite his presence as one of the nominees however, Kopitar is still fighting an uphill battle among voters. The other two nominees for the award, Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins and Toews of the Blackhawks, have both won the award previously, and are both highly regarded defensive forwards with a lot of skill in that area. Despite the challenge though, Kopitar definitely stacks up well against both players in various analytical categories. Take this chart for instance:
— RM Cooper (@RFCapsMoustache) April 24, 2014
Kopitar is really close to Bergeron in terms of Quality of Competition (the y-axis on the graph), finishing just behind him in that category. He also finished with a tougher zone start ratio (the x-axis on the graph) than Toews did, and both of those numbers definitely put him in the thick of things for the award.
Also working in Kopitar's favor are a couple of other numbers. He had a higher PDO than either of the other two nominees (a measure of the amount of time a team possesses the puck while a player is on the ice), and he also played a higher percentage of his shifts at even strength than either Toews or Bergeron. He also played 33.3% of his shifts in short-handed situation, which is ahead of Toews but just behind Bergeron.
Add in the final ingredient of playing more time overall per game than Bergeron did this season, and it's clear that Kopitar is definitely a worthy nominee for the award. Unfortunately, if early returns are to be believed, then Bergeron will probably still walk out of Las Vegas with the trophy. There is a decent-sized contingent of media that believes that the Bruins forward was robbed last year of the award when Toews won it, and that narrative could play into it. Even without that in mind however, the numbers are still very similar between all three players, so it wouldn't be a shocking upset if anyone won.
Even if he doesn't come away with the trophy, Kopitar has still proven this season that he should be in the discussion as one of the best two-way forwards in the league. Plenty of people for plenty of years have said that he is an underrated player, and this nomination is a bit of validation for a guy who really should get more national attention than he already has.