NHL’s Top 5 Defensive Forwards of the Decade

With what was an eventful decade coming to a close in the NHL, it is time to look back and reflect on the best of the best. While offense dominated the headlines these past ten years it is important to note the incredible play on the other side of the ice.

Defensive forwards are some of the most underrated commodities on any hockey team. Often, incredible leaders, they play stellar hockey anywhere on the ice and can often fix holes created by purely offensive players.

The last decade produced some of the best two-way forwards in NHL history. Here is a list of the five best from the previous decade.

5. Pavel Datsyuk

While Pavel Datsyuk left the NHL following the 2015-16 season, it would be wrong to not recognize him on this list. He has just a 10.5 defensive points share since the 2010-11 season but this is mainly due to his absence in the latter portion of the decade. His dazzling dekes and incredible hands offensively are what people talk about most but he was an incredible defensive player as well.

Pavel Datsyuk, KHL, Detroit Red Wings, SKA St. Petersburg
Pavel Datsyuk (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He was nominated for the Selke Trophy in both 2011 and 2012 after winning it following the 2009-10 season. His incredible hands helped him steal pucks with ease and his skating ability made exiting the puck out of his own zone look easy.

Related: Looking Back at Some of Pavel Datsyuk’s Best Moments

Datsyuk also was key in the faceoff dot for the Detroit Red Wings, often holding a high faceoff percentage in his time with the team. His lowest faceoff percentage last decade came during the 2013-14 season when it was 53.4%, still a very good number. These attributes among others make his shortened decade worthy of a spot on this list.

4. Ryan Kesler

Ryan Kesler, who won the Selke in 2011 as a member of the Vancouver Canucks, is one of the more underrated two-way players last decade. He helped the Canucks to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins and made multiple other postseason runs with the Anaheim Ducks as a key defensive player.

Ryan Kesler, NHL, Anaheim Ducks
Ryan Kesler (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Kesler was nominated for the Selke several other times and was clearly one of the better defensive forwards in hockey for a significant period last decade. He has just a 13.8 defensive points share since the 2010-11 season, but this is still a solid number and can be attributed mainly to his inferior second half of the decade. While his play dropped off somewhat in the latter portion of the decade, Kesler was so dominant in his best years he earns the fourth spot on this list.

3. Anze Kopitar

A key piece to Stanley Cup-winning teams, Anze Kopitar has proven his ability to play both sides of the ice throughout the past decade. During two Stanley Cup runs with the Los Angeles Kings, Kopitar played key minutes as their top center.

Vegas Golden Knights' Ryan Reaves Los Angeles Kings Anze Kopitar
Vegas Golden Knights’ Ryan Reaves faces off against Los Angeles Kings’ Anze Kopitar (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Like Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron, Kopitar is great in the faceoff dot, as evidenced by the fact he is currently ranked 12th with a 56.6 faceoff percentage. He is able to win key draws in the defensive zone, an advantage to any team. He is constantly visible making plays in his own end in order to create more opportunities up ice, and among all qualified skaters ranks first in defensive point shares at 24.6. He won two Selke Trophies during the decade, in 2016 and 2018, and was nominated for others as well.

2. Jonathan Toews

Jonathan Toews takes the number two spot for defensive forwards from the last decade. He won the Selke Trophy only once but was nominated multiple other times. He played incredible defensive hockey while also lighting up the scoresheet with the Chicago Blackhawks. He is also fantastic in the faceoff dot with a 56.3 faceoff percentage in 2019-20, ranking 13th, one spot behind Kopitar.

Chicago Blackhawks Jonathan Toews
Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)

Toews also played in incredibly meaningful games, winning three Stanley Cups last decade and making history in doing so. The Blackhawks dynasty does not happen without drafting Toews. He is ranked fifth among qualified forwards in defensive point shares with a 19.7 since the 2010-11 season.

A sure-fire Hall of Famer, his leadership and uncanny ability to change games while on the ice earned him the number two spot on the decade’s list of defensive forwards.

1. Patrice Bergeron

There is no debate over the best defensive forward of the past decade. Patrice Bergeron won four Selke Trophies over the past 10 years, tying the record for the most all-time. Those came in 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2017 after stellar seasons leading his team on the ice both offensively and defensively.

Boston Bruins Patrice Bergeron Chicago Blackhawks Adam Boqvist
Boston Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron tries to hold off Chicago Blackhawks’ Adam Boqvist (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

In the years he did not win the Selke, Bergeron has finished no worse than third in voting since 2012. He was also nominated for the Frank J. Selke Trophy every season of the past decade.

He ranks third in defensive point shares since the 2010-11 season behind only Brad Marchand and Kopitar with 21.6. He currently ranks eighth in the league in 2019-20 with a 57.1 faceoff percentage and has always been known as one of the most reliable centers at the faceoff dot.

Bergeron has been lauded by coaches and teammates alike due to what he brings to a team in terms of leadership and can be seen affecting almost every game he plays both on the stat sheet and in the defensive zone making plays to prevent goals. The future Hall of Famer is no doubt the best defensive forward for the decade spanning from 2010 to 2019 and is arguably the best to ever play the game.

Importance of the Defensive Forward

While forwards don’t normally make headlines for their defensive play, it is a valuable asset to have on deep rosters. This is evident by the multiple Stanley Cup championships won by the members of this list.

Players like Toews, Bergeron, and Kopitar continue to play at a high level while others have made a name for themselves as solid defensive forwards. Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers and Mark Stone of the Vegas Golden Knights both could have easily been on this list. The next decade looks to be just as promising as the past one in terms of solid defensive hockey from forwards.