You might not guess from looking at their record, or from their goals against, but believe it or not, the Nashville Predators have some forwards who have enough of an impact at both ends of the ice who deserve some votes for the Selke Trophy, given annually to the National Hockey League’s best defensive forward. In the coming years, don’t be surprised to see one or many of these players become finalists or even a winner of the award.
While the blue line has been a circus to watch at times in Nashville this season and the offence has been inconsistent at best, the play of some forwards in the defensive zone has caught my eye in a way that is worth celebrating. Amidst a season of perceived turmoil, a growing list of injuries to key players, and much anger from fans about the deployment of the players who are playing, causes for celebration have been hard to come by, so let’s bask in the defensive play of these three potential Selke Trophy dark-horses.
Much has been said about Calle Jarnkrok’s offensive success this season, including recently by my THW colleague, Alex MacLean. After going on a tear with six points in four games last week, Jarnkrok was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week, an honour which is definitely deserved considering his all-around play in all three zones.
Jarnkrok has made his living in the NHL as a solid two-way forward, scoring at least ten goals in each of the last five seasons prior to the 2020-21 campaign. Averaging over 15 minutes of time on ice per game in those five seasons as well, he has been playing a decent amount, especially considering at times under John Hynes he has found himself buried in the bottom-six.
A central figure in the penalty kill over the past few seasons, Jarnkrok is still a vital member of that unit in 2020-21. While as a team the Predators have struggled on the penalty kill, he has been a steady and consistent presence who has still managed to improve in that aspect over the course of the season. Now cemented on the second line, it puts him in a great spot for Selke voters to notice him, since offensive stats help despite it being a defensively-oriented award.
While Nashville’s goals against numbers were not great in the first half of the season, it may harm his chances at being in the middle of the conversation this year, as I alluded he might be in a preseason article. However, Jarnkrok should be putting himself on the radar to garner a couple of Selke votes from Central Division voters, and could find himself as a nominee in the near future.
Similar to Jarnkrok, Mikael Granlund is a player who has put the league on notice that he can play well at both ends of the ice. His minus-six rating doesn’t speak volumes, but remember that the Predators’ goaltenders have struggled throughout the first half of the season, and Granlund has been one of the smarter Predators in the defensive zone with or without the puck. He also leads the team’s forwards with 25 shot blocks at the time of writing.
Granlund became the go-to penalty killer earlier this season when both Jarnkrok and veteran penalty kill specialist Brad Richardson were out of the lineup due to injuries. When it comes to lineup regulars, only Colton Sissons averages more shorthanded time on ice among Nashville forwards. Not only has he played a key role on the penalty kill, but has also scored five power-play points, which speaks to his two-way ability.
Granlund is on a one-year contract and has been the centre of trade talks for several weeks, and appears destined to end up on another team’s roster in the not-too-distant future. I think his two-way abilities and solid play in the defensive zone specifically can allow for Granlund to earn some recognition as a defensive forward.
This one seems random on the surface, but believe me when I say I think there is some fire behind this smoke. Filip Forsberg leads the team in goals, assists and points, so there is no doubting his offensive prowess. But the Selke Trophy is primarily defensive, and Forsberg has shown that he can perform at a high level in his own end of the ice as well.
In many games this season, Forsberg has shown his speed not only with the puck but also, and perhaps just as importantly, in a back-checking role. He has been responsible for preventing or breaking up multiple odd-man rushes throughout the season, something other Predators forwards have not shown the desire to do. He has assumed the role of heart and soul leader over the course of the season, in large part to almost every other key player missing significant time due to injury, and that has certainly shown in his enthusiasm for performing in the defensive zone.
As I said in my tweet above from the March 18 game against Florida, Forsberg has really flown under the radar in terms of his defensive play. Not playing on the penalty kill and having a minus rating may hurt his cause as a Selke nominee this season, but if we look at the big picture, his offensive play has been a byproduct of some solid play in the defensive zone. Selke voters can sometimes fall in love with a guy who puts up big offensive numbers with some good defensive highlights, so Forsberg could sneak in a few votes when it is all said and done. Looking ahead to future seasons, who’s to say he couldn’t become a top candidate moving forward?
With trade rumours swirling around pretty much every name on the roster, I can’t help but wonder if these forwards will still be Predators by the time they receive some proper Selke recognition. Wherever they end up in the next couple of seasons, I will be watching intently to see if they get their due for their defensive play – as long as it continues to improve.