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Keith entering elite company with play

by Dan Rosen / Chicago Blackhawks
(Getty Images)

TAMPA -- Hall of Fame defenseman Brian Leetch keeps seeing the same thing when he watches Duncan Keith play for the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Playoffs: a future Hall of Fame defenseman.

"I don't know how it couldn't be looked at that way," Leetch told NHL.com. "From the eye test. From watching him on the ice. His age. And then you bring up the individual and team awards, I'm not sure how you'd be able to keep him out."

Keith, 31, is three wins away from winning the Stanley Cup for the third time. The Blackhawks lead the Tampa Bay Lightning 1-0 in the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Final with Game 2 on Saturday at Amalie Arena (7:15 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

Beyond the Stanley Cup rings, Keith also has two Olympic gold medals, won with Canada in 2010 and 2014, and has won the Norris Trophy twice (2010 and 2014). He's also having a postseason worthy of being a Conn Smythe Trophy favorite.

Keith has 19 points in 18 games this postseason, including an assist on Teuvo Teravainen's game-tying goal in Game 1, which extended his point streak to five games. Keith has 73 points in 111 career NHL playoff games and 415 points in 766 regular-season games, all with Chicago.

Retired defenseman Scott Niedermayer, now in the front office with the Anaheim Ducks, sees a defenseman that already knows about winning and will see even more.

"I would say winning will follow him more now because he's had success," Niedermayer said. "He has a good knowledge of what it takes to have success and how he can contribute to that. It makes him a pretty darn special player to have on your team."

Not surprisingly, Keith hasn't thought about his legacy. He's still building it.

"I'm in the moment and I'm trying to compete as hard as I can to help this team win," Keith said. "There will be lots of time after the season or when my career is over to look at those type of things. It's always been my goal to play my best and help this team win. That's what I'm trying to do now."

Arguably no defenseman in the NHL has helped his team win more than Keith has during the past six seasons. He does it with a varied collection of skills: hockey IQ, vision, shot, stick skills and defensive awareness. He is also an incomparable skater with quick strides, almost like he's hopping, according to Leetch.

"He doesn't look anything like players I've seen," Leetch said. "You can't box him in with a group of guys and say he skates similar to this guy or that guy."

Keith's explosiveness is what impresses potential future Hall of Fame defenseman Chris Pronger, who is the last defenseman to score more points than Keith in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Pronger, with the Edmonton Oilers, scored 21 points in 2006.

"If you watch his first three to four steps, fast, quick muscles, and then he's gone, at that top gear already," said Pronger, who works in the NHL's Department of Player Safety. "But he also doesn't skate around endlessly going 100 miles per hour. It's under control. There is a purpose for each movement with that quick-twitch closing speed. He's able to make a few quick strides and he's already on top of the opposition. And with his quick stick he's already taking it away, transitioning the other way, and gone."

Niedermayer sees some similarities to his game and that of Leetch when he looks at Keith. A lack of intimidating size (none are taller than 6-foot-1) and elite speed. But, he mentioned skating as being the factor that separates Keith from many other defenseman.

"He's very elusive," Niedermayer said. "Guys try to get him on the forecheck and he can change directions quickly. Offensively, he uses that to his advantage along the blue line with how quickly he can move laterally and get a shot on the net. Those are things that make him very good."

So does Keith's durability, Leetch said.

Keith is first in the NHL in playoff minutes at 566:19, which is almost 72 minutes more than his closest competitor, Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, who has played three more games. Keith is averaging 31:27 per game.

"I like the way he passes the puck, skates and sees the ice, but to be able to do all of that jumping out there every other shift, playing 26-32 minutes on a nightly basis, is not easy," Leetch said. "It's not like he's just breaking the puck out and joining the rush. He's got to battle in front. He has to get in the corner, get that puck out, support the play. It's a grind and it will wear on you if you're not in top shape. You also need some luck to not get hit the wrong way, but that Anaheim series, I saw him get hit real hard and he bounced right up and two or three strides he was right back in the play. I just shook my head."

Leetch routinely played more than 30 minutes per game during the New York Rangers' Stanley Cup run in 1994, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy. Pronger averaged 30:11 of ice time and Niedermayer 29:50 in the Anaheim Ducks' Cup run in 2007.

"As a defenseman you learn how to be effective and efficient," Niedermayer said. "There's going to be times when he's going to have to skate and use his feet and his conditioning to get an advantage, but there are other times when he can make a quick pass and get a short five to 10 second rest in a shift and be ready to go again."

Pronger said the fact Keith is a strong possession player helps. He has a 55.23 shot-attempts percentage (SAT) in the playoffs.

"If you're reading the play and you're able to transition fast you don't get as tired as you might if you're stuck in the end for 25 seconds," Pronger said. "You're not going to get real tired if you're not playing defense."

Keith has the summer to be tired. Three more wins and he'll be raising the Cup again. If he hasn't already cemented himself as a lock for the Hall of Fame, that will probably do it.

"I would agree," Niedermayer said.

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