NHL.com's midseason edition of Trophy Trackers attempts to project winners of the major individual awards. Today we predict the winner of the Norris Trophy, an annual award given to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.
Duncan Keith won the Norris Trophy four years ago. His coach thinks he's playing better this season.
"I think he's defended better," Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I think his gap has been better. I think offensively, his play selection or his puck patience, he's added another level or element to it. I just think consistency is the best way to measure defensemen and that's what we're seeing."
Keith entered play Tuesday leading all defensemen with 39 assists and 42 points. He is on pace for 71 assists and 76 points, which would top his career-highs of 55 and 69 from the 2009-10 season, when he won the Norris Trophy.
His play has been steady across the board, but his production has been even better on the road. Keith has 24 points in 22 road games and 18 points in 23 home games.
But it's not just about his offensive production. Keith has been as effective against top competition in the defensive zone; it just goes unnoticed sometimes because the Blackhawks are rarely stuck in the defensive zone when he is on the ice.
Keith has helped Chicago become the NHL's highest-scoring team (3.62 goals-per game) and among the League's top possession teams. When he joins the attack, which is often, the Blackhawks are the most dangerous offensive team in the League.
The only knock on Keith is he's playing with another high-end defenseman in Brent Seabrook and the Blackhawks' defensive depth doesn't drop too far with a second pairing of Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya.
But the fact that people around the Blackhawks think Keith is playing even better than he did in 2009-10 speaks volumes about his candidacy for another Norris Trophy.
"He's one of those guys that just tries to find an edge any way he can," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. "Any way he can better his game, whether it's off the ice or on the ice, he's committed. I think he's one of those guys that even some of those days when he's not scoring points, when he's not on the board like he's been lately, he's still one of the best players in the League because of all the little things that he does. He's making things so much easier on our top guys up front, as well."
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
Doughty is having arguably his best season for the Kings because he's become an all-round defenseman. His production numbers are still good (23 points in 43 games entering Tuesday). He has been a plus player (plus-13). He is playing big minutes against the opposition's best players (25:38 per game). Doughty was also excellent during the long stretch from mid-November into early January when the Kings played without starting goalie Jonathan Quick. He helped ease the burden on Ben Scrivens and Martin Jones. In addition, Doughty is playing with another puck-moving blueliner in Jake Muzzin, so he's had to be more defensively responsible, which he has.
Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild
Suter has done just about everything for a team that struggles to score and is now battling injuries. He's the type of player that you have to watch to appreciate because his basic stats won't blow you away, even though Suter has picked it up dramatically of late with eight points in his past four games, including his first career hat trick last week. He entered play Tuesday with 29 points on five goals and 24 assists in 44 games. Suter, though, is steady in all areas of his game while playing nearly 30 minutes per game. He makes every little play to get the Wild out of their zone and is a big reason why Minnesota is a strong defensive team and among the top teams in shots against per game.