Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat might be a longshot to win the Selke Trophy at any point in his career for one reason only:
He's not a center.
The Selke Trophy has been awarded to a center for 10 consecutive seasons and 27 of the past 32 seasons because typically when you talk about forwards who play as many as 20 minutes per game, on the power play and on the penalty kill, and who are used in close situations (down a goal or up a goal) late in games, you're talking about centers.
Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar are the gold standard in the League today. Pavel Datsyuk won the Selke Trophy three consecutive seasons from 2007-09. Ryan Kesler, the Selke winner in 2010, still has a major impact all over the ice.
But Palat's impact all across the ice can't be denied either.
He leads the NHL in plus/minus (plus-54) since the start of last season. He has 30 points and a plus-22 rating this season after scoring 59 points and with a plus-32 as a rookie last season. He has a 57.7 Corsi-for percentage this season, according to War-on-ice.com; it was 50.9 last season.
Palat was the runner-up for the Calder Trophy last season, but Lightning coach Jon Cooper believes Palat should be in the pool of Selke candidates too. Palat's play this season has bolstered Cooper's opinion that if Palat was a center he'd be a perennial Selke Trophy finalist.
"I'm just trying to help the team, play good defensively, because that's my game," Palat said. "That's always been my game. I have always been a responsible player. I take care of our net first and then we get to go on offense. But when you're playing with linemates like [Nikita] Kucherov and [Tyler] Johnson, we are in the offensive zone a lot of time so it's easier to be a plus player."
Johnson and Kucherov entered the week tied for the League lead at plus-26. Johnson is tied for fourth in scoring with 43 points; Kucherov is tied with Lightning captain Steven Stamkos for 11th place on the scoring list with 39 points.
"I still believe Palat is the straw that stirs the drink on that line," Cooper said. "He's oozing with hockey sense and he's skilled. He is like Patrice Bergeron as a winger to me."
Cooper only could think of foot speed as a reason why Palat did not come up as a center. Cooper, who has coached Palat since the 2011-12 season, said Palat wasn't blessed with a great burst but makes up for it with his work ethic and high hockey IQ.
"When you're with him he's a quiet guy, he's unassuming," Cooper said. "But if you were to poll our team and ask for the role model for how to practice and play I would pretty much guarantee he would be the guy who would get all the votes. I can't speak for our team but I think so.
"He competes, he works, he produces and he doesn't say a word."
The only non-centers to win the Selke Trophy are Bob Gainey (four times, 1977-81), Craig Ramsay (1984-85), Dirk Graham (1990-91), and Jere Lehtinen (three times, 1997-99, 2002-03).