As preparations for the World Cup of Hockey 2016 hit high gear leading up to the start of the tournament on Sept. 17 in Toronto, NHL.com looks at how the teams stand. Seven writers who will cover the two-week event at Air Canada Centre were asked to rank the teams from 1-8 in various categories. Today, we look at which team has the best defensive forward.
International hockey is usually defined by the offensive exploits of the game's best players sharing the same stage. But the tournaments often are won by the team that can best shut down the opponents' top player.
For that reason, having an elite defensive forward is key to team's success in a short tournament like the World Cup of Hockey 2016. The eight-team competition will be loaded with forwards who understand the importance of playing in their own end.
Yet, even with an all-star cast of such players, two stand out above the rest: Team Europe center Anze Kopitar, of the Los Angeles Kings, and Team Canada center Patrice Bergeron, of the Boston Bruins.
In a vote of seven NHL.com writers, Kopitar and Bergeron topped the field, each receiving 52 points. Kopitar gets the slight edge because he received four first-place votes, one more than Bergeron.
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For purposes of the vote, the best defensive forward from each team was identified, and he was the only one from that team eligible to be ranked first through eighth by each voter. The forwards were Kopitar, Bergeron, Pavel Datsyuk (Team Russia), Ryan Kesler (Team USA), Marcus Kruger (Team Sweden), Aleksander Barkov (Team Finland), Sean Couturier (Team North America) and Tomas Plekanec (Team Czech Republic).
Kopitar, who finished second in NHL.com's No. 1 center vote for this tournament, will be counted on to do a bit of everything for Team Europe, a first-time entry in the World Cup comprised of European players who are not from Russia, Sweden, Finland or the Czech Republic.
"The new Los Angeles Kings captain was recognized for his strong two-way play last season by being voted as the Selke Trophy winner as the NHL's top defensive forward for the first time in his career after being the runner-up the two previous season behind Bergeron," NHL.com staff writer Tom Gulitti said. "Team Europe will need Kopitar to do it all. He led all NHL forwards in total ice time last season (1,690:12), averaging 20:52 per game, is strong on faceoffs, winning 53.5 percent, and ranked third among forwards in shot-attempts differential."
Kopitar unseated Bergeron, who won the Selke the previous two seasons and three of the past four.
"Two men in this tournament have won the Selke Trophy three times: Bergeron and Datsyuk," NHL.com columnist Nick Cotsonika said. "Bergeron is the younger of the two at age 31. Still at the height of his powers, he's the one you want on the ice with a one-goal lead in the final minute of the final game of the final."
Cotsonika voted Datsyuk second on his ballot, putting Kopitar third. Datsyuk, who will play for SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League this season after an impressive career with the Detroit Red Wings, finished fourth in the vote, three points behind Kesler, who plays for the Anaheim Ducks.
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Bergeron, one of five forwards who has won the Selke Trophy at least three times since its inception in 1978, also was hampered slightly by the competition within his own team; Canada boasts several forwards who could have been in the mix for this conversation.
"Canada might even have the second-best defensive forward in the tournament as well in Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, but there is little debate on Bergeron's status as the top defensive forward in the world," said Arpon Basu, managing editor of LNH.com. "He's won the Selke Trophy three times in the past five years, finishing as runner-up to Kopitar last season and to Toews in 2013. Consistently one of the top faceoff men in the NHL, Bergeron is a difficult opponent in all three zones."
TEAM EUROPE (Anze Kopitar) - 52 points (4 first-place votes)
TEAM CANADA (Patrice Bergeron) - 52 points (3 first-place votes)
TEAM USA (Ryan Kesler) - 39 points
TEAM RUSSIA (Pavel Datsyuk) - 34 points
TEAM NORTH AMERICA (Sean Couturier) - 20 points
TEAM CZECH REPUBLIC (Tomas Plekanec) - 19 points
TEAM FINLAND (Aleksander Barkov) - 19 points
TEAM SWEDEN (Marcus Kruger) - 15 points