Patrice Bergeron has won the Selke Trophy six times in the past 11 years. The former Boston Bruins center racked up awards with his impressive play on both ends of the ice. Bergeron won the Selke last year but won’t win it this year – because he retired. That opens the door for another two-way center to finally put the league on notice and throw his name into the hat for a chance to take home the prestigious trophy.
No, not Freddy Gaudreau.
We’re talking about Joel Eriksson Ek.
Eriksson Ek had a breakout season offensively last year, especially as a goal-scorer. But he’s taken his game to another level this year. With a whopping 14 goals and 22 points, Eriksson Ek is on pace to smash his career-high in goals of 26 by tucking 37. The Swede is quietly tied for ninth in the NHL in goals while leading the team in the same category by three. Eriksson Ek is on pace for a 58-point season, three shy of the career high he set last year.
Bergeron won in 2021-22 and 2022-23 with 65 and 58 points, respectively. With 61 points last year, Eriksson Ek would not have outscored Bergeron in 2022-23. Ek’s point totals are certainly in the ballpark of Bergeron. The offensive side of the game is not holding Eriksson Ek back.
It’s not like Eriksson Ek hasn't been in the Selke conversation. In 2021-22, Eriksson Ek finished sixth, and he finished ninth in 2022-23. There are pundits around the NHL who see Eriksson Ek's impact on both ends of the ice. It just hasn’t been enough to launch him into the top five.
The Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) gives the award "to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game." So, while Ek’s offensive stats may be on par with Bergeron's, does Ek have enough on the defensive side to be a true contender for the award?
First, we must see what the other stats voters value. The PWHA wants players with strong defensive stats, but faceoffs are also a big part of the award. The award almost always goes to a center because of their heightened defensive responsibilities and knack for taking faceoffs.
Last season, Toronto Maple Leafs winger Mitch Marner finished third in Selke voting while leading the league in takeaways. Marner also put up 99 points in 80 games. That did not hurt his case, either. But Bergeron won the award. The Minnesota North Stars drafted the last winger who won the award. Jere Lehtinen took home the Selke in 2003.
Most players who received Selke votes last year ranked highly in xGF% (expected goals for %). Bergeron, Nico Hischier, Jordan Staal, and Mikael Backlund finished in the top 20 in xGF% and the top six in Selke voting.
Bergeron also excelled in GA/60. Bergeron had the second-lowest mark in the NHL last season with 1.24. None of his other challengers were even close. That’s a tougher stat to associate with individual players because of the impact forward lines can have. But Bergeron didn’t always play with the same trio and excelled even when he was not playing with Brad Marchand.
But players ultimately win the Selke in the faceoff circle.
Below is the list of most faceoff wins from 2022-23:
Then we have a list of the Selke Trophy voting:
Faceoff wins is the statistic that has the most direct correlation to Selke votes. Sidney Crosby and Bo Horvat are not known for their defensive games. But all the guys below them on that list are, and all of them received Selke votes.
Selke finalists need to:
Be in the top of the league in faceoff wins
Have good underlying defensive stats
And have a very good offensive season (50+ points)
Bergeron never was one of the league’s best offensive players. But he won more faceoffs than most other players and had elite defensive statistics. Anze Kopitar has won the award twice and still wins faceoffs. He has good underlying stats, produces offensively, and is in the annual Selke conversation.
Eriksson Ek was 19th in the NHL in faceoff wins in 2021-22, the same year he had a breakout season on the GREEF line and set career highs in goals and points. That put him in the mix for the Selke, and he ended up finishing sixth in voting. Last year, Eriksson Ek finished 21st in faceoff wins while separating from the GREEF line and setting a career-high in points again. Is Eriksson Ek on pace to steal the top spot this season now that Bergeron is gone?
If we follow Bergeron’s track record, Eriksson Ek is fine in the scoring department. Eriksson Ek’s underlying numbers are as strong as ever. He’s eighth in GA/60 with 1.68 and has been doing an elite job limiting shots. The 2015 first-rounder is 20th in the league in shots against per 60 minutes (SA/60). To cap it off, Eriksson Ek is 11th in the league in expected goals against per 60 minutes with 2.31.
But faceoffs are the final puzzle piece. The actual percentage of faceoffs a player wins doesn’t matter; it's just the amount. Eriksson Ek has never had a positive faceoff percentage, winning 47.1% of his faceoffs in his career.
Eriksson Ek is 12th in the NHL in faceoff wins. If we track the faceoff win percentage and forecast it through a full season, He should win about 825 faceoffs this year. Compare that to Elias Lindholm, the man who’s been in the voting before and is currently second in faceoff wins. Lindholm is on pace for 919 faceoff wins, meaning it’s unlikely Eriksson Ek will catch him.
But Eriksson Ek has room to improve his faceoff percentages to become a player like Lindholm, who wins about 55% of his faceoffs. Eriksson Ek would then be one pace to beat Lindholm by about 10 faceoff wins. The Wild are giving Eriksson Ek the opportunities; he needs to win more faceoffs.
Following Bergeron’s retirement, the Selke race is finally open, and Eriksson Ek has a chance to obtain some hardware. His offense is fine, and his defense is great. If Eriksson Ek can improve his faceoff win percentage to even 52 or 53 percent, he’ll be right in the thick of the Selke race at season’s end.
All stats and data via Evolving Hockey, Hockey DB, Hockey Reference, and MoneyPuck.com unless otherwise noted.
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