Since 1978, the NHL has annually awarded the Frank J. Selke Trophy "to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game." A number of great players, including Bob Gainey, Sergei Fedorov and Pavel Datsyuk, have won this award multiple times.
Several of today's best defensive forwards have also been honored with the Selke, with the most recent being Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov. Others include Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron and Vegas Golden Knights winger Mark Stone.
The top defensive forwards in today's NHL tend to be excellent two-way players, capable of shutting down their opponent's best scorers while also generating offense. They log big minutes at even strength and on the penalty kill, especially late in a game when their team is trying to protect a lead.
Here's our ranking of the eight best defensive forwards in the NHL. Selke nominations, time on ice per game, shot-attempt percentage and takeaways were among the items factored into this ranking. You can express your view on this topic in the comments section below.
8. Mitchell Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitchell Marner's impressive offensive numbers over his first five NHL seasons tend to draw the most attention. Over the past four seasons, the 24-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs winger finished first or second in team scoring each year. He's never had fewer than 61 points in any of those campaigns.
Marner's offense overshadows his improved defensive play over the past two seasons under Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe. During that period, he was second on the Leafs in takeaways with 117 and second among their forwards with 78 blocked shots. He also led their forwards by averaging 2:05 in short-handed ice time per game.
Marner's defensive game garnered praise from The Athletic's Scott Wheeler on March 2 and the Toronto Star's Mark Zwolinski on Apr. 29. He finished 10th in last season's Selke Trophy voting and could become a finalist one day if his defensive game continues to improve.
7. Phillip Danault, Los Angeles Kings
After five-and-a-half seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, Phillip Danault signed a six-year contract with the Los Angeles Kings in July. It was during his tenure with the Canadiens that the 28-year-old center established himself among the league's best defensive forwards. He regularly faced off against the opposition's top lines and played a key role in the Habs' surprising march to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.
Danault led all Canadiens forwards last season in average short-handed ice time (2:17) and faceoff win percentage (52.5). He was second among the Habs in puck possession with a shot-attempts percentage of 58.4 among teammates with at least 40 games played.
During his tenure in Montreal, Danault led their forwards in faceoff win percentage, (53.8), short-handed ice time per game (1:59) and total blocked shots with 226. He finished second with 190 total takeaways and shot-attempts percentage (56.5). He also put up respectable offensive stats, reaching 40-plus points three times.
6. Mark Stone, Vegas Golden Knights
Most of the top defensive players tend to be centers because of the big minutes their position demands. However, there are wingers capable of playing a strong defensive game. The most notable is Vegas Golden Knights right winger Mark Stone.
Since his full-time NHL debut with the Ottawa Senators in 2014-15, Stone is the undisputed master of the takeaway, totaling 639. He led the league last season in that category (58) for the fifth time in seven years. The 29-year-old winger also led all Golden Knights forwards with 19:04 of time on ice per game and finished third with 33 blocked shots.
Stone's aggressive forechecking and impressive ability to strip opponents of the puck made him a Selke Trophy finalist in four of the past five seasons. It would not be surprising to see him among the candidates for that honor in 2021-22.