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February 2, 2017 | 2:40pm ET
Kesler becoming front runner for Selke
By Hannah Spraker

ANAHEIM, CA -- Okay, before you guys come at me with pitchforks, hear me out...

All-Star Weekend just wrapped up and now everyone is making their best bets for the post-season -- including individual awards.

We heard a lot of talk of this last weekend in L.A.; who will win the Norris, Calder, Selke, etc. While some are obvious -- I mean, we might as well hand deliver the Norris to Brent Burns -- others are a little bit more up for debate.

When it comes to the Selke trophy, there are typically some standard names thrown out each year: Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews. Picking one of those names more than likely will put you in good odds if you're putting money on it.

One name that not many were convinced with coming into this season at age 32 was Anaheim's Ryan Kesler.

Let's call a spade a spade, Kesler is a polarizing player. Maybe he's taking over Corey Perry's role, or maybe he's just gained some league-wide brownie points last weekend when his son, Ryker, took his shootout shot in the NHL All-Star Skills Competition and went five-hole on the infamous Carey Price. His son received nothing but applause as Ryan was welcomed with a unanimous "boo."

Love him or hate him, there is no doubt this guy is a phenomenal hockey player. Now, if the Selke were simply the award for the best forward, there are about a dozen guys who would take the trophy before Kesler. This is where many biases come from. Keep in mind this trophy goes to the best two-way forward; to this, "Kesboss" is your guy.

He is no stranger to the Selke, winning the award in 2011 with the Vancouver Canucks after 73-point season -- 41G, 32A, +24, 260 shots and 57.42% in the dot.

Last year, the trophy was in an arms-reach as he was nominated along with Kopitar and Patrice, with Kopitar ultimately named the recipient.

So why Ryan Kesler over the bigger names like Kopitar and Bergeron?

Well, a few things:

• Facts are facts; Kopitar has had a... well... disappointing season, but look at the situation in L.A. You can't really blame the guy with the line combinations going over there. Even if the Kings makes some moves at the trade deadline and Kopitar picks up the pace with scoring, I still would not put him as a front runner for the Selke.

Just look at Connor McDavid last year. Indisputably the best rookie, and while he was nominated, the Calder did not go to "McJesus." Missing a few months for injury is what killed his chances there. Had he played a full season, he more than likely would have won. That is why these awards are not a month-by-month discussion -- these awards go to the all-around best in their category, and for players like Kopitar, Toews and Bergeron, this has not been a well rounded season for any of them. Bergeron and Toews have yet to hit the 30-point mark.

• So who is in the running for the Selke? My finalists: Kesler, Mikko Koivu and John Tavares. Koivu has had a phenomenal season along with the Minnesota Wild. Tavares is having a great run whilst carrying the Isles on his back. The usual suspects are tapering off one by one, but when you break down Kesler's game-the lead he has becomes more apparent.

• Kesler is hands down the No.1 shutdown-guy on the Ducks, and one of the very best in the NHL. He is going up against the top lines of opposing teams every night, shutting down elite guys like McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, etc. As an opposing player, this guy is your worst nightmare. He is the guy who you try to shake, but every move you make, he is one step ahead of you. He knows how to get in your face and he is more than comfortable staying there. Kesler is a guy who takes tremendous pride in pissing players off.

"Yeah, you know I think, especially this year they kind of put me in that two way role where I was going against the other team's top line every night. It's a lot of minutes and a lot of hard work and I love being in that role." -- Kesler, NHL Awards 2016

• Hockey IQ. This is something we hear more and more these days with the way the game is trending. We just saw the NHL 100 in L.A. this past weekend and Hockey IQ is a common factor is past and present All-Stars. He knows how to read the situation and adjust appropriately on a dime. No doubt the game is faster; it is more about skill and finesse than grit and physicality. Fortunately for him, Kesler is a hybrid, displaying all of those components at the appropriate times. He knows how and when to adjust his game, which is why he is such a dangerous force on the ice.

• This season has been the big middle finger to all those says he is declining at 32. He is projected to have his best season since winning the Selke in 2011. On pace for over 60 points, he is just four goals away from surpassing his previous season. He turns 33 this August and is not showing signs of slowing down -- if anything, he seems more hungry for post-season success.

• Let's look at the All-Star game for a second. While we all know that the game counts for nothing and players don't really take it all that seriously, look at where he was placed. Kesler was chosen to play alongside McDavid. That is not only a testament to his 200-foot game but his offensive prowess.

• I mean, just look at his wingers. You could not ask for a more dangerous combination. Andrew Cogliano is incredibly fast and hard to knock off the puck, and Jakob Silfverberg has the most wicked release and insane accuracy -- the reason he is so great in the shootout. The Ducks have been a one line team for the most part and then add in Rickard Rakell and there’s your scoring. The second line of Cogs-Kes-Silfvy is one the best two-way lines in the league.

• Dominance in the dot is another staple of his game. He is seeing the second most faceoffs in the league behind Bergeron and winning over 57% of them. Nuff said.

• 20+ minutes per night Kesler is far better than 18 minutes per night Kesler. We hear this talked about all the time around the league. Players perform at different rates dependent on ice time. Some guys thrive on more minutes, others are comfortable in a certain range and can control their game much better in that zone. His career average is 18:59, this season his average is up nearly two minutes at 21:45.

• This guy is seeing big minutes on the Ducks' penalty kill, which currently sits at 83.8%. While their PK is not the shining No.1 spot it was last season, Kesler is a big reason for its success. When those elite guys are flying through the neutral zone, and your team is a man short, he is the guy you want on the ice. He sticks on these players like a Stage 5 clinger who just won't give it up. Limiting opportunities for elite players like McDavid and Crosby is a big part of his game. Those guys will get opportunities, they’re the best, but it takes the best to shutdown the best and Kesler has displayed nothing less this season.

• Maturity is a word that comes up a lot when it comes to talking to Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle. He talks about many of his players as maturing, such as John Gibson and Cam Fowler. Kesler is no exception. While he is amongst the older players on the roster, we all know that Kes has been a hot head for the majority of his career. While that is still true, he has toned it down significantly, keeping a more level head and choosing when to get fired up and when to tone it down. His teammates have attested to this. He is a great guy to have in the locker room and he leads by example. In the past two years, the Ducks post season performances have fallen short. Why? Because no one but Kesler and Fredrik Andersen showed up to play all 60 minutes of hockey in every single game. Kesler is the kind of player you watch and you just know he wants to win the Cup more than anything.

One could argue that his leadership and determination not only puts him in the discussion for the Selke, but perhaps for the captaincy as well. Hmm...

Hannah Spraker is the Anaheim Correspondent and a Columnist for The Fourth Period. Be sure to follow her on Twitter.

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