Over the Olympic break, I’m doing a daily review of one or several Chicago Blackhawks players and giving out grades based on his or their performance during the 2013-14 season. Today, we examine Duncan Keith.
This season to date has been a triumphant return to genuine Norris contention for Keith. He is currently the favorite for the award, having racked up an absurd 45 assists on top of his typically elite defensive play.
Neither the assists nor the own-zone excellence are Keith’s best or most important trait, however. No, it is his virtually unmatched ability to drive puck possession that has set Keith apart this season. Specifically, he is unbelievable in transition and constantly converts opposing offensive rushes into offensive opportunities for his own team. Unsurprisingly, he is among the biggest puck thieves of all NHL defensemen, ranking near the top in takeaways.
Expanding further on the subject of possession, Keith is blessed with the best breakout pass (often called a “first pass”) of any player on the Blackhawks’ roster. This simultaneously facilitates Chicago’s offense while also making it incredibly difficult for opposing teams to retrieve the puck on dump-ins while he is on the ice.
The one knock on Keith this year is that he and his defensive partner Brent Seabrook haven’t been deployed against the best offensive players of the opposition; it has instead been Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya handling that role. Still, it is senseless to blame Keith for what amounts to a coaching decision. He has excelled in the shutdown role in the past, and there is every indication that he would today as well if given the opportunity.
Final Verdict: A-. Consistently questionable decisions on the power play and a woefully inaccurate shot hurt Keith’s case, but an otherwise brilliant season keeps him in range of an A.