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March 21, 2004 - Despite injury, Draper still viable candidate for defensive award
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Despite injury, Draper still viable candidate for defensive award

Sunday, March 21, 2004

By Ansar Khan


LOS ANGELES -- A torn rotator cuff will cost Detroit Red Wings center Kris Draper more than one-fifth of the season, but it won't necessarily damage his chances of being recognized as the NHL's top defensive forward.

By most accounts, Draper was the leading candidate to capture the Selke Trophy when he was injured on March 3. He had amassed career-high totals in goals (24) and points (40) in just 65 games and was having another strong season defensively. Even if he doesn't return until the playoffs, many believe he could still be the Selke favorite.

"I think he made such an impact at the time he went out that the voters will still recognize that," ESPN analyst Darren Pang said. "That and the fact that there hasn't been that many clear-cut favorites that have jumped out beyond him. I think he'll still get strong consideration for it."

A year ago, Wings general manager Ken Holland was sitting in the stands during a practice in Vancouver wondering what Draper had to do to get some long overdue recognition for the Selke. He got his answer this season: Score more goals.

That's the irony of this award. No matter how good a defensive forward you are, you're probably not going to win it without posting some decent offensive numbers.

"It's pretty overwhelming to be considered for something like that," Draper said. "With that trophy, they (reward) complete players. You look at guys like Mike Peca, John Madden, Jere Lehtinen. They still put up pretty good numbers and do the job in their end as well. I've been able to chip in a little offensively and my name's thrown around in that. It's quite an honor."

Lehtinen, Peca and Madden -- the last three Selke winners -- aren't having nearly as good a season as Draper, who was among the league leaders with a plus-22 rating when he got hurt. Before Saturday's games, Peca had 10 goals, 36 points and a plus-14 rating; Madden had 11 goals, 33 points and a plus-nine rating; and Lehtinen had 11 goals, 23 points and a minus-one rating.

Philadelphia's Keith Primeau and Colorado's Steve Konowalchuk are getting mentioned as candidates. Primeau, however, has terrible offensive numbers (six goals, 21 points, plus-11). Former Wing Sergei Fedorov, a two-time Selke winner, has picked up the pace offensively (27 goals, 59 points) with Anaheim but hasn't been impressive defensively.

Wings forward Kirk Maltby, who had 13 goals, 30 points and a plus-22 rating prior to Saturday's game in Los Angeles, would be receiving more recognition if he weren't overshadowed this season by Draper. Maltby said Selke voters put too much emphasis on offense.

"Just because you may not put up the numbers you shouldn't get overlooked if you go out and do the job defensively night in and night out," Maltby said. "Fortunately for (Draper) he was having that great year and not giving up anything defensively."

Awards finalists are announced during the second round of the playoffs. The winners are revealed at the NHL Awards Show in Toronto in mid-June.

Win or lose, Draper has had a most rewarding season, despite the injury. He's capitalized on more ice time and stepped up after the departures of free agents Fedorov and Igor Larionov. Despite the scoring outburst, Draper hasn't forgotten what has kept him in the league for a dozen years.

"I know what my role with this club is. It's something that the goals aren't going to change," Draper said. "At the end of the game you realize (coach Dave Lewis) is going to put us against the other team's top lines and it's up to us to go out and play hard. We take a lot of pride in playing against those kind of lines."