The last time a winger won the Frank J. Selke Trophy — given to the best defensive forward in the NHL — “Finding Nemo” was still swimming in theaters.
Mark Stone is trying to change that.
The Golden Knights’ marquee trade acquisition is the rare right wing that can change games on both ends of the ice, which is why he’s the first non-center to be a finalist for the award since 2007.
It won’t be easy for him to win. His competition (St. Louis Blues center Ryan O’Reilly and Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron) is stiff and history isn’t on his side thanks to a Selke drought for wingers that began in 2004.
But the odds haven’t stopped Stone before.
“I think everybody kind of says centers have bigger impacts on the game but I think now it’s more of a five-man unit (on defense),” Stone said. “You have to be able to play both center and wing a little bit to have success.”
It wasn’t a given Stone would become a stalwart defensive player. He’s already overcome the odds as a former sixth-round pick who was doubted plenty because of concerns about his skating.
To make up for his awkward-looking stride he became an expert at the game’s details, like reading plays or creating deflections. Knights teammates Max Pacioretty and Brayden McNabb — and ex-Ottawa Senators teammate Mike Hoffman — have said he’s one of the league’s best players at using their stick.
That shows in the numbers as Stone had 122 takeaways this season — the fourth-most in NHL history. He also had the best scoring-chance percentage (56.08) and high danger scoring-chance percentage of his career (58.11) despite spending most of his season with the Senators, who finished with the league’s worst record.
“He’s always been, in my opinion, the smartest player on the ice,” his brother Michael Stone, a defenseman for the Calgary Flames, said. “He knows where to be, when to be there and gets there when he has to.”
Mark Stone’s heady play should give him a chance to break the Selke drought for wingers even though he doesn’t take faceoffs regularly like O’Reilly and Bergeron. And if he does, that’ll be a victory for his position.
“You look at the people who’ve won that award, they’re some of the best players in the league,” Stone said. “I don’t feel any pressure at all. I’m just here to have fun and whatever happens, happens.”
Get ready for laughs
Last year’s NHL Awards featured several emotional moments, as the victims of the Oct. 1 Route 91 Harvest festival shooting, the Parkland, Florida, school shooting and the Humboldt Broncos bus crash were honored.
NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer said this year’s show — which will be held in the 12,000-seat Mandalay Bay Events Center — will strike a different tone with host Kenan Thompson of “Saturday Night Live.”
“This year we’re going comedy,” Mayer said. “We think (Thompson) provides that sense of humor and also that passion that makes the show so much better. I think he’ll be memorable.”
The show will also feature a local touch as NASCAR driver Kurt Busch and Las Vegas-based sports bettor James Holzhauer — fresh off his record-setting run on “Jeopardy!” — are scheduled to be presenters.
“A lot of times you try to seize on pop culture and interest and who’s making news and he certainly was in the news every day,” Mayer said of Holzhauer’s inclusion. “It just fit perfectly.”
*When: 5 p.m. Wednesday
*Where: Mandalay Bay Events Center
*TV: NBC Sports Network
Selke Trophy finalists
*Mark Stone, RW, Golden Knights: 122 takeaways, 71 blocked shots
*Ryan O’Reilly, C, St. Louis Blues: 94 takeaways, 36 blocked shots, 56.9 faceoff winning percentage
*Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston Bruins: 42 takeaways, 60 blocked shots, 56.6 faceoff winning percentage