Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Former Blackhawks Captain Says Duncan Keith ‘Revolutionized’ NHL Defensemen


Keith was one of the first defensemen in the early 2000s to rely on speed and conditioning rather than size and strength.

As crazy as it may seem, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith turned 37 years old this past summer. The two-time Norris Trophy winner has now spent 15 full seasons in the NHL, all with the Hawks. Naturally, the rumblings of retirement tend to become realistic around that age.

But not with Keith. The Blackhawks second-round pick back in 2002 (!!) has not slowed down one bit on the back end in recent years. Last season, Keith averaged 24:23 of time on ice per game, which was his highest since 2016-17. Keith also ramped it up to another level in the postseason, where he was on the ice for 25:27 per game in nine contests.

For being 37 years old, Keith’s conditioning is eccentric. But that should not come as much of a surprise to those who have witnessed the three-time Stanley Cup champion go to work over the last decade and a half. Let’s not forget this is the same man who averaged 31:07 per game throughout the Blackhawks 2015 playoff run.

Keith Was Different From The Beginning

According to former Hawks defenseman Adrian Aucoin, who captained the team during the 2005-06 season, Keith’s conditioning level was conspicuous even as a rookie.

“I think the one summer Duncan came in and he didn’t even ride the bike one time. He jogged, as you know he’s very advanced with his workouts. He’s cutting edge, he likes to try new things. And I thought the kid was nuts, I really did,” Aucoin said on NBCSports’ Blackhawks Talk Podcast. “I’m like, ‘You come here, you haven’t biked all summer and you’re trying to make this team?’ I think the average biking time for that test would have been anywhere from like 12 to 15 minutes and I think he was mid-20s. And they just had to say, ‘Get off the bike.’ Here’s this little guy who, smaller guys … usually don’t go as long. And he blew everyone out of the water and that’s when I kind of looked at him like, ‘We’re not sure how good of a hockey player he is yet, but this guy’s in great shape.'”

It would not take long before the Blackhawks found out how good of a hockey player Keith was. Less than five years later, he played an enormous role in bringing the Stanley Cup back to Chicago for the first time since 1961. Keith also was awarded his first Norris Trophy for top defenseman in the NHL that same summer.

Aucoin also brought up a tremendous point that tends to get overlooked with Keith. Back in the early 2000s, the typical top-pairing defenseman did not look the way they do today. The NHL was seen as more of a hard-nosed game, which made it tougher for the smaller-framed defensemen. But Keith paved the way for the modern-day defenseman thanks to his tenacity, determination, and most of all, his WORK ETHIC.

“Duncs was just so dynamic. He is the prototypical new era defenseman, and he was ahead of his time,” Aucoin said. “I really think he’s one of the kids who helped mold the new style of defensemen going forward and I think he revolutionized the position a little bit. So credit to him, I know everybody knows there’s no one who works harder.”

Thanks to that hard work, Keith will likely anchor the Blackhawks’ blue line until someone tells him he can’t anymore. The 37-year-old is under contract with the Hawks for three more years with an AAV of $5.54 million and a full no-movement clause.

Jack Bushman
Born and raised in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Diehard Blackhawks and Cubs fan. Former high school baseball player. Studied Mass Media Communication and Psychology at the University of Missouri.

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