Getty Images(Ed. Note: Welcome to the Puck Daddy 2013 summer project, the National Hockey League of Nations. We’ve recruited 30 writers/blogs to identify the best player in their favorite team’s history for each major nationality that creates the fabric of our beloved NHL: Canada, USA, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, Finland and The Rest of The World. It’s their criteria, as long as they can justify it. Read, debate and enjoy! If you want to do so on Twitter, it's #NHLoN.)
By Maple Leafs Hot Stove
Canada: Dave Keon
Dave Keon was a wonderful Maple Leaf for 15 seasons but may have been, if not the “best”, certainly the most complete all-around player in the NHL for a five-year period in the 1960s.
I would argue that between 1962 and 1967, no other player did more things well than the diminutive Leaf center. He was arguably the fastest skater in the league, and a peerless penalty-killer. Remarkably, he virtually never took a penalty himself, averaging maybe two minors a season throughout most of his career. He was strong on face-offs, but perhaps most importantly was often tasked with shutting down the best center on the opposing teams, a job he handled splendidly.
While not primarily a goal-scorer, his trademark was nonetheless scoring huge goals, including at playoff time. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy in the spring of ’67 when the underdog Leafs last won a Cup, but it’s difficult to imagine he would not have won it more often had that trophy been in existence when the Leafs ruled the NHL between 1962 and 1964. He was a relentless forechecker and while not known as a physical player in the conventional sense, he used angles so expertly that he led his team in ‘take-outs’ — whereby he eliminated the man who just had the puck from the play entirely — every season.
While I have many vivid memories of individual plays and moments involving Keon (his ‘hat trick’ in Game 7 of the 1964 semi-finals in Montreal, when the Leafs won 3-1 jumps to mind, along with his clinching markers in the last game of the ’63 and ’64 Cup finals against the Red Wings), what stands out most for me, even after all these years, was his consistency. Virtually every game was, for Keon, a carbon copy of the game that preceded it. He was that consistent in terms of quality, effort and determination. Having said that, I would still make the case that in big games and key moments, especially come playoff time, he somehow found an even higher gear.
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