LOS ANGELES – Duncan Keith rubbed shoulders with some of the league's greatest on Friday night. He chatted with Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. He stood next to Mark Messier while looking at the picture of the former Edmonton/New York Rangers Stanley Cup champion. Bobby Orr, Nick Lidstrom, Ray Bourque, Scott Niedermayer, Paul Coffey, the defensemen who set the standards, Keith got to be around them all.
It was, as Keith said, "a pretty humbling and special privilege."
"I was watching those guys, studying them and just trying to skate and be like them on the ice," Keith recalled. "I grew up idolizing these guys that I got to meet [Friday night]. Those are guys that I think helped turn me into the player that I am today."
As awestruck as Keith was by those who came before him, the Blackhawks defenseman has started to garner that same reaction from many of his peers. It's for good reason: Keith claims three Stanley Cups, two Norris trophies, one Conn Smythe and now a spot on the NHL 100, a list featuring the 100 greatest players in league history, which was announced on Friday. For those who have watched what Keith's done during his career, he's earned it all.
"The first time I saw Duncan Keith, I coached against him in a Memorial Cup in junior hockey in Quebec City. At that time, no one knew he was going to be the Duncan Keith he's become but you could see it even then," San Jose coach Pete DeBoer said. "He controlled the tempo and the pace of the game. When you've got a guy like that, they're invaluable and he's obviously been a big part of their success."
To those who have faced Keith, it's not easy. Anyone who's watched the Blackhawks for any amount of time knows about Keith's endurance, especially during the postseason.
"He plays over 30 minutes a night and just gets better and better the more he plays. His stamina and consistency, offensively and defensively, makes the players around him better," said Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman. "Playing against him, to this day, you try to pick up things from guys you look up to. Obviously he's at the top of the list when you look at players and what they can bring to your game."
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Seth Jones, now with the Columbus Blue Jackets, faced Keith plenty when he was still with the Nashville Predators.
"Three Cups and quarterbacking the blue line of those teams: he's really the guy," Jones said. "He's probably one of their more emotional leaders. I wasn't in the room but on the ice he seemed like their engine back there. He was tough to handle when we were in the same division, seeing him five or six times a year."
Keith certainly has the respect from the hockey world. As far as attention on the Blackhawks, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who were also named to the NHL 100, usually get the lion's share of it. That's just fine with Keith.
"I don't have to talk to media as much," Keith said with a laugh. "I don't mind it. I think Kane and Toews deserve what they get. They are what they are and you know, I always thought forwards always get more of a limelight anyways. They're the ones who score goals, and that's the hardest thing to do is score goals. We've had a lot of players in Chicago who have played big roles in Chicago and in the success we've had and maybe not gotten the notoriety, even myself. I don't feel like I need more or [that] I'm not getting what Toews and Kane are getting as far as recognition."
Of the conversations Keith had with fellow NHL 100 honorees on Friday, Keith said one he had with Sakic and Forsberg stuck out the most. Keith said he saw the close bond the two former Colorado Avalanche forwards had, and it reminded him of the one he has with some of his fellow Blackhawks.
"They won Cups together, they've been through a lot. Seeing how they interacted with one another, it reminded me of how myself, [Brent Seabrook] and [Patrick] Sharp and Kane and Toews interact with one another. That bond we've had over the years, especially when you go through a long playoff grind and end up winning, it's that same kind of feeling. The conversations I had with Peter and Joe reminded me of that a lot."
Keith was humbled at joining the NHL 100. It was quite an honor, being named with some of the greats he idolized and tried to emulate. But Keith never spends too much time reveling in what he's accomplished. He's too busy trying to do more.
"I'm never satisfied in anything I've done because I don't want to ever feel like I'm resting on laurels. I'm always hungry to do more and that's what's part of makes me successful, what's made me successful in the past and to continue having success," Keith said. "I'm certainly proud of this but at the same time I'm not going to sit here and reflect too much. Because I know in the game on Tuesday in San Jose, they won't be letting me off easy because I'm in the top 100."