Mention Jay McClement's name to anyone in the know around the NHL, and you'll get the same response: he's one of the best defensive forwards in the game right now. In the 2009-2010 season, McClement logged over 300 minutes on the penalty kill, good for 4th most in the league and tops for all forwards. He led the league in shorthanded face-offs, both taken and won, and helped make the St. Louis Blues the best penalty-killing team in the NHL. That season, his team relied upon his defensive skills heavily as he took 58% of his face offs in the defensive zone. Even more impressive, in November 2010, McClement went 11-for-11 in face offs in a game against the Nashville Predators. Clearly, you need look no further than the 28-year-old center to see how a forward should play defense.
Jay McClement was born on March 2, 1983 in Kingston, Ontario. He was Brampton Battalion's first pick (2nd overall) in the 1999 OHL Priority Selection draft. He spent the next four years playing for the Battalion, already developing his reputation for hockey smarts and on-ice responsibility. In 2001, Bob Chery of Hockey's Future wrote, "If anyone were to write a textbook or make a video of how a young prospect should play the game of hockey, especially in this era of a defence-first NHL, they could do worse than use...Jay McClement as an example."During his time in Brampton, McClement showed that he was equally good setting up plays as finishing them. In 235 games, he scored 91 goals and had 91 assists for 182 points. He was also an important figure in the team's playoff runs as he notched 17 points in 26 games over the three years. Mid-way through his tenure in the OHL, the St. Louis Blues drafted him (2001, 2nd round, 57th overall), showing a confidence with him that would only grow in time. In December of this year, Blues' coach Davis Payne said, "(Jay's) had real good determination on the puck, and his defensive responsibility and intensity have even been elevated. He's been demanding the puck, demanding to make a play with it."
McClement played on Canada's 2002 and 2003 World Junior Championship teams, helping his country take home the silver each year. (He also played for Team Canada in their gold-winning bid at the 2007 World Championships.) At the tail end of the 2003 hockey season, he made his professional debut with the Worcester Ice Cats, playing in one play-off game with the club. However, the following season, he logged 69 games with the Cats, while recording 25 points (12g, 13a). He also played in 10 post-season games, getting 3 helpers in the process. In 2004-2005, he continued his solid play in Worcester with 51 points (17g, 34a).
The Blues decided they'd seen enough to know McClement was the real deal. During the 2005-2006 season, the forward saw 67 games in the NHL and, as a rookie third- and fourth-line role player, put up a surprising 27 points (6g, 21a). The next year, he improved upon those numbers for 36 points. He continued to be a solid and responsible player for the Blues, and so they re-signed him on May 26, 2009 to a 3-year, $4.35 million contract. "He was the lead guy on the penalty kill," said Blues president John Davidson. "He was the lead guy on matchups, regarding other teams' top lines."
The new contract didn't go to his head. Silent Jay - as Blues fans dubbed him - continued to put up similar numbers in 2009-2010. His reputation as a defensive forward had been solidified by this point. His teammate Barret Jackman said, "A lot of guys kind of play themselves out of the league because they think they deserve more. But Jay is very determined to prove that he's one of the best defensive forwards in the game. You could definitely make an argument that he's deserving of the Selke." Barret isn't the only one out there that thinks McClement is a Selke-caliber player. Alexander Monaghan of NHL Hot Stove listed him as the top penalty killing forward in the league this year. "McClement...is incredibly defensively aware and able to never get caught out of position."
In addition to McClement's strengths as a responsible player with great positioning, the guy is a work-horse, too. In the past five years, he has only missed two games with a current streak of 246 consecutive games played. And in all those seasons, he has maintained a steady combination of solid offense and stellar defense.
Jay McClement is the kind of player who will rarely make highlight reels but will be an essential cog in any team's quest for the Cup. As Monaghan so aptly put it, " As far as traditional checking line players go, McClement is as genuine as they get."