TORONTO -- It was a long time coming.
Kris Draper has played in the shadow of a lot of great players since he joined Detroit in 1993. Often, he was somewhat of an afterthought when people talked about the Red Wings during their reign as one of the NHL's elite teams.
Names like Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan, Nik Lidstrom and Chris Chelios all came to mind before Draper's name would roll off the tongue.
But Draper finally found himself in the spotlight Thursday night when he won the Frank Selke Trophy as the NHL's best defensive forward, beating out New Jersey's John Madden and San Jose's Alyn McCauley.
Draper went from being appreciated in Detroit to getting League-wide recognition and Draper credits the role he played on Team Canada at the 2003 World Championships in Helsinki for giving him confidence to take his game to another level.
"Our line was used against every top line that the Europeans had and basically we were going out in all situations and as a player that is what you want and you enjoy those situations," said Draper. "I just kind of came into training camp with a lot of confidence and I think scoring early in the season helped me get on a role and Louie (i.e, Dave Lewis, the Red Wings head coach) let me go with it and it was a lot of fun."
It also helped that Fedorov signed as a free agent with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim last summer.
"When a player like him leaves, it opens up a lot of minutes and a lot of minutes in key situations, and that is exactly what I got," continued Draper. "It was nice to be able to go out there for key faceoffs and for five-on-three penalty kills and it did not matter what the situation was.
"I always felt that what I was doing in Detroit was always appreciated and that was good enough for me. You look at the nominees and the players who have won it in the past and they were very deserving. It is a nice feeling to get the recognition."
Draper had a career-high 24 goals and 40 points for the Red Wings this season. He tied for second in shorthanded goals (5) and he was ranked eighth in the NHL in faceoff winning percentage (56.9 percent).
Draper admitted to being nervous as he waited for the Selke winner to be announced.
"It was amazing how fast my heart was beating," he said. "It is a huge thrill. One of my biggest thrills is to know Steve Yzerman has his name on this trophy. This means a lot to be signaled out as a Selke Trophy winner. It is very special."
San Jose Coach Ron Wilson said Draper deserves the recognition now being afforded to him.
"He is deserving of all the accolades," said Wilson. "He is a good player and when you play with that kind of speed, he will be effective."
Draper's efforts as a premier defensive player and penalty-killer did not go unnoticed when Wayne Gretzky assembled Team Canada's roster for the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
Draper was vacationing in the Bahamas and was watching the Philadelphia-Tampa Bay playoff series when he saw that Gretzky had announced Team Canada's roster. He called his in-laws in Toronto and "that is how I found out."
He checked the messages on his home phone and there was a message from Gretzky.
"I still have it saved," said Draper. "I called my buddies and they've listened to it. I was always hopeful that something would happen but it is a big thrill."
Draper grew up worshipping Bryan Trottier of the New York Islanders, but conceded that Bob Gainey is the measuring stick when it comes to defensive forwards.
"When you think of the Selke Trophy, everybody always throws out Bob Gainey's name and he is the guy who as a defensive player and a two-way player you look to," he said.
But in the next breath, Draper said he was humbled to have his name placed alongside other Selke winners, such as Yzerman, Fedorov, Doug Gilmour, Guy Carbonneau and Bobby Clarke.
"Just to be associated with those players is a big thrill," he gushed.
Draper spends his summers in Toronto and he moved back to the city this week. One of the first things he had to do was rent a tuxedo for the awards. He doesn't own one and has never had to rent one.
"I got married in a suit," he said.
When Draper took his place with the other nominees at the glitzy NHL awards ceremony, it hit home that he could be an individual trophy winner for the first time in his career. He has his name on the Stanley Cup for the Wings' championship seasons in 1997, 1998 and 2002.
"Today the nerves hit pretty good, getting dressed and realizing I am coming to the biggest event that hockey holds," he said.
CONGRATS AGAIN DRAPER!!