As a youngster learning the game in suburban Detroit, there was one word that was a more important part of Ryan Kesler's hockey vocabulary than any other.

It wasn't shooting and it certainly wasn't scoring. It was back-checking, a word Kesler's dad, Mike, ingrained into his young son's hockey soul.

It has served him well. For the third straight year, Kesler finds himself one of three finalists for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, handed out to the NHL's top defensive forward.

Kesler was a distant third to Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk two years ago, a close second to Datsyuk last year and this year just may win it all. Datsyuk, who has won the award the last three years, and Chicago Blackhawks centre Jonathan Toews are the other Selke finalists.

If he does happen to win when the awards are handed out at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas late Wednesday afternoon, Kesler knows exactly who to thank first.

"He gets mentioned in the speech, I think," a smiling Kesler said Tuesday of his dad, who convinced him at a very young age that if he played well defensively, the rest of his game would blossom.

"Getting yelled at from the stands to backcheck, that's my first memory," Kesler said with a laugh Tuesday, when he and the other NHL Award nominees met with the media.

"He was a guy who always stressed defence first and to be nominated for a third time, it speaks highly of the way he taught me how to play the game."

Mike Kesler insists he really didn't have to harp on his son to play good defence. It almost seemed to come naturally, thanks in no small part to Ryan's skating ability.

"When he first started skating he was in mini-mites and we always talked about how he was a good enough skater to catch people from behind," Mike Kesler said earlier this week. "He always enjoyed that.