During the NHL offseason, there are numerous lists of top teams, players, and other hockey-related things made by reporters, writers, and fans. We didn’t want to miss the opportunity to hop on the bandwagon, so here is our edition of the top 20 NHL defensemen!
20. Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers
At only 22 years old, Aaron Ekblad will be a major force in the NHL for years to come. The former Calder Trophy winner is coming off a 2017-18 season which saw him set a career-high in goals with 16 and his 38 points ranked 31st among all defenders. Since coming into the league at the ripe age of 18, his size has made him a frightening match-up for any team, and his skills at both ends of the ice make him an elite D-man.
19. Tyson Barrie, Colorado Avalanche
Tyson Barrie is all about speed. He has the ability to jump into the offensive rush and get back to his own zone to shut things down if something goes wrong. The 27-year-old finished with a career-high 58 points – 11th among all defenders – in just under 22 minutes a game in 2017-18.
18. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
Not much separates Barrie and Letang skill-wise, but Letang has the Cups to edge past Barrie. At age 30, he’s not the superstar he once was but he is still a major producer on the Penguins and enjoyed a nice bounce-back 2018 season with 51 points in 25:01 ATOI after an injury-plagued 2016-17 season. However, should he continue to have injury issues, he may see himself off this list as soon as next season.
17. Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets
If it weren’t for his partner, Seth Jones, Zach Werenski would find himself much higher on this list. However, the split between the two in ice time steals some of the spotlight from the young defenseman. Werenski took the league by storm at the age of 19 with 47 points in his rookie season, two years ago. Last season, Werenski enjoyed another stellar season while playing top pairing minutes. With Jones as his partner, the two will be frustrating many teams for a long time.
16. Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators
Ellis is another strong skater who could find himself higher on this list if not held back by injury. Despite this, he still managed to put up impressive numbers on the deepest defensive team in the league. Surrounded with so much talent, it’s easy to overlook Ellis in favor of Roman Josi and P.K. Subban, but Ellis has continued to prove his name should be mentioned in the same breath as his talented teammates. The 27-year-old blueliner battled back from a knee surgery to tally 32 points in 41 games and a +26 rating and earned a lengthy eight-year, $50 million extension.
15. Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs
Rielly is one defenseman who doesn’t get enough love around the NHL. He is strong in all areas of the ice and really is the heart of Toronto’s defense. Despite being just 23 years old, the former fifth overall pick already has 388 games under his belt since breaking into the league in 2013. His offensive ability has always been easy to see – setting a career-high with 52 points last season; his defense, once a huge hole in his game, has started to fall into place since Mike Babcock became head coach. Now, on a team with arguably the best set of forwards in the game, it’s going to be fun to see what Rielly can do without as much pressure on him and the Leafs’ blueline to produce.
14. Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes
Hamilton is one of the most criminally underrated defensemen in the league. He is an absolute monster up front and, despite his massive 6’6″ frame, can skate with the best of them. Now with Carolina, Hamilton will have the chance to display his talents with a new club and build on a solid three-year stint with Calgary which saw him tally 137 points and lead the league in goals by a defenseman with 17 last season.
13. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues
Pietrangelo, the long-time anchor of the Blues’ defense, has done well to keep his team near the top of the league for a very long time. Pietrangelo possesses an absolutely lethal shot, as well, which doesn’t get much attention due to some of the more offensively talented back-enders in the league. Pietrangelo has consistently played over 25 minutes a game and succeeded in all areas of his game. With a career-best 52 points last year, the 28-year-old Blues captain continues to do it all.
12. Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers
Many have been excited to see Gostisbehere’s career develop. To those people, get ready. Gostisbehere is still young, and he is flourishing in a strong Philadelphia group full of promising defensemen. After a disappointing sophomore campaign, Gostisbehere rebounded in a big way with 52 points. While the 25-year-old is never going to be a lockdown defender and will always jump on the play if he sees an opportunity, his speed allows him to erase scoring chances and in today’s offensively-minded game, that’s just what you what in a defender.
11. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars
The 2017-18 season was John Klingberg’s coming-out party. Everyone in the league knew he was an above-average defenseman, but last season he showed us all just how good he can really be. The Gothenburg native finishing second in the league in points by a defenseman with 67 while leading his team in ice time, logging over 24 minutes a game.
10. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes
Ekman-Larsson has been a strong force in Arizona for a long time and has just started to receive the recognition he deserves. However, there are still a lot of people who don’t realize just how good he is in every aspect of the game – this should change as he continues to play marvelously all over the ice. In his eight-year career, the former first-round pick has been an anchor for a struggling Coyotes’ franchise as he led the team in ice time for the sixth straight season and continued to be one of the most offensively-gifted defenders in the game.
9. Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
Another young defenseman looking to take the league by storm, Jones isn’t going to be surprising anybody. He’s been a solid defender since his time in Nashville, but since being traded to Columbus, he’s become a force in the offensive zone as well – netting 16 goals and 57 points last season. At 6’4, he is a menace, very difficult for opposing teams to deal with, and is still getting better with each passing season.
8. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets
Playing against Dustin Byfuglien is every player’s worst nightmare – just ask the Nashville Predators. The former forward has been a consistent producer offensively averaging almost 50 points a season while being the Jets’ go-to defenseman as Byfuglien has led the team in ice time for the last three seasons. With the hands of a forward and the body of an NFL lineman, his abilities in both the offensive and defensive zones make him a truly unique talent.
7. John Carlson, Washington Capitals
Similarly to John Klingberg, John Carlson really took the league by storm this past season with 68 points – most among all defenseman. What sets him apart from the pack is that he is great in the offensive zone, while still being a wall in his own zone. Carlson will force a turnover in his defensive zone, skate the puck through the neutral zone, and either lay a tape-to-tape pass or just fire away. He is one of the best all-around defensemen in the game.
6. P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators
Subban just might be one of the best skating defensemen in the league. The three-time All-Star is a perfect example of what you want in a defenseman in today’s NHL: responsible in the defensive zone while quick enough to jump up on the rush and create offensively. Playing with arguably the deepest group of defenders in Nashville, Subban has continued to put up forward-like numbers and has been at the center of all Nashville’s success in his two years in the Music City. The 2013 Norris Trophy winner is absolutely electric and is one of the few players who can bring a crowd to their feet from the blue line.
5. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
Erik Karlsson is probably the best in the offensive zone of all players on this list. He isn’t the biggest, but he is very elusive and has a quick release when he does decide to shoot making him almost impossible to defend. Since coming back from a nasty Achilles injury, Karlsson has posted incredible numbers including a point-per-game 2015-16 season which is very rare from a defender in today’s NHL. While offense is his forte, the two-time Norris Trophy winner can get it done in his own end as well. He isn’t the biggest, but he is very elusive and has a quick release when he does decide to shoot.
4. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
Josi is the defenseman you can count on in any situation and is one of the main reasons Nashville has been so successful recently. The Nashville captain can shut down some of the best players in the league in his own zone, as well as make some of the league’s best blue-liners look like PeeWees in theirs. On a star-studded defense, Josi has established himself as the Predators’ go-to defender – leading the team in ice time for the last four seasons. Josi has also been a reliable point getter. You can expect about 15 goals and 35-40 assists from him and last season was no different as he potted 14 goals to go along with his 39 helpers.
3. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
Burns, a former forward, is as good as one would expect in the offensive zone. While his position may have changed, the 2017 Norris Trophy winner saw his offensive number go through the roof. Since becoming a defenseman in 2014, the 33-year-old has finished never finished with below 60 points including two seasons where he netted over 25 goals. Burns did see his goals fall from the 29 he scored two seasons ago to just 12 last season but made up for it with a career-high 55 assists. Pair his offensive abilities with his size and speed, and Burns becomes a player you need to game-plan for separately from the remainder of his team
2. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
Doughty, a two-time Stanley Cup Champion, has all the traits of a great defenseman and leader. He has always played on a pretty strong defensive group but has been far and away the best on his team. A regular Norris Trophy finalist, Doughty is not only the best two-way defender in his team but in the entire league. With a career-high 60 points last season, he only seems to be getting better as he enters his tenth season in the NHL. Pair the leadership with the skill set he possesses and Doughty can single-handedly change the outcome of any game.
1. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
Over the past few seasons, Hedman has really come into his own, specifically with his offensive ability. With a 6’6 frame, Hedman has always been big and strong in his own zone, but now he has learned to cause chaos in other teams’ defensive zones, just as much as he controls his own D-zone. This past season saw Hedman put together his best season to date – leading all defenseman with 17 goals. This truly unmatched two-way ability is what has skyrocketed Hedman to becoming the NHL’s best defenseman and taking home the Norris Trophy.