Earlier this week, the NHL Network released their list of who they believe are the “Top 20 Defensemen”.
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) August 13, 2018
As soon as it was tweeted, the Twitter critics were out in full force. I looked at the list and disagreed with many of the picks and where some players were ranked. Instead of simply tweeting out that I disagreed with their selections, I decided to go over some numbers, do some critical thinking, and come up with a list of my own:
1 – VICTOR HEDMAN; NHL Network ranking 1
I actually agree with their pick for the best d-man. Hedman can produce (3rd in total points among d-men over the last three years), go toe-to-toe against the other teams best, and bring a physical edge. If I could create a perfect defenseman for today’s NHL, it would be Victor Hedman.
2 – ERIK KARLSSON; NHL Network ranking 3
Not just one of the best offensive defenseman of this generation, but one of the best ever. Karlsson’s ability to move the puck up ice efficiently, work the point in the other teams’ end, and run a powerplay. Does he lack the defensive prowess of guys like Hedman or Suter? Sure. But remember, the other team will always struggle to score if the pucks in their own end. 141 of his 215 points over the last three years have come at even strength.
3 – BRENT BURNS; NHL Network ranking 5
In terms of offensive skill, I’ll take Karlsson before him, but you can’t argue with Burns’ production. His 218 all situation points over the past three seasons are better than any other defenseman in that time span.
4 – DREW DOUGHTY; NHL Network ranking 2
He’s a good mix or Karlsson and Hedman in my opinion. He isn’t as good offensively as Karlsson, and I think Hedman brings a more complete game. It was close between him and Brent Burns, but Doughty has 63 fewer points than Burns over the last three years.
5 – SETH JONES; NHL Network ranking 6
Seth Jones isn’t just one of the most underrated defensemen in the league, he’s one of the most underrated players in the game. He plays close to 25 minutes a night and is Columbus’ best d-man in all situations. I’m a little biased because I watch him a lot, and I know a lot of people will think I’m reaching, but Jones deserved to be a Norris Candidate this year.
6 – OLIVER EKMAN-LARSSON; NHL Network ranking 15
The biggest mistake with the NHL Networks list was the fact OEL was #15. He holds the opposition to less than half a shot a minute and keeps positive possession numbers all while being on a team that is not very good. His career high in points is just 55, but I honestly believe the best is still yet to come for him.
7 – PK SUBBAN; NHL Network ranking 5
His incredible celebrations, electric attitude, or popping off-ice lifestyle… there are plenty of reasons why traditional hockey people HATE PK Subban. Those are some of the reasons I LOVE PK Subban. The dude can skate like the wind and has a cannon of a shot. He can keep up with any forward at 5v5 and is one of the league’s elite PP d-men. In today’s up-tempo game, having a guy who can move the puck like Subban is crazy valuable.
8 – RYAN SUTER; NHL Network ranking 14
A lot of times he is regarded as simply a straight shut down defender, and deservedly so, he’s one of the best in the league at preventing scoring chances. But don’t disregard his offensive abilities. Over the past three years, he’s 15th in all situation points and had a 5v5 primary points/60 of 0.71. Suter is also an extreme minute munching defensemen, playing in all situations for Minnesota. Since joining the Wild, Suter, has averaged 28:04 TOI, while only missing 9 games over the last 6 seasons
9 – ALEX PIETRANGELO; NHL Network ranking 9
At the halfway point of last season, Pietrangelo was my pick to win the Norris. He’s an absolute horse, a true #1 defenseman. Out of the three zones, he starts the LEAST in the offensive zone. Despite that, he still hit the 50 point mark this year.
10 – ROMAN JOSI; NHL Network ranking 7
It wasn’t too long ago that Josi was considered one of the most underrated d-men in the league. Now, he’s regularly mentioned in the elite group. Not as good offensively as the others in the top ten, but his overall game impresses me enough to slot him in at #10.
11 – JOHN CARLSON; NHL Network ranking 8
His fantastic playoff run helped earn him a big extension, and now he has the second biggest cap hit amongst all d-men. He skates well, can move the puck really well, and has the ability to play against the others teams best players.
12 – JOHN KLINGBERG; NHL Network ranking 10
Over the past three years only Hedman, Karlsson, and Burns have produced more points than Klingberg. Offensively, there’s no doubt he’s top five. I just don’t think his defensive game is enough to throw him in the top ten in terms of all-around play. It might get there one day, and if it does, he could become a superstar.
13 – KRIS LETANG; NHL Network ranking 13
Health has always been a problem with Letang, but when it comes to points per game, only Hedman and Karlsson have been better over the last three seasons. If you think that’s because he runs the point on a stacked powerplay, you’d be wrong. Despite playing 50 games less than most other d-men, he ranks 10th in even-strength points.
14 – Marc-Edouard Vlasic; NHL Network rakning N/A
Brent Burns gets all the attention on the San Jose blueline, but don’t forget about Vlasic. This is a guy who’s made Olympic teams because he’s such a good shut down d-man. This guy eats minutes and regularly gets top matchups and tough zone starts.
15 – DUSTIN BYFUGLIEN; NHL Network ranking 11
When Buff is on, he’s one of the best in the league. Physically he’s on another level, he’s another one of those guys who can play all scenarios and dominate no matter where you put him. The problem is that he isn’t always “on”. That’s why he isn’t higher on my list.
16 – RYAN ELLIS; NHL Network ranking 20
Ellis got a shiny new deal to stay in Music City and I’d say it’s an underpayment that didn’t come with a NTC, which is intriguing for a player who said he wants to retire as a Predator. His name gets lost behind PK Subban and Roman Josi, but he’s a damn good defender who would be a top pairing guy on 30 other teams. He has a cannon of a shot as well.
17 – JACOB SLAVIN: NHL Network ranking N/A
Most people call Slavin the most underrated defenseman in hockey, and while he has started to get noticed more over the past year, he still doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He logged more minutes than any other Hurricanes defender at even strength and on the PK. His greatest asset is his ability with his stick in the defensive zone. Slavin is so skilled at knocking down passes especially through the slot, which forces teams to play North-South instead of East-West, allowing his goaltender to not have to scramble to make saves. He was also ranked second behind Noah Hanifin in most offensive categories. If he can start producing more, he could be a top ten d-man.
18 – AARON EKBLAD; NHL Network ranking N/A
Despite starting almost 40% of his shifts in his own end and facing tougher competition than any other Panthers d-man, Ekblad still posts incredibly respectable possession numbers. I think there’s room for him to grow offensively though. He’s just 309 games into his career though. The best is yet to come.
19 – DOUGIE HAMILTON; NHL Network ranking 18
I haven’t put a lot of pure offensive producers on this list, but Hamilton gets on because he consistently produces elite levels of offense. Whether it’s even strength or on the powerplay, Hamilton helps whichever team he’s on score goals better than almost anyone else in the league. He’ll never be a true #1 because I don’t think he’s strong enough in his own end, but as the game continues to shift towards fast-paced, offensively minded hockey, Hamilton will become more and more valuable.
20 – MORGAN RIELLY; NHL Network ranking N/A
Similar to Hamilton, I love what Rielly can do with the puck on his stick. Running a powerplay, making breakout passes, jumping up into the rush, he can do it all. Are there warts in his defensive game? Sure, but he’s also the only Leafs d-man to play at least 80 minutes on both the PP and PK. He’s a legitimate top pairing d-man, and will be for the next decade.
CLOSE CALLS: Zach Werenski, Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, Colton Parayko, Torey Krug, and Charlie McAvoy.