NHL Countdown: Top 10 Defensemen

Some of the NHL's finest defensemen include mainstays Zdeno Chara, Shea Weber, and Erik Karlsson.
Some of the NHL’s finest defensemen include mainstays Zdeno Chara, Shea Weber, and Erik Karlsson.
You can have the NHL’s highest-scoring offense.  You can have a goalie who can stand on his head. You can have the coach of the century, constantly coming up with innovative ways to win.  But if you don’t have a solid defense corps., your team is just about done for the season.  Here’s a list of the best of the best, the NHL’s top 10 defensemen according to Overtime.

Honorable Mentions:

Kevin Shattenkirk. St. Louis Blues:

Shattenkirk is one of the NHL’s most prolific defensemen.  His scoring touch rivals the game’s best.  These last 2 years for Shattenkirk have been marred by injury though, keeping him off the top 10 list.

Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins:

Chara is definitely slowing down in this his age 38 season.  While his lower body injuries sap him of his prior speed, the Bruins’ captain still has a devastating shot from the point and his 6’9″ frame also serves as a heck of a screen on the power play.  And if you get him mad, watch out, Chara will make sure you pay.

Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins:

If only Letang had stayed healthy, his ranking on this list would be much higher.  But as it is, concussions and all, Letang hasn’t played a full season since 2010-11.  The Penguins depend on his services immensely; he averages over 26 minutes per game.  A lock for 10 goals a year, excellent for any defensemen.

Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks:

While Seabrook was at first stuck in Duncan Keith’s shadow (more on him later), he has come into his own over the last couple of seasons.  In the midst of his 10th NHL season at age 30, Seabrook is firmly in his prime, the main reason why he recently signed an 8-year contract extension.  He blocks shots with the best of them and has a power play howitzer.

10. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues:

The former 4th overall pick in the 2008 NHL draft, Pietrangelo is an offensive showcase for sure, but what separates him from other offensive defensemen is his defensive prowess.  He is a true number 1 defenseman on a team that boasts a deep defense corps. in St. Louis.  Pietrangelo hasn’t had the playoff success needed to vault him into the top 5, but his future is bright.  With Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, Jay Bouwmeester, and Colton Parayko, the Blues are set on the back end for years to come.

9. Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers:

I bet the Montreal Canadiens wish they had a mulligan after giving up their former first round selection for Scott Gomez.  McDonagh made his debut in 2010-11 and his impressed since the start.  He has maxed out at 14 goals and 43 points in the past and is sound defensively.  McDonagh is probably the Rangers’ most identifiable skater; his leadership earned him the captain’s “C” for the 2015-16 season.  Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and Kevin Klein offer excellent support in a legit Rangers’ top 4.

8. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild:

Best known for an $100+ million contract and his ability to play almost half of a hockey game, Suter is one of the NHL’s finest defensemen.  His consistent 35+ point seasons demonstrate his offensive productivity, and his defense speaks for itself.  A native of MInnesota, he partners with Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon among others in the Wild’s stellar defense.  Still looking for a significant playoff run, perhaps this is the year for Suter.

7. Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames:

A name that perhaps more casual fans ought to know, Giordano almost certainly would have won his first Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman if it wasn’t for a pesky biceps injury.  He is more than due for a piece of hardware after 10 years of fighting for recognition.  He has jumped into superstardom over the last two seasons and with Calgary boasting Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Dougie Hamilton, Kris Russell, and Denis Wideman, they have arguably the NHL’s deepest defense.

6. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning:

The mammoth Swede, Victor Hedman didn’t exactly take off in his early NHL career.  But already in his 7th NHL season at the young age of 24, Hedman turned it on in 2013 and hasn’t looked back.  His offense took off to the level of 50 points per season and his defense and physicality have never really been questioned.  Hedman is the leader of a Tampa Bay defense that includes Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn, and Matt Carle.  Look for Hedman to be in the talks for the Norris Trophy for years to come.

5. P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens:

Subban is one of the more divisive names on this list due to his love-it-or-hate-it personality and at times questionable antics.  But Subban didn’t win a Norris Trophy in 2013 for nothing.  Amazingly, Subban wasn’t even a first round pick back when he was drafted, instead falling to the Canadiens in the second round.  It was quite the bargain for Montreal, as they struck gold with Subban.  He never misses a game, is a guarantee for 10 goals and 50 points, and gets under the skin of the opposition.  Subban, Andrei Markov, Jeff Petry, and Nathan Beaulieu are the meat of the Montreal defense, but there’s no question whose team this is.

4. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators:

Despite the thought that Karlsson really should be a forward, he has won two Norris Trophies as the NHL’s preeminent defenseman.  Now 3 years removed from a scary ankle injury, Karlsson is still in his prime.  A rare lock for 20 goals and 60 points (!), Karlsson does it all while remaining defensively competent.   While he’s a bit on the small side and doesn’t take the bulk of penalty killing minutes, that’s not his game.  As long as Karlsson is scoring goals, the Sens are happy.

3. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks:

How on Earth is it possible for Keith, a 2-time Norris Trophy winner, 3-Time Stanley Cup Champion, and consummate professional to be number 3 on the countdown?  Well, Keith really didn’t do anything wrong.  It’s just that the crop of NHL defensemen is so strong, really you could make a case for anyone in the top 5 to be number 1.  Keith is a wizard with his stick defensively and is the Blackhawks’ power play quarterback.  What more could you possibly want from Keith?  He amazingly tallied 21 points in 23 playoff games last spring as a defenseman.   Together with Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Trevor Daley, and young Trevor van Riemsdyk, the Blackhawks have it all on the blue line.

2. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings:

What doesn’t Drew Doughty, a 2-time Stanley Cup Champion, a power play quarterback, and enhanced stats darling have?  A Norris Trophy.  Somehow, Doughty has never won the coveted defensive award, but that doesn’t tarnish his figure around the league.  Opposing teams know that when they face Doughty they’re in for a long night.  Doughty averages over 25 minutes a night and posts the best possession numbers in the entire NHL.  Frequently partnered with underrated Jake Muzzin, Doughty makes everyone around him better.  The Kings have said there isn’t anyone they’d trade Doughty for, but I can think of one just  better.

1. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators:

Yes, I am aware of  how gutsy it is to say that Shea Weber is the best defenseman in the league when he doesn’t have the rings of Drew Doughty, the awards of Duncan Keith or Erik Karlsson, or the flair of P.K. Subban.  But I will say this.  Shea Weber combines finesse on-ice play with a menacing frame (6’4″, 234 pounds).  Weber has a particular fear factor that the other defenseman just don’t have.  With his 107 mph slapshot from the point acting as his go-to offensive weapon and his physicality second to none, Weber is the defenseman that General Managers covet on draft day.  Weber is the complete package for a defenseman.

Conclusion:

There are just too many elite defensemen in the NHL today to make one definitive list.  From the top 5 on, it really comes down to personal preference, as you could make a case that they’re all the very best in the league.  You really pick your poison with NHL defensemen.  You can have an electrifying offensive player, a smooth skater, a defensive specialist, or an intimidating physical specimen.  No matter which you choose, you can ensure that they will be the bane of the other teams’ existence.

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