The role of the number 1 NHL defenseman has changed drastically over the years. Whereas teams once wanted a big, physical lug, teams nowadays prefer speedy, offensively-inclined dynamos.
In part 1 of this countdown, we’ll examine some of the top 20 defensemen in the NHL today, starting with numbers 20-11.
20. Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers
“Ghost Bear” does indeed crack this list after an unheard-of rookie season. The runner-up in rookie of the year voting, Gostisbehere’s impact can only be realized by seeing him play.
Gostisbehere scored 17 goals, 16 of which tied the game or gave the Flyers the lead, and totaled 46 points in only 64 games. Gostisbehere completely took over games for the Flyers last year and was the principal reason for their making the playoffs. He is totally unstoppable on the power play, where he scored almost half of his points.
If the Flyers have another run in them, they’ll need number 53 in orange to be leading the way.
19. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars
John Klingberg was Shayne Gostisbehere before it was cool. The Stars’ 24-year-old Swede has had two NHL campaigns so far, and has yet to disappoint.
Klingberg is always good for double digit goals and over 55 points a season, and he always seems to have the puck on his stick. Klingberg even sees some penalty kill minutes for the Stars, showcasing his all-around game.
Klingberg has a very bright future ahead of him in “Big D”.
18. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets
The Jets’ lone representative on these NHL Countdowns, “Big Buff” is still a highly-feared defenseman in all 3 zones. Byfuglien scored 19 goals and 53 points last season and has still got his cannon of a shot.
But Byfuglien’s main impact comes in the neutral zone. He always catches opposing players when they’ve got their heads down, and will never pass up the chance at a bone-rattling hit. The 6’5″, 260-lb. defenseman uses all of his large frame in his hits.
Byfuglien is showing no signs of slowing down yet at age 31.
17. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues
Can you believe that this season will be Alex Pietrangelo’s 9th NHL season already? The 26-year-old has been in the league for a long time, but is only fully getting his due now.
Pietrangelo is a complete defenseman for the Blues. He is big enough to be a physical presence, but also athletic enough to be an offensive weapon. Pietrangelo usually scores 10 goals and 45 points a year, and his defense has improved every year at the NHL level.
Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Colton Parayko are the future of the Blues’ defense corps.
16. Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers
The captain of the Broadway Blueshirts, Ryan McDonagh is everything you want in a number one defenseman. He plays physical but not dirty, is a shutdown defenseman, and is a power play threat.
McDonagh is still in the prime of his career at 27, and is signed to a club-friendly $4.7 million cap hit for the next 3 seasons. He is a consummate professional and leader, and is a big part of the Rangers franchise.
15. Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames
Mark Giordano may be 32 years old, but he may be getting better with age, much like a fine wine. Giordano has always been an offensive threat, but he had his finest offensive season last year, tallying 21 goals and 56 points.
But there’s more to Giordano’s game than a booming shot. He plays over 25 minutes a night, renders opposing forwards useless, and is a captain’s captain. The young Calgary Flames look up to the veteran Giordano, and he always provides excellent leadership.
Giordano could use one last playoff run out of the Flames while he’s still in his prime.
14. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, San Jose Sharks
Much like Alex Pietrangelo, Marc-Edouard Vlasic broke into the NHL as a teenager and never fully received the credit he deserved until recently. It was a surprise to some when he made the Canadian Olympic team in 2014, but Vlasic’s play earned him a spot on the grandest of stages.
Vlasic has a very active stick that is always disrupting the opposition. He isn’t a hard hitter, but that isn’t his game. Vlasic plays a very cerebral game, and always seems one step ahead of his foes.
Vlasic is due for a pay raise down the road; he is only making an average of $4.25 million a year for the Sharks.
13. Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers
The first overall pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, Aaron Ekblad has become a number 1 defensemen much earlier than expected. Despite only being 20 years old, Ekblad is the total package. He has a laser shot, world-class hockey IQ, a mean streak when he needs it, and a winning attitude.
The Panthers recognized this and rewarded their prized prospect with an 8-year, $60 million extension that takes him through his age-28 season. The Panthers were able to lock up their stud defenseman for his prime before he even hit the market, a huge win for the Panthers.
12. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes
There may not be an NHL player who more resembles the great Nicklas Lidstrom than young Oliver Ekman-Larsson of Arizona. “OEL”, as he’s known by his teammates, has that Lidstrom-level IQ and poke check, while also maintaining a physical game.
Ekman-Larsson has scored over 20 goals the past two seasons, and is ironically one of the Coyotes’ top point-getters despite being a defenseman. He doesn’t get much support at all, which only makes Ekman-Larsson’s contributions shine even brighter.
11. Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks
Brent Seabrook has been in this league for 12 seasons, but remains entrenched in his prime. Seabrook had his finest offensive season last year, including 14 goals and 49 points. Ever since hitting his stride in 2010, Seabrook has been a crucial part of the Blackhawks’ core that has won 3 Stanley Cup Championships.
Seabrook didn’t play alongside Duncan Keith much this year and still posted outstanding numbers, proving that he can carry the load by himself. Seabrook is one of the game’s most punishing hitters yet never misses a game. He blocks shots with the best of them and has a power play howitzer.
Seabrook suffered through the Blackhawks’ numerous losing seasons early on in his career, making each Championship even sweeter.