Sharks' Burns, Karlsson ranked among top 20 NHL defensemen


The Sharks have made some additions around the edges, but at their core, they're largely the same group that finished dead last in the Western Conference last season. If they're going to immediately rebound and get back into playoff contention, their best players will have to be much better than they were last season.

Specifically, San Jose's two former Norris Trophy winners will have to show they haven't lost a step. In fact, they might need to regain one. It wasn't long ago that Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns were considered two of the best defensemen in the NHL, but they'll have to prove that's still the case.

For what it's worth, many around the league still view them as such. NHL Network producers and analysts recently ranked the top 20 NHL defenseman right now, and both Karlsson and Burns were included within it. Karlsson was ranked No. 18, while Burns came in 13th.

Considering the injuries Karlsson has dealt with and the inconsistency Burns has shown over the last two seasons, it seems fair that neither would be ranked within the top 10 right now. However, I'd argue the two Sharks should have their rankings switched.

They say the most important ability is availability, and Karlsson certainly has had his troubles with that. But when he has been healthy, he has proven to be San Jose's best player over extended stretches. He hasn't lived up to his hefty contract extension as of yet, but according to general manager Doug Wilson, he now is fully healthy for the first time since joining the Sharks just before the start of the 2018-19 season. If that's true, and he's able to remain healthy through the season, he'll surely be ranked much higher on next year's list.

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Burns certainly could bounce back, too. The offense never has been an issue, but he gets caught out of position on defense far too often, and his net-front presence could improve. He definitely wasn't the 13th-best defenseman in the league last season, so he seems to be getting the benefit of the doubt with his ranking. Burns will turn 36 in March, though, and one has to wonder if he's capable of rewinding the clock.

Any team would and should be elated to have two of the best 20 defensemen in the league, and that includes the Sharks. But if they're going to turn things around in short order, Karlsson and Burns might have to be even better than that.