NHL Positional Rankings: Who are the league's top defensemen?
The names at the top of the list of the NHL's best defensemen are exactly what you would expect and probably would be the top-3 in the Norris Trophy voting if it were held today.
All big, solid defensemen in the prime of their NHL careers who can play at both ends of the ice, produce offensively, play big minutes and can also play the shutdown role when they need to do.
It’s really too bad the season was paused as Capitals defenseman John Carlson was putting together a great year, but perhaps he and the rest of the NHL D-men will still get a chance to continue.
10. Dougie Hamilton
He may have been injured when the season was suspended, but Dougie Hamilton still deserves to be among the Top 10 NHL defensemen based on the way he was playing prior to his injury.
Hamilton had 14 goals and 40 points in 47 games and his injury forced the Hurricanes to trade for not one, but two, defensemen at the trade deadline when they also lost Brett Pesce to a significant injury as well. The pause to the NHL season could pave the way for a fully healthy Hamilton to be ready to return when/if the NHL resumes.
9. Ryan Suter
At 35 years old, Suter is no long the player he once was when he averaged nearly 30 minutes a game during the regular season. But he’s still a highly effective No. 1 defenseman who has eight goals and 48 points in 69 games for the Wild.
Suter still averages 24:38 of ice time and plays in all situations while leading a talented group of Minny defensemen, and he would have finished close to 60 points in a full NHL season.
8. Kris Letang
The 32-year-old Letang was on pace for 18 goals and 53 points for the Penguins this season while averaging 25:44 of ice time. He’s an extraordinary puck-mover and a guy that doesn’t mind playing with an edge, and he’s managed to stay mostly healthy in a season where too many other Penguins players have fallen with injuries.
The zero plus-minus isn’t the greatest number in the world, but in Letang’s case he’s doing so many other things for a strong, resilient Penguins team that it doesn’t really matter.
7. Brent Burns
The 35-year-old Burns is having a tough season just like everybody else in San Jose, and he won’t be in serious Norris Trophy consideration for the first time in a long time. But Burns still had 12 goals and 45 points in 70 games even if the minus-22 rating was a rough one.
Everybody thought Burns and Erik Karlsson would make for a dominant tandem in San Jose prior to this season, but it sure didn’t work out that way for the Sharks.
6. Cale Makar
The 21-year-old Makar has really burst on the scene with 12 goals and 50 points in 57 games during his first full NHL season. The 5-foot-11, 187-pounder has been a legit top-4 guy as well with 21:11 of ice time per game and 31 of his 50 points coming from 5-on-5 play rather than on the man advantage.
It’s going to be a challenge for a player of Makar’s size to stand up defensively in playoff situations and just to stay healthy in general given the physical pounding he’s likely to take, but the Avs defenseman will only get better as he gets older.
5. Zach Werenski
The 22-year-old Werenski is the young guy on the list with an impressive 20 goals and 41 points in 63 games and is a plus-9 in 23:59 of ice time. After Werenski was getting some limited reps late last season due to some defensive shortcomings, that hasn’t been an issue this year as he’s played a strong all-around game to keep the surprising Blue Jackets near a playoff spot.
The 20 goals is a number that stands out among his fellow D-men and makes him a bit more of an offensive weapon than some of the other young blueliners.
4. Alex Pietrangelo
Part of the Blues' ability to stay atop the Western Conference all season has been the splendid play of Pietrangelo, who has 16 goals and 52 points in 70 games while averaging 24:11 of ice time per game.
Pietrangelo is another prototypical No. 1 defenseman in the middle of his prime who's coming off a season where his workload was bigger than ever, and his responsibilities on the ice were tremendous. Pietrangelo was a big reason the Blues won the Cup last season and he’s playing like it this year.
3. Victor Hedman
After a slow start to this season, the big Swede defenseman is back where he should be near the top of the list. Hedman has 11 goals and 55 points in 66 games this season along with a plus-27 rating. Hedman still has double-digit goals despite a rough 7.1 percent shooting percentage this season and his performance has risen right along with that of the Tampa Bay team around him.
You could make an argument that the 29-year-old is the top player that any team would build around given his size, offensive production, two-way game and ability to play big, big minutes.
2. Roman Josi
The other top candidate for the Norris, the Nashville defenseman has been atop the Predators' scoring list all season while topping 25 minutes of ice time as a true No. 1 defenseman. Josi has 16 goals and 65 points in 69 games and was a plus-22 for a Nashville team that’s had issues with its goaltending pretty much all season.
The 29-year-old Josi hasn’t won the Norris Trophy yet, but one should be coming his way sooner rather than later.
1. John Carlson
The 30-year-old defenseman was on pace for 18 goals and a whopping 89 points this season when the season was paused and continues to be the clear frontrunner for the Norris Trophy. He’s a plus-player and he’s averaging over 24 minutes of ice time per game while playing in all situations as the No. 1 guy on a Capitals team that's been close to the top of the Metro Division all season.
Carlson has always been a very good D-man, but he took it to a new level this season.