NHL Top 10: Who are the league's best defensemen right now?
Being an NHL defenseman is not an easy task. There are the obvious responsibilities at the defensive end where these players must block shots, win battles, break pucks out cleanly and efficiently and keep the puck out of their net at all costs.
Then there are the requirements for the truly special D-man that also impacts the game at the offensive end. That's what separates John Carlson, Roman Josi and Alex Pietrangelo from the run-of-the-mill NHL defensemen. The top four or five names on this list should be the names you see on the Norris Trophy ballots as they check off just about every box and that makes them the league's best defensemen right now.
10. Quinn Hughes
An All-Star defenseman this season, the Vancouver D-man is showing that there is going to be more than one stud NHL player coming out of the Hughes family (younger brother Jack of the New Jersey Devils was the No. 1 overall pick last June). He’s on pace for seven goals and 57 points. Only 20, the 5-10, 170-pounder is going to have to tighten up his defensive game with a minus-9 mark so far this season. Hughes is another example of the young, vastly talented Canucks team that GM Jim Benning is building out in Vancouver.
9. Cale Makar
One of the young bucks (he's only 21) on a list with a lot of veterans, Makar is making a big impact with the Avalanche in his first full NHL season. He's on pace for 19 goals and 65 points and has a plus-5 rating while topping 20 minutes of ice time. So far, his 5-foot-11, 187-pound frame has withstood the NHL pounding and he's shown he’s going to be very effective for Colorado. Now, it’s a matter of seeing how good he can become offensively and how much he can survive defensively while being placed in top-four situations.
8. Shea Weber
The Canadiens defenseman was written off as close to done when injuries hampered his game with the Habs, but it sure looks as if they ultimately made the right decision trading him straight up for a fading PK Subban. Weber is on pace for 20 goals and 55 points and has been using his size, physicality and big shot to lead the Canadiens while averaging 24:24 of ice time. Weber might not be what he once was at 34, but he’s shown that he can still be a No. 1 when he’s healthy.
7. Erik Karlsson
The San Jose Sharks defenseman makes the list because of his vast potential and because he’s pulled himself out of the hole a little bit, but Karlsson is also really living under his abilities right now. He’s got five goals and 35 points in 48 games and has done some good things offensively, but he’s also a minus-16 for the year and his less-than-stellar play was a big part of the coach getting fired out in San Jose.
6. Keith Yandle
The ironman streak (843 games and counting), the offensive production and his stabilizing impact have all been tremendously good things for the Florida Panthers even if Yandle is never going to be a defensive stopper for them. The 33-year-old is on pace for over 60 points, is a positive plus/minus player and is averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time even though his 4-percent shooting should be putting a hurting on him offensively. Instead, he’s distributing the puck and doing his job very, very well.
5. Victor Hedman
He has the potential to be the top guy on this list, but it’s been just a merely good season for Hedman down in Tampa Bay, along with a Lightning team that hasn’t always lived up to its advanced billing. Hedman is still on pace for 16 goals and 73 points along with a plus-9 rating, so he’s been far from bad. And he’s still got the size, strength and endurance to do things that some of the other D-men on this list simply aren’t capable of from a two-way perspective.
4. Dougie Hamilton
Bruins fans might scoff at the mention of Hamilton so high up on the list, but the truth is he was having a great season and living up to his potential after being named an All-Star for the first time in his career. The 14 goals, 40 points and plus-30 rating in 47 games are something special, but unfortunately, a serious leg injury has put the second half of this brilliant season in a whole lot of doubt. Still, Hamilton has now shown the potential of what we can be when he puts it all together.
3. Alex Pietrangelo
One of the constants this season for the St. Louis Blues, who have withstood a huge injury to Vladimir Tarasenko and the massive expectations following a Stanley Cup-winning season. Pietrangelo has the offensive part with 12 goals and 38 points along with a plus-12 rating in 48 games and is averaging over 25 minutes of ice time as the top-pairing guy and backbone for the Blues defense. There are shinier objects among the Top 10 defensemen, of course, but Pietrangelo is as solid as it gets.
2. Roman Josi
If not for Carlson, Josi would be having a Norris Trophy-worthy season with 14 goals and 47 points in 46 games, along with a plus-23 rating. Josi, 29, has become the real offensive focal point for the Nashville Predators and is topping 25 minutes of ice time per game. Now, the challenge is for Josi and the Predators to pull themselves up in the standings after a coaching change in Nashville. Still, Josi is doing his job.
1. John Carlson
The leading scorer among NHL defensemen and amazingly the top scorer on the Washington Capitals as well. Carlson is on pace for 22 goals and 99 points, and it would be impressive if he somehow gets to 100 points as a blueliner. It’s not just the offense, however, as he’s a plus-14, has only 18 penalty minutes and is averaging just a shade less than 25 minutes of ice time per game. Carlson has always been a very good player, but at 30, it seems as if he’s finally reaching the upper limit of his potential in Washington.