Erik Karlsson

NHL Top 10: Who are the league's best defensemen right now?

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USA TODAY Sports photo

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. 

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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.

Bold predictions for the 2018-19 NHL season

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File photo

Bold predictions for the 2018-19 NHL season

Bold predictions for the 2018-19 NHL season

1. Claude Julien will literally have steam coming out of his ears at some point during the Montreal Canadiens season when his talent-challenged team can’t score goals, and Carey Price once again can’t be on the ice enough for a $10 million man. It will be a marvel of the scientific world when it happens, and it will never truly be explained how Julien’s frustration with the situation in Montreal literally turned into projectile steam.

2. Ryan Donato will win the Calder Trophy as the top rookie in the NHL this season. We projected him to go for 20-plus goals and 50 points with the Bruins this season, but he could go for even more if he’s given top-6 minutes and power play time pretty consistently throughout the season. The Harvard kid really likes to shoot the puck and he’s not afraid, and those are a couple of good traits for a rookie being put in a pretty big spot for this coming hockey season.

3. By the end of this upcoming season, Erik Karlsson will ditch the pirate look of long hair and a thin moustache that he’s favored for the last few years, and will grow a long, unkempt Hillbilly Jim-style beard like that of his new teammates Jumbo Joe Thornton and Brent Burns (at least until Burns shaved Thornton earlier this week). It’s kind of a rite of passage with the San Jose Sharks, and Karlsson will need to embrace the hairy way things are clearly done with the Sharks.

4. The Buffalo Sabres will make the playoffs. Yes, I know I didn’t have the Sabres in the playoffs in my NHL season preview. But this is bold predictions, folks, and you need to step out of the comfort zone a little with them. The Sabres have the No. 1 overall pick in Rasmus Dahlin coming into the fold, and they still have top-end talent like Rasmus Ristolainen, Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner at the top of the roster. It will be difficult in an Atlantic Division where it feels like the top-3 playoff spots are already spoken for with Tampa Bay, Toronto and Boston, but it sure feels like the Sabres are ready to make a push for that spot.

5. Some NHL player is going to put Gritty the Flyers mascot on long-term injured reserve this season. We’ve already seen the ginger-haired Scott Hartnell look-a-like taking liberties with people on the ice during the Flyers exhibition season, and it won’t be too long before he tries that with the wrong person. My guess: Brad Marchand makes it his mission to give Gritty his “Welcome to the NHL” moment this season.

6. I think the quiet, subdued environment of the Carolina Hurricanes could be exactly what the doctor ordered for Dougie Hamilton in his third NHL stop. Certainly his numbers haven’t been bad in either Boston or Calgary, but it always felt like something was missing with both the Bruins and with the Flames. Now at 25 years old and in his third NHL stop, this might be the time when Hamilton becomes more a veteran leader and turns into the Norris Trophy candidate that he’s always had the talent to be.

7. Zdeno Chara will sign a 10-year contract extension with the Boston Bruins that will catapult him way past Jaromir Jagr as the ageless NHL legend that just keeps on going, and to celebrate he will put himself through en epic weight room session of bench press, squats, military presses and then 50 pull-ups just for the fun of it.   

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Morning Skate: When a Domi sucker punch isn't really a sucker punch at all

Morning Skate: When a Domi sucker punch isn't really a sucker punch at all

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while the China trip is finally over for the Bruins.

--Something feels right again in the NHL when somebody named Domi is sucker-punching another NHL player. Though I would agree with Nick Kypreos here that what Domi did isn’t really a sucker punch because Aaron Ekblad saw it coming, he just chose not to defend himself. I wouldn’t slap Domi with supplemental discipline with this, and I actually kind of like seeing the Canadiens playing with a little piss and vinegar in their game. It should make the Bruins/Canadiens games somewhere in the entertaining category again this season, which they haven’t been in the past couple of seasons.  

--So the Islanders are pinning this season’s team identity on a fourth line led by Cal Clutterbuck? Yeah, they’re pretty screwed.

--Good piece by Dave Stubbs on a bittersweet moment every so often when legendary names leave the Stanley Cup forever.

--Good Q&A with reigning Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall about what lies ahead with the New Jersey Devils and for him as a player.

--The San Jose Sharks aren’t expecting Erik Karlsson to need to make too many adjustments to become an impact player in the Western Conference. I would say it may be others adjusting to having such a unique talent on their roster, but he could do a lot of damage with the talent already on that team.

--For something completely different: Boy, the drama just never ends for the New England Patriots does it?