Power forwards is a pretty ubiquitous term, but power defensemen is a classification that isn’t commonly used. When we use it, we’re referring to defensemen that are both a significant physical presence and contribute offensively.
It’s pretty helpful to own that type of blueliner. It diminishes the odds that you’ll have to resort to employing an enforcer at some point during the season to get your PIM or hits numbers up. Moreover, when push comes to shove, you’d rather have to sacrifice a little bit of offense from a defensive slot for help elsewhere than from a forward slot given how much more your average forward can bring to the table offensively.
Of course, much like our power forwards article, we also have a specific definition for what makes a power defenseman. We’ll have two different lists, but for this first list, the defensemen all need to be a decent bet to record at least 30 points and a safe bet to record at least 50 penalty minutes. Given that only nine defensemen last season actually finished with both 30 points and 50 PIM, even finding 10 players that met those qualifications is a difficult task.
With that in mind, here’s my top-10 list:
1) Dustin Byfuglien – Since the start of the salary cap era there are only 10 examples of a defenseman recording at least 50 points and 100 penalty minutes in a single season. Two of those belong to Dustin Byfuglien, as he pulled off that feat in 2015-16 and then again last season. There are blueliners out there that are better pure offensive talents, but if you’re looking for a defenseman that will make significant contributions both offensively and in terms of PIM then there is no better option than Byfuglien.
2) Dougie Hamilton – Dougie Hamilton got off to a sluggish start in 2016-17, but it ended up being a great season for him as he set career-highs with 13 goals, 50 points and 64 penalty minutes. It’s a bit of a stretch to have him on this list as he’s pushing the limits of what can be considered a “safe” bet to reach the 50-PIM mark this season. However, there is no questioning his offensive potential as another double-digit goal total and 40-50 point season wouldn’t be a surprising outcome.
3) Kris Letang – Figuring out where to slot Kris Letang on this list is a little tough. When healthy he’s one of the best offensive defenseman in the league and he’s averaged around one PIM per game over his last three campaigns as well. Unfortunately, it’s almost unheard of for him to stay healthy for an entire season. In 2016-17 he was limited to 41 games and he’s only played in at least 70 games in one season dating back to 2011-12. If he stays healthy in 2017-18 then he’ll likely have more fantasy value than anyone on this list, but that’s a big if.
4) Rasmus Ristolainen – Rasmus Ristolainen surpassed the 40-point milestone for the second straight season in 2016-17, but this time he was also a big physical presence. He used his considerable size significantly more last season and that also led to him setting a new career-high with 58 PIM. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him get at least that many penalty minutes again this season while also recording 40-50 points.
5) Mark Giordano – Mark Giordano was a bit on the quiet side offensively in 2016-17, at least by his standards. He had 12 goals and 39 points in 81 games, which ended his streak of three straight campaigns with 45-plus points. However, there’s a good chance that he’ll get back above that threshold this time around and he should also provide fantasy owners with 50-60 penalty minutes along the way.
6) Jacob Trouba – Jacob Trouba didn’t make his season debut until Nov. 11 because he was a restricted free agent contract holdout, but he still ended up having a strong campaign with eight goals, 33 points and 54 penalty minutes in 60 contests. Trouba has a lot of upside and might not finish that far back from Giordano in terms of points this season, though Giordano is the safer bet.
7) Jake Muzzin – Jake Muzzin is coming off a down season where he was limited to nine goals, 28 points and 46 penalty minutes in 82 contests. He’s always been a borderline source of penalty minutes by this list’s standards, but he’s tended to do significantly better offensively. In fact, he reached the 40-point mark in 2014-15 and 2015-16. He’s a strong bounce back candidate, though obviously there’s an added element of risk there given that the Kings aren’t that good of a team right now.
8) Dion Phaneuf – Dion Phaneuf will probably just barely reach that 30-point minimum this season, which is in line with what he’s done over the last four seasons, but he’s a great source of penalty minutes. He spent 100 minutes in the sin bin in 2016-17 and logged 108 PIM in 2015-16. At the age of 32 there’s still that outside chance that he’ll see a revival offensively too, though I wouldn’t bet on that happening.
9) Aaron Ekblad – The 2016-17 campaign was a rough one for Aaron Ekblad who was injured during the World Cup and paid for it during the NHL season. He scored 10 goals and 21 points in 68 contests, which was down from 36 points as a sophomore and 39 points as a rookie. His penalty minutes have been slowly rising as he spends more time in the NHL, to the point where he was charged with 58 PIM in 2016-17. The 2014 first overall pick has a real chance to bounce back offensively this season with a 35-45 point campaign, making him a nice buy-low candidate come draft day.
10) Zdeno Chara – There was a time when Zdeno Chara could headline a list like this, but at the age of 40 it’s just impressive that he’s still a serious candidate to record 30 points. In addition to slowing down offensively over the seasons, he’s also been taking less penalty minutes in recent years, though not to the point where he shouldn’t be on this list. He still logged 59 PIM in 2016-17 and it wouldn’t be surprising for him to spend a similar amount of time in the sin bin again.
Although a lot of leagues use penalty minutes as a category, some leagues include hits to either supplement or replace PIM. Of course, not every player that excels in the hits category also accumulates a lot of penalty minutes and the reverse is true too, so it’s worth making a separate list that takes hits into consideration.
All the defensemen on the list below still need to be a decent bet to reach the 30-point milestone, but they also need to be a safe bet to either record 80 hits and 50 penalty minutes or at least 150 hits independent of how many PIM they get. The altered requirements filtered out some players like Dougie Hamilton, who has finished below the 80 hits milestone in four of his five seasons.
So here is the revised list with hits included:
1) Dustin Byfuglien – As stated before, not every player that accumulates a lot of PIM also excels in hits, but Dustin Byfuglien does. He had 183 hits in 2016-17 and surpassed the 200-hit mark in each of his previous three seasons. In other words, adding hits as a category only serves to increase Byfuglien’s value.
2) Shea Weber – Shea Weber actually finished at 140 hits last season, which is below the threshold for a player that doesn’t record at least 50 penalty minutes, but I felt it was okay to put him on his list because typically he does finish above that 150-hit milestone. In fact that was the first time that he fell below that mark since the 2007-08 campaign, excluding the lockout-shortened 2013 season. Either way he doesn’t bring as much to the table in the physical statistical categories compared to the other defensemen in this article, but he’s still a noteworthy contributor and it’s a nice bonus on top of the 40-50 points you can expect from him.
3) Kris Letang – Once again, ranking Kris Letang is awfully hard given his unfortunate tendency to spend significant chunks of the season on the sidelines. In terms of hits, he’s nothing special. He’d probably record around 125-150 hits in a healthy campaign, but of course that would be enough for this list given that he also crosses that 50-PIM mark.
4) Rasmus Ristolainen – Rasmus Ristolainen played a more physical game in 2016-17, which led to him getting 58 penalty minutes, but the change was also seen through his hits total. He went from recording 139 hits in 2015-16 to a career-high 195 hits last season. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him push over the 200-hit milestone in 2017-18.
5) Nikita Zaitsev – Nikita Zaitsev only spent 38 minutes in the sin bin as a rookie last season so he couldn’t be included on the first list, but he did record 176 hits, making him an easy pick for this one. In addition to throwing his weight around, Zaitsev was a major offensive contributor last season with four goals and 36 points in 82 games. The 25-year-old (he’ll turn 26 on Oct. 29) might do a bit better this season, but he’s also a big risk given that sophomores tend to be more prone to struggles than other players. Nevertheless, he’s not a traditional sophomore given that he was playing in the KHL since 2009-10 before making the transition to North America.
6) Jake Muzzin – As mentioned above, Jake Muzzin is coming off a rough campaign by his standards and he even saw a decline in terms of hits, going from 197 in 2015-16 to 162 last season. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him bounce back in that regard to that 200-range again.
7) Jacob Trouba – Swapping Muzzin with Jacob Trouba in this ranking compared to the PIM-only one is debatable, but it is certainly true that including hits works to Muzzin’s favor. Trouba had 107 hits in 60 contests last season, which means he would have finished closer to his 2015-16 total of 144 hits had he played the full 82 games. That’s fine, but it’s nothing special.
8) Dion Phaneuf – For a player that gets as many penalty minutes as Dion Phaneuf, his hit totals aren’t that great. He had 132 hits last season, down from 168 hits in 2015-16. Perhaps Phaneuf will get back up to his 2015-16 level this season, especially given that he’s still playing a huge role with Ottawa so he has plenty of ice time to work with.
9) Aaron Ekblad – Aaron Ekblad is a borderline player in terms of hits for this list. He had 88 hits in 68 contests last season and has 284 hits in 227 career games. In other words, if you’re drafting him, it’s not for his hits total as there are so many other defensemen that will help you out more in that regard. Still, as a small part of his full package, he’s obviously an interesting blueliner to have on your roster.
10) Zdeno Chara – Zdeno Chara rounds out this list of notable hit contributors. The 40-year-old defenseman will always be a towering presence and he was able to utilize it to dish out 130 hits last season. That’s not nearly as many as he used to contribute, but for his age it’s still noteworthy.