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NYI TOP TEN: All-Time Best Defensemen

by Jason Lockhart / New York Islanders
NHL defensemen come in all shapes and sizes, but it's their on-ice performances and off-ice leadership that define their careers. Whether it was through their hard-hitting, timely scoring or overall steady play, these ten Islanders defensemen were at the top of our list.

To qualify, players must have performed for at least five seasons with the Islanders.

Let the arguments begin!

1. Denis Potvin (1973-88): There's a reason they still chant his name at Madison Square Garden during all 41 games of the Rangers regular season. Potvin was the heart and soul of the Islanders for much of the team's first 15 years on Long Island. His tenacious play in front of the net earned him respect from his teammates and dread from his opponents. But Potvin wasn't just about defense, he was also an offensive machine, leading the Islanders in points for four seasons, once eclipsing the 100-point mark. An NHL Hall of Famer, Potvin is one of the team's most decorated in its history having captured the Calder Trophy as the league's best rookie in 1974 and the James Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman three times (1976, 78, 79). His outstanding career led him to play in the All-Star game nine times – the most by any Islander.

2. Ken Morrow (1980-89): He was as steady as any defenseman in team history. A rock on defense, Morrow wasn't flashy, but always in the right place at the right time, clearing away bodies and turning aside loose pucks. The slender Morrow had one of the most incredible years in hockey history when his storied US Olympic Team defeated the Soviet Union en route to Gold at Lake Placid in February of 1980. Just three months later, Morrow stood on top of the world again as Stanley Cup champion with the New York Islanders, completing the first ever Olympic Gold/Stanley Cup Champion combination in a single year. Morrow was most noted for his stay-at-home qualities, but he was also as clutch as anyone, tallying three overtime tallies during the playoffs. Morrow may not be helping the Islanders on the ice any longer, but he's still a key contributor to the team's success as Director of Pro Scouting.

3. Stefan Persson (1977-86): After Potvin, which Islanders defensemen compiled the most points as an Islander? None other than Persson, the slick Swede, who was a member of all four Cup-winning teams. Persson became known as the “The Poor Man's Borje Salming,” after the smooth-skating Swede with the Maple Leafs. Due to his superb puckhandling, Persson earned a spot alongside Denis Potvin at the point of the power play. In 622 games with the Islanders, the one-time Swedish Elite Leaguer compiled 52 goals, 317 assists for 369 points. His 57 points in 102 playoff games, still ranks tenth all-time on the Islanders postseason points chart. Persson is easily one of the greatest steals in Islanders history considering he was chosen in the 14th round – 214th overall – of the 1974 Amateur Draft.

4. Kenny Jonsson (1996-2004): Following in the footsteps of former Islanders Swedish D-men Persson and Tomas Jonsson, Kenny Jonsson increasingly became a fan favorite on Long Island due to his outstanding play. With his leadership skills on and off the ice growing, Jonsson became just the third defenseman in Islanders history to don the captain's “C.” Even after giving his captaincy over to Michael Peca, Jonsson continued to be a key member of the Islanders teams that reached the playoffs during the start of the 21st century. After calling it quits with his NHL career during the lockout to return home to Sweden, Jonsson had played in 597 games with the Islanders, placing him 12th all-time on the games played list.

5. Dave Langevin (1979-85): The St. Paul native spent six seasons with the Islanders, four of which ended in Stanley Cup glory. Langevin was acquired by GM Bill Torrey in 1979 from the Edmonton Oilers of the WHA to make the team younger, while still adding grit. Langevin was as tough as anyone, complementing some of the more finesse blueliners on the squad. In his first two seasons with the Islanders, Langevin eclipsed the 100 penalty minute mark. Langevin may not have made much of an impact on the scoresheet – 12 goals in 422 games with the Islanders – but his work in his own end went far from unnoticed by those within the organization.

6. Tomas Jonsson (1981-89): Another fine Swedish blueliner, Jonsson joined the Islanders for their third and fourth Stanley Cup rings. The speedy Jonsson ranks second all-time among Islanders defensemen in goals with 84 and third in points with 333. After eight strong seasons with the Islanders and a brief stint with the Oilers, Jonsson finished his playing days back with Sweden, where he played another nine years. Jonsson also indirectly played a role in the addition of a future franchise player coming to Long Island. When Jonsson – who was selected in the second round of the 1979 Draft – signed with the Islanders prior to the start of the 1981-82 season, it allowed Bill Torrey to trade defenseman Bob Lorimer and center Dave Cameron to the Colorado Rockies for their 1983 first-round draft pick. With that first pick, the Islanders selected Pat LaFontaine.

7. Gord Lane (1979–85): As one of the most underrated members of all four Stanley Cup teams, Lane may not have received the same accolades from the media and fans as Denis Potvin, but his teammates loved having him on the blueline. Known for his toughness, grit and chippiness, Lane was an in-your-face defense-first backliner. Lane was a mid-season pick up during the 1979-80 to fill the gap left by the injured Denis Potvin. But after six hard-fought seasons on Long Island, Lane became more than just a stop-plug, he was a true (orange and) blue-collared Islanders defenseman.

8. Rich Pilon (1988-1999): As one of the longest tenured Islanders defensemen in team history (509 games), Pilon was a Coliseum crowd favorite and the opposition's terror for more than a decade. Ranked second all-time in team history with 1,525 penalty minutes, Pilon wouldn't back down from anyone. Whether it was the opposing team's tough guy or superstar, Pilon went right at them with a snarl that could scare away a bear. Pilon's 242 penalty minutes in his rookie season still stand as an Islanders record.

9. Darius Kasparaitis (1992-96): Pesky, aggressive, chippy, hard-hitting and innocent (at least Kaspar would say so) are all words that could describe the Lithuanian-born defenseman. Kasparaitis burst onto the NHL scene in 1992-93 and made an immediate impact during the Islanders' 1993 march to the Conference Final. Before reaching the Conference Final, the Islanders had the daunting task of taking on the two-time Stanley Cup Champion and Presidents' Trophy-winning Pittsburgh Penguins. For seven games Kaspar would not back down against the likes of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr as the Islanders stunned the heavy favorites. With his deadly hip checks as well as his on-and off-ice antics Kasparaitis will go down as one of the most colorful personalities to have skated with the Islanders.

10. Bert Marshall (1973-79): With a chance to bolster his offense at the 1973 Inter-League Draft, Bill Torrey elected to choose an experienced defenseman to help the young defense corps. Torrey's selection was 29-year-old Marshall, who had played with three different NHL teams over eight seasons. Torrey's decision proved invaluable as Marshall not only helped the Islanders shave off 100 goals-against compared to their opening season, but he was instrumental in developing the young defensemen on the team, including Denis Potvin. Marshall may have missed the Islanders' first Cup year by one season, choosing to retire as a player to become a head coach in the CHL, but his tutelage during the Islanders' formative years paved the way for their team's dynastic-Cup run. 


Dave Lewis (1973-80)

Bob Lorimer (1976-81)

Radek Martinek (2001-present)

Jean Potvin (1973-78, 79-81)


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