Injuries sidelined Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman for 23 games last season, ultimately ruining any chance he had to win the 2015 Norris Trophy.
But Hedman showed while leading the Lightning to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final that he is unquestionably one of the best defensemen in the world. Hedman averaged 23:57 of ice time per game and had a plus-11 rating in 26 playoff games.
Perhaps Hedman hasn't garnered enough, but his talent and poise were on full display during the playoffs. He's big, he's intelligent and is remarkably skilled.
He also is the preseason choice for the Norris Trophy for the 2015-16 season.
"It was a coming-out party in the fact that we were now on the biggest stage in our sport," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said of Hedman. "He was the same player to us; just everyone else got a chance to see him. You get lost under the radar a little bit I guess playing in a non-traditional hockey market. I think people got to see what he can bring because of how we did as a team, got to the Final. Obviously he played phenomenal, was an absolute beast and horse for us out there, so the expectations have been raised for him. I know he's such a competitor, so he loves that. It was great to see."
Hedman, 24, needed time to find his way in the NHL, but he's found his offensive game during the past two seasons. He had 38 points in 59 games last season and 55 (13 goals, 42 assists) in 75 games in 2013-14.
Will he lead the NHL in scoring among defensemen this season? Probably not. But it's easy to see everything Hedman brings to the table, especially to a team that carries the expectations the Lightning will have this season.
Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators -- Arguably the most offensively gifted defenseman in the NHL, Karlsson won the Norris Trophy for the second time last season after leading the Senators with 66 points (21 goals, 45 assists) in 82 games. He had 41 points during the final 46 games, helping the Senators make the playoffs.
But Karlsson can do much than score; he plays in all situations and averaged 27:15 of ice time per game last season, nearly five minutes more than their next-closest teammate (Marc Methot, 22:40).
"I feel better from the [Achilles] injury which happened [in February 2013]," Karlsson told the Ottawa Citizen. "I feel like I can jump better. My explosiveness is coming back to what it used to be. The rest has helped that."
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings -- Doughty finished second in the Norris Trophy voting to Karlsson last season, when the Kings struggled early and ultimately missed the playoffs.
Doughty, 25, had 46 points (seven goals, 39 assists) in 82 games and led the NHL in minutes played (2,377:40). He averaged 28:59 of ice time per game, four seconds behind Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter for the highest average in the NHL. His ice time may decrease slightly this season, but he unquestionably is the No. 1 defenseman in Los Angeles.
"For the most part I think my minutes are going to come down," Doughty said. "I'll probably be in that 24-25 [minutes] area, which I know the team thinks is better for me just because I'll have more energy shift-by-shift … my endurance is probably one of the best parts of my physical abilities. I've always had really good endurance so I definitely tried to make it better this summer."
ALSO IN THE MIX: P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens; Shea Weber, Nashville Predators; Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames.
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
Author: Brian Compton | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor