As preparations for the World Cup of Hockey 2016 hit high gear leading up to the start of the tournament on Sept. 17 in Toronto, NHL.com looks at how the teams stand. Seven writers who will cover the two-week event at Air Canada Centre were asked to rank the teams from 1-8 in various categories. Today, we look at which team has the best shutdown defenseman.
Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings may be the best shutdown defenseman in the World Cup of Hockey 2016, according to an NHL.com panel, but he has some serious competition in the tournament.
Doughty, who won the Norris Trophy as the League's best defenseman last season, earned 53 points and five first-place votes from the seven-writer panel. But he was trailed closely by Victor Hedman of Team Sweden, who had 48 points (one first-place vote) and Zdeno Chara of Team Europe, who had 41 points (one first-place vote).
For the purposes of this vote, the best shutdown defenseman for each team in the tournament was identified, and he was the only one from that team eligible to be ranked first through eighth by the voters. The list of players included Doughty, Hedman, Chara, Aaron Ekblad of Team North America, Matt Niskanen of Team USA, Alexei Emelin of Team Russia, Rasmus Ristolainen of Team Finland and Roman Polak of Team Czech Republic.
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"Doughty's performance with the Kings during his NHL career would be enough to make a solid argument that he should be atop this list, but his play in best-on-best international tournaments makes it a lock," said Arpon Basu, managing editor of LNH.com. "Doughty played in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics at age 20 and during the course of the tournament became one of Canada's most important defensemen. At the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Doughty paired with Marc-Edouard Vlasic of the San Jose Sharks to form Canada's top shutdown pairing. His ability to control the game at both ends of the ice allows Doughty to not only contain the opposition's top offensive players, but to do so by forcing them to play defense."
This is not a new phenomenon either, according to NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen.
"Since the 2010-11 season, Doughty has a 56.88 SAT percentage, first among defensemen with at least 300 games played," Rosen said. "In the same time span, he is second among defensemen in total minutes played (11,813:46). While the SAT percentage doesn't give a true measure of time of possession, it's a shot-attempts metric that gives an indication that Doughty drives possession better than any other defensemen. By doing so, Doughty is effectively shutting down the opposition's offense."
NHL.com staff writer Amalie Benjamin also voted for Doughty.
"Doughty had a 58.89 Corsi-for percentage in 5-on-5 play, which led the NHL, and played for a team that finished with a 2.34 goals-against average, good for third in the League," she said. "He added 51 points this season, but his play was led by his defense, putting him in line as the top shutdown defender in the World Cup of Hockey."
Hedman was the top defenseman for the Tampa Bay Lightning during their run to the Eastern Conference Final in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The 25-year-old has improved his defensive game each season since he joined the League in 2009-10. Last season, Hedman's SAT% was 56.76, the seventh-highest total in the League and the second-highest in the Eastern Conference. In the playoffs, it was 50.97, the fourth-highest among defensemen who played into the third round or beyond.
"Often matched against the opponent's top line, the 6-foot-6, 223-pound Hedman has proven to be a force at both ends of the ice for the Lightning," NHL.com staff writer Tom Gulitti said. "He also elevates his play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs while playing heavier minutes, 27:26 per game in the postseason as compared to 23:03 during the season."
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Chara, the Boston Bruins captain, would have been a front-runner if this argument came four years earlier. But NHL.com columnist Nick Cotsonika believes the 6-foot-9 Slovakian has a chance to be dominant once more, playing for Team Europe, a collection of players from European countries other than Finland, Sweden, Russia and the Czech Republic.
"At age 39, Chara isn't what he used to be, and maybe his legs will have a hard time getting up to speed in September. Then again, he's an offseason workout freak, and maybe he'll be fresh in September, not yet worn down by the NHL season," Cotsonika said. "Playing on the smaller NHL-sized ice in this international competition is an advantage for him, making his immense size more of a factor."
TEAM CANADA (Drew Doughty) - 53 points (5 first-place votes)
TEAM SWEDEN (Victor Hedman) - 48 points (1 first-place vote)
TEAM EUROPE (Zdeno Chara) - 41 points (1 first-place vote)
TEAM NORTH AMERICA (Aaron Ekblad) - 35 points
TEAM USA (Matt Niskanen) - 32 points
TEAM RUSSIA (Alexei Emelin) - 17 points
TEAM FINLAND (Rasmus Ristolainen) - 16 points
TEAM CZECH REPUBLIC (Roman Polak) - 10 points