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Defensemen on the bubble

Five who fell short of making NHL Network's Top 20 list

NHL.com @NHL

NHL Network knows who the best players are in the League right now. It will reveal its version in a nine-episode summer series, airing weekends. The fourth episode is Saturday at 7 p.m. ET and focuses on the Top 20 defensemen.

Did your favorite defenseman make the list? Tune in Saturday to find out and join the conversation with the #NHLTopPlayers hashtag. Here is a preview of the series and a look at five defensemen who were on the bubble but just missed the top 20.

Whether it's blocking a shot, breaking up a pass or chipping in offensively, there are many areas that make a player a top defenseman.

 

[RELATED: Top 20 Defensemen in NHL | Complete #NHLTopPlayers coverage]

 

"We seem to look at offensive numbers mostly, and most of the guys in the top 20 seem to put up good numbers offensively, but they are well-rounded," said NHL Network analyst Ken Daneyko, a defenseman who played 20 seasons in the NHL with the New Jersey Devils (1983-2003). "They can play a 200-foot game, and I think that's important. Being able to join the rush in the transition game is important, but how responsible they are in their own zone also factor into being a top defenseman."

The Top 20 defensemen will be revealed during the show, but Daneyko discussed some who just missed, according to the show producers and NHL Network analysts who made up the selection panel.

 

21. Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes

Faulk has been an offensive force for the Hurricanes during the past four seasons. He had 37 points (17 goals, 20 assists) in 75 games in 2016-17, It was his fourth straight season with at least 32 points, and he's scored at least 15 goals each of the past three. Faulk, 25, had 225 shots on goal last season, tied with Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers for third among NHL defensemen, and 13 power-play points. In 2015-16, he had 12 power-play goals, tied with Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Arizona Coyotes for second among NHL defensemen behind Shea Weber, who had 14 for the Nashville Predators.

"He has a terrific shot and is a guy that can score goals," Daneyko said. "If he can be more consistent on a nightly basis, he can move into the top 20 next season. He can jump into the play and uses his stick well."

Video: DET@CAR: Faulk finds twine on drive from the circle

 

22. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars

He finished fifth in Calder Trophy voting in 2014-15 after he had 40 points (11 goals, 29 assists) in 65 games and followed that with 58 points (10 goals, 48 assists) in 2015-16. Last season, Klingberg had 49 points (13 goals, 36 assists), 17 power-play points, three game-winning goals and 117 blocked shots. The 25-year-old led Stars defensemen in points each of the past three seasons and in goals each of the past two.

"Klingberg gets 40-plus points a season and is a terrific passer," Daneyko said. "He really moves the puck well and joins the attack, picks his spots, and knows when to be in the play. We know how offensive Dallas was in 2015-16 and it slipped a bit [last season], so Klingberg's numbers did too."

Video: DAL@FLA: Klingberg nets a clutch go-ahead tally

 

23. Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo Sabres

Ristolainen increased his point total in each of the past three seasons. He had 45 points (six goals, 39 assists) in 79 games last season, including 25 on the power play to lead the Sabres. Two of his six goals were game-winners, each coming in overtime. He also led Buffalo in blocked shots (161) and was second in hits (195) behind forward Marcus Foligno (279). He had at least 136 blocked shots and 118 hits in each of the past three seasons.

"He is definitely on the cusp," Daneyko said. "He's only 22 and plays in every situation, and the Sabres rely on him so heavily. He's big, strong and is just rounding out his game. It takes some young defensemen longer than others, but I only expect him to get better and better."

Video: BUF@ANA: Ristolainen shines in SO with gorgeous move

 

24. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, San Jose Sharks

Entering his 12th NHL season, Vlasic has become a top shut-down defenseman who also provides offense. He had at least 23 points each of the past five full NHL seasons and has had a minus rating once in the NHL. He was plus-31 in 2013-14, tied for second in the League among defensemen, and is plus-129 in 812 NHL games, fifth among active defensemen. Vlasic, 30, had more than 100 blocked shots in each of the past eight full NHL seasons. His 21:14 of ice time per game last season was second on the Sharks behind defenseman Brent Burns (24:51).

"Coaches love guys like Vlasic because he is steady night in and night out, can play with anyone and make them better, and certainly when he plays with a real offensive guy, you don't have to worry when they take some risks," Daneyko said. "When you have a guy like Vlasic to back you up, it's pretty safe. It's no coincidence why he gets picked to represent [Canada] nationally over some bigger names."

Video: FLA@SJS: Vlasic banks slapper off defenseman and in

 

25. Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets

Jones had an NHL career-high 42 points (12 goals, 30 assists) last season. Showing his growth, he has one fewer point (62) in 116 games for the Blue Jackets than he had in 199 games for the Nashville Predators, who picked him No. 4 at the 2013 NHL Draft and traded him to the Blue Jackets on Jan. 6, 2016. He had three game-winning goals last season, each coming in overtime, and his plus-6 rating was the best he's had in four NHL seasons. Jones, 22, averaged 23:24 of ice time last season, which led the Blue Jackets and was the highest of his NHL career.

"What a pairing Jones and Zach Werenski made last season," Daneyko said. "Jones is going to be a guy with 40-plus points every year, great skater, all-around solid defenseman. He has great stickwork and reach and all the attributes you want in a defenseman, not to mention his shot and skating ability. Jones will be a good, sound player for the Blue Jackets for a lot of years."

Video: CBJ@DET: Jones picks the corner for overtime win

Here is the remaining schedule: 
Aug. 26: Top 20 defensemen 
Sept. 3: Top 50 players (50-41)
Sept. 10: Top 50 players (40-31)
Sept. 17: Top 50 players (30-21) 
Sept. 24: Top 50 players (20-11) 
Oct. 1: Top 50 players (10-1) 

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