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#NHLTopPlayers: Top 20 Defensemen

NHL Network reveals best of current crop

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / Staff Writer

Top 20 Defensemen Right Now

NHL Network rolls out the Top 20 Defensemen Right Now

NHL Network counts down the Top 20 Defensemen Right Now, ranking the best blueliners at the position #NHLTopPlayers

  • 01:18 •

Whether it's breaking up a big play, setting up a goal, or scoring on the power play, some defensemen can do it all. NHL Network producers and analysts chose the top 20 defensemen in the League for a special program that premiered Sunday as the third in a nine-part series leading up to the regular season. Here is the list:


[RELATED: #NHLTopPlayers: Top 20 Wings | Top 20 Centers | #NHLTopPlayers Right Now]


1. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks

For the second time in three seasons, Burns led NHL defensemen in scoring. His 83 points (16 goals, 67 assists) were an NHL career high. He also led NHL defensemen with six game-winning goals, and his seven power-play goals were tied for first with Drew Doughty (Los Angeles Kings) and Keith Yandle (Florida Panthers). The 34-year-old has scored at least 60 points in each of the past five seasons. He has been a finalist for the Norris Trophy as best defenseman in the NHL three of the past four seasons and was voted the winner of the award in 2016-17. Burns has 50 points (15 goals, 35 assists) in 60 Stanley Cup Playoff games since 2015-16 to lead defensemen in that span.

"Any game, any situation, any time when Brent Burns is focused, he's an impact as far as physicality, as far as the big shot, as far as jumping into the attack," said NHL Network analyst Ken Daneyko, a New Jersey Devils defenseman from 1983-2003. "It's hard to argue … he's a well-deserved No. 1."

Video: Brent Burns claims the top spot on the list


2. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning

Hedman had 54 points (12 goals, 42 assists), including 25 on the power play, and was plus-24 in 70 games last season. His 189 points (45 goals, 144 assists) were second among NHL defensemen the past three seasons, trailing only Burns (226), and his 17 goals tied Ivan Provorov (Philadelphia Flyers) and Dougie Hamilton (Calgary Flames) for the lead among defensemen in 2017-18. The 28-year-old has been a finalist for the Norris Trophy three of the past four seasons and won the award in 2017-18.

"He just doesn't make mistakes, so sound in his own zone, 6-foot-6, graceful skater, big shot, plays power plays and [penalty kill], always out there in big meaningful spots for the Tampa Bay Lightning," Daneyko said. "… He's that well-rounded, that good, and when you're 6-foot-6, that makes a big difference because size does matter from that standpoint, especially the way he skates."

Video: Victor Hedman is ranked No. 2 on the list


3. Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames

Giordano won the Norris Trophy last season after finishing second in the NHL in scoring among defensemen behind Burns with 74 points (17 goals, 57 assists), his NHL career high. He led the NHL with a plus-39 rating, finishing even or plus in 58 of 78 games. Giordano, who turns 36 on Oct. 3, led the Flames in ice time per game (24:14) and had 21 power-play points and six shorthanded points (four goals) to help Calgary finish with the best record in the Western Conference and rank second in the NHL with a plus-66 goal differential (Lightning, plus-98).

"His work ethic, his belief in himself, his drive, he continually got better year after year, a guy that went undrafted," Daneyko said. "Remarkable story, remarkable player, well-deserved Norris Trophy winner. Played in every situation, well-rounded player, defenseman. For me, it's just the heart, the work ethic, and he believed in himself to get to that level."

Video: Mark Giordano takes the No. 3 spot on the list


4. Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks

In his first season in San Jose, Karlsson was limited to 53 games because of injury but had 45 points (three goals, 42 assists) to rank sixth among NHL defensemen in points per game (0.85). The 29-year-old had at least 62 points in five straight seasons through 2017-18, and his 563 points since entering the NHL in 2009-10 are the most among defensemen in that span, ahead of Burns' 532. Karlsson is a four-time Norris Trophy finalist, winning the award in 2011-12 and 2014-15, was voted to the NHL First All-Star Team three times (2014-17).


5. Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets

Jones was fourth in the NHL in ice time per game last season (25:49), his sixth in the League. He had 46 points (nine goals, 37 assists) in 75 games one season after he had an NHL career-high 57 (16 goals, 41 assists). Jones, who turns 25 on Oct. 3, scored four game-winning goals, including three in overtime, and had nine points (three goals, six assists) in 10 playoff games to help the Blue Jackets sweep the Presidents' Trophy-winning Lightning in the 2019 Eastern Conference First Round to advance in the postseason for the first time in their history.

"He's really just understanding how good he can become," Daneyko said. "That's how young defensemen do it, it takes a little bit of time, but boy, is he growing, no question. He's going to have one Norris Trophy, I'm not going to go multiple, but he has the potential to be one of the best in the game."

Video: Seth Jones checks in at No. 5 on the list


6. John Carlson, Washington Capitals

After leading NHL defensemen with 68 points (15 goals, 53 assists) in 2017-18, Carlson set a new NHL career high with 70 (13 goals, 57 assists) last season. He had 33 power-play points, second among NHL defensemen behind Yandle's 39, and a plus-21 rating. His 25:04 of ice time per game was the highest average of his NHL career. The 29-year-old helped the Capitals win the Stanley Cup in 2018, when he had 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) and was plus-11 in 24 playoff games.

"The last couple of years he's finally become that guy where we talk about one of the best defensemen in the game," Daneyko said. "Always puts up big numbers offensively, he uses that big frame (6-foot-3, 218 pounds) around the net, he's a terrific stick defender. There's not much not to like about John Carlson's game, and he really carries the load on the back end for the Washington Capitals."


7. Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs

Rielly is coming off a breakout season when he led NHL defensemen with 20 goals and finished third with 72 points. He had a plus-24 rating, 21 power-play points and five game-winning goals, including two in overtime. The 25-year-old began 2018-19 with a six-game point streak (three goals, 10 assists), the longest to start a season in Toronto history, and his 12 points in the first five games are the most in NHL history by a defenseman, one more than Bobby Orr had for the Boston Bruins in 1973-74.

"Quite the jump from unranked to No. 7, but well deserved for Morgan Rielly," Daneyko said. "Shows me how his game has developed. … His defensive game has gotten better ... reading the play a little bit better. He's done that and continues to become a well-rounded, one of the elite defensemen in the game."

Video: Morgan Rielly lands at No. 7 on the list


8. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators

Josi had 56 points (15 goals, 41 assists) last season, the fourth time in the past five seasons he had at least 53. He's scored at least 12 goals each of the past six seasons and averaged 25:10 of ice time last season, fifth in the NHL and the fifth time in the past six seasons he's averaged at least 25 minutes. The 29-year-old has had a plus rating in four of the past five seasons, including an NHL career-high plus-24 in 2017-18.

Video: Roman Josi claims the No. 8 spot on the list


9. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

Doughty finished second in ice time per game (26:36) and total ice time (2,180:48) last season after leading the NHL in total ice time the previous two seasons. He had 45 points (eight goals, 37 assists), including 24 on the power play. A four-time Norris Trophy finalist and the winner for 2015-16, the 29-year-old played all 82 games each of the past five seasons and has missed 16 games in his 11-season NHL career.


10. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins

Letang tied his NHL career high with 16 goals (2015-16) and had 56 points last season. It was the fourth time in the past five seasons he had at least 51 points, including an NHL career-high 67 in 2015-16. Letang's 262 points since the 2014-15 season are sixth among NHL defensemen in that span. A three-time Stanley Cup winner with Pittsburgh (2009, 2016, 2017), the 32-year-old has 80 points (21 goals, 59 assists) in 132 playoff games, second among defensemen since he entered the NHL in 2006-07, one fewer than Duncan Keith has for the Chicago Blackhawks.


11. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues

The 29-year-old Blues captain had 41 points (13 goals, 28 assists) in 71 games last season after setting NHL career highs in goals (15) and points (54) in 2017-18. Pietrangelo led NHL defensemen with 19 points (three goals, 16 assists) in 26 games in the 2019 playoffs to help St. Louis win the Stanley Cup for the first time in its history.


12. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars

In 64 games last season, Klingberg had 45 points (10 goals, 35 assists), 20 power-play points and five game-winning goals. The 27-year-old has had a plus rating in each of his five NHL seasons, and his 259 points (52 goals, 207 assists) in 367 games since entering the NHL in 2014-15 are seventh among defensemen. Klingberg had nine points (two goals, seven assists) and led the Stars with a plus-8 rating in 13 playoff games last season, when they advanced to the Western Conference Second Round before losing in seven games to the Blues.

Video: NHL writers analyze league's best blueliners


13. P.K. Subban, New Jersey Devils

Subban has been one of the most dynamic offensive defensemen since entering the NHL in 2009-10, with 408 points (98 goals, 310 assists) in 645 games. He was limited to 63 games with the Predators last season because of injuries but had 31 points (nine goals, 22 assists) and was plus-5. The 30-year-old, who was traded to the Devils on June 22, is a two-time Norris Trophy finalist and won the award in 2012-13 with the Montreal Canadiens.

"His preparation is at an all-time high," Daneyko said. "I don't care how long you've been around, if you've won a Norris Trophy before, you have to play or come to camp with a chip on your shoulder, and I think P.K. Subban is getting prepared to really have a bounce-back year. …You can feel it, he's got a little chip. He wants to show, 'Don't forget about P.K. Subban. I'm not only a top-20 defenseman, I'm one of the elite defensemen in the National Hockey League.'"


14. Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins

In two NHL seasons, McAvoy has 60 points (14 goals, 46 assists) and is plus-34 in 117 games. The 21-year-old averaged 22:10 of ice time in the regular season in 2018-19 and 24:30 in the playoffs, each of which led the Bruins, and he had eight points (two goals, six assists) in 23 playoff games to help Boston reach Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against St. Louis.


15. Jacob Trouba, New York Rangers

Trouba had his most productive season in the NHL in 2018-19, when he had 50 points (eight goals, 42 assists) for the Winnipeg Jets, including 18 on the power play after he had 20 in his first five NHL seasons combined. The 25-year-old was traded to New York on June 17 and agreed to a seven-year contract July 19.


16. Torey Krug, Boston Bruins

Krug had 53 points (six goals, 47 assists) in 64 games last season, the third straight season he's had at least 51 points. His 30 power-play points were third among NHL defensemen. The 28-year-old averaged 22:21 of ice time in the postseason, and his 18 points (two goals, 16 assists) in 24 playoff games were second in the NHL among defensemen behind Pietrangelo.


17. Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars

Heiskanen led NHL rookie defensemen in goals (12), and his 33 points were second behind Rasmus Dahlin's 44 for the Buffalo Sabres. He led NHL rookies with 23:07 of ice time per game, nearly two more minutes per game than Dahlin, who was second with an average of 21:09. The 20-year-old scored two goals and had two assists in 13 playoff games.

"When he's on the ice, he's making an impact," Daneyko said. "You always think something good's going to happen watching Miro Heiskanen play. ... The transition game is second to none, he's as smooth as silk as far as jumping into the play. He floats on the ice, he reminds me a lot of Scott Niedermayer's skating ability, and that says a lot because I'd never seen a better skater."

Video: Miro Heiskanen comes in at No. 17 on the list


18. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild

In 2018-19, Suter led the NHL in average ice time (26:42), finishing in the top three for the ninth straight season, and total ice time (2,188:45). The 34-year-old had 47 points (seven goals, 40 assists), the fourth straight season he's had at least 40. Suter has been durable, missing 12 games in the past eight seasons.

Video: Ryan Suter takes the No. 18 spot on the list


19. Colton Parayko, St. Louis Blues

Parayko scored an NHL career-high 10 goals and had 28 points and a plus-20 rating (second on the Blues behind center Ryan O'Reilly's plus-22) last season. His 22:47 of ice time per game was second on St. Louis behind Pietrangelo's 24:05. The 26-year-old had 12 points (two goals, 10 assists) and averaged 25:07 of ice time in 26 playoff games to help the Blues win the Stanley Cup.

"He brings a lot of different elements, his game has grown tremendously," Daneyko said. "… I'd probably have him even higher. Colton Parayko's playing that well and that good for the St. Louis Blues."

Video: Colton Parayko settles in at No. 19 on the list


20. Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets

In three NHL seasons, Werenski has 128 points (38 goals, 90 assists) in 237 games. He had 44 points (11 goals, 33 assists) and averaged 22:54 of ice time last season. The 22-year-old was a finalist for the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year in 2016-17, when he had 47 points (11 goals, 36 assists) in 78 games. Werenski had six points (one goal, five assists) and averaged 26:37 of ice time per game in 10 games in the 2019 playoffs.

"He's going to be, within a couple years, top 10, there's no doubt about it," Daneyko said. "… He's a guy that you're going to be able to count on in every situation for a lot of years in Columbus, and a guy that always -- I would expect - [will] be in the top 20 for years to come. But I expect him to climb."

Video: Zach Werenski lands at No. 20 on the list

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