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#NHLTopPlayers: Top 20 Defensemen

NHL Network reveals best of current crop

NHL.com @NHL

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 experts chose the top 20 defensemen in the League for a special program to be broadcast during the summer. Here is their list:

 

[RELATED: #NHLTopPlayers Right Now | Top 20 NHL Centers | Top 10 NHL Goaltenders | Top 20 NHL Wings | Defensemen on the bubble]

 

1. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators

Karlsson is a two-time Norris Trophy winner (2012, 2015) and finished second the past two seasons. He had 71 points (17 goals, 54 assists) last season. finishing second among defensemen to Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks (76). Karlsson had 18 points (two goals, 16 assists) in 19 Stanley Cup Playoff games to help the Senators come within one win of the Cup Final, doing so playing with two hairline fractures in his left heel. The 27-year-old has at least 66 points, 16 goals, 45 assists and 27 power-play points in each of the past four seasons. He finished fifth in the NHL last season in total ice time (2,066:29) and fourth in ice time per game (26:50).

"The most dynamic defenseman in the National Hockey League is Erik Karlsson," said NHL Network analyst Ken Daneyko, who played defenseman in the NHL from 1982-2003. "It was on display all season long, especially in the playoffs. … Everything runs through Erik Karlsson on the back end, and that's why he's No. 1 on our list."

Video: Erik Karlsson takes the No. 1 spot

 

2. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks

Burns led NHL defensemen with career highs in goals (29) and points (76). He was a finalist for the Norris Trophy for the second straight season and was named a First-Team All-Star, one season after he was voted Second-Team. Burns played 82 games for the third straight season and led the NHL in shots on goal (320) after finishing second in 2015-16.

"If he's got a step on you, forget it, it's over," Daneyko said. "He's too big (6-foot5-, 230 pounds) [and] he's too strong. Silky smooth hands, in tight for a defenseman, he buries it. There's a reason he led the National Hockey League in the backend in goals as well."

The 32-year-old averaged 24:51 per game last season and had six game-winning goals and 25 power-play points. He helped the Sharks advance to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016, scoring 24 points, tied for sixth-most by a defenseman in one playoff year.

Video: Brent Burns takes the No. 2 spot

 

3. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

The 2015-16 Norris Trophy winner played 82 games, averaging 27:08 per game (second in the NHL to Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets). He was first in total ice time (2,225:50) and had 44 points (12 goals, 32 assists). Doughty, 27, has missed 16 games in his nine-year career, has made the First or Second All-Star Team three times, and been a Norris finalist three times. He's finished in the top three in total ice time in four of the past five seasons and helped the Kings win the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014.

"He continues to control the tempo of the game, has a great shot, [and] plays a lot more physical than maybe some people realize," Daneyko said, "It's not all about the numbers, it's about the rings he has on his fingers and leading his team. No, he's not going to have 70, 80 points on a yearly basis, but just controlling the whole tempo of the game. So savvy, so smart, slick, terrific passer."

Video: Drew Doughty is named No. 3 on the list

 

4. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning

Hedman set his NHL highs in goals (16), assists (56) and points (72). He was second among defensemen in points and was a finalist for the Norris Trophy for the first time. Hedman averaged 24:30 per game last season and was named to the Second All-Star Team. Hedman has scored at least 10 goals in four straight seasons and had at least 47 points in three of them.

"He may be the most well-rounded defenseman of anybody in the National Hockey League," Daneyko said. "As far as big, can play physical, uses his stick so well, almost impossible to beat one-on-one. You talk about the gracefulness and the skating ability, you're not supposed to be that smooth at 6-foot-6."

The-26-year-old was second in the NHL with 33 power-play points last season and scored five game-winning goals. Hedman, the No. 2 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, has 301 points (65 goals, 236 assists) and is plus-33 in 549 regular-season games. He helped the Lightning advance to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015.

Video: Victor Hedman lands at No. 4 on the list

 

5. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks

Keith has been one of the best defensemen in the NHL for the past decade. He had 53 points (six goals, 47 assists) last season, the eighth straight time he's had at least 40 points in an 82-game season. He's averaged more than 24:00 per game in each of the past 10 seasons, and in nine of them has been plus-12 or better. A three-time Stanley Cup winner (2010, 2013, 2015), Keith, 34, won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2015, the Norris Trophy twice (2010, 2014), was named to the NHL First All-Star Team in 2010 and 2014 and the Second All-Star Team in 2017. He was voted one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players.

"I think he's the Energizer bunny," Daneyko said. "He's a guy that the motor's always going. We always talk about defensemen using their stick, well, yes, he can shoot [and] he joins the attack. He is on forwards before they know what to do with the puck, even highly skilled ones. So his timing of being able to close that gap and do all the little things that are so important to being a star defenseman in the League."

Video: Duncan Keith takes the No. 5 spot

 

6. P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators

Subban has been one of the most exciting defensemen in the NHL for the past few seasons. In his first season with the Predators after he was traded for Shea Weber on June 29, 2016, Subban had 40 points (10 goals, 30 assists), 16 power-play points and two game-winning goals in 66 games. He had 12 points (two goals, 10 assists) in 22 playoff games. Subban, 28, had at least 51 points in each of his previous three seasons, including an NHL career-high 60 (15 goals, 45 assists) In 2014-15 when he was voted to the First All-Star Team for the second time. The other was in 2012-13, when he won the Norris Trophy. Subban has played in two All-Star Games (2016, 2017).

"He got back, for me, to the P.K. Subban of a couple years ago, three or four years ago with Montreal, where had that type of game where it was electric," Daneyko said. "You started to see it again and he really showed leadership."

Video: NHL Network unveils the Top 20 Defensemen Right Now

 

7. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators

Josi (12 goals, 37 assists) had his third straight season with at least 49 points in 2016-17 and led the Predators in ice time per game (25:04). He also had 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 22 playoff games, helping Nashville advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since entering the NHL in 1998-99. In 2015-16, Josi had an NHL career-best 61 points (14 goals, 47 assists) with 24 power-play points and six power-play goals. The 27-year-old has scored at least 12 goals in each of the past four seasons and plays in all situations for Nashville.

Video: P.K. Subban takes the No. 6 spot, Roman Josi No. 7

 

8. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins

Letang had 34 points (five goals, 29 assists) in 41 games last season, missing time because of injury. He ranked seventh in ice time per game (25:31). In each of the previous two seasons, he had at least 11 goals, 43 assists and 54 points. Letang, who has been with Pittsburgh for 11 seasons, has won the Stanley Cup three times (2009, 2016, 2017) and has 386 points (87 goals, 299 assists) in 603 regular-season games, and 68 points (18 goals, 50 assists) in 116 playoff games. The 30-year-old has made the Second All-Star Team twice (2013, 2016).

"For me, he's the closest to Erik Karlsson you're going to see in the National Hockey League," Daneyko said. "Not the biggest in stature (6-foot-, 201), but can do everything. … It's amazing the Penguins were able to win the Stanley Cup -- it shows the depth -- without a Kris Letang. How much better are they going to be with him in the lineup? Just hope for his sake and the Penguins' organization he can stay healthy. He's worth the price of admission. He's that good of a defenseman."

Video: Kris Letang takes the No. 8 spot

 

9. Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens

In his first season with the Canadiens after he was traded for Subban, Weber had 42 points (17 goals, 25 assists), including 22 power-play points (12 goals, 10 assists), four game-winning goals and was plus-20. Weber has scored at least 15 goals and 42 points in each of his past eight full NHL seasons and has averaged at least 25:04 in each of the past seven seasons. He's a three-time Norris finalist and made the First All-Star Team twice and the Second Team twice. Weber, 32, has been a presence defensively with at least 147 blocked shots in each of the past four seasons.

"To me, as far as what you want in a defenseman -- big, strong, moxie, leadership -- when you look at Shea Weber and it's probably his picture in the dictionary, if you're asking for that type of defenseman," Daneyko said. "I thought he brought a lot to Montreal, he brought something they need."

Video: Shea Weber takes the No. 9 spot

 

10. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild

Suter, 32, had 40 points (NHL career high nine goals, 31 assists), was second in total ice time (2,207:49) and third in average ice time per game (26:55) last season, playing 82 games for the sixth time in his NHL career. He's had at least 37 points in each of the past eight full NHL seasons and has 175 power-play points (25 goals, 150 assists). Suter set NHL career highs with 43 assists and 51 points in 2015-16. He was a Norris Trophy finalist in 2013, played in the All-Star Game in 2012, 2015 and 2017, and was a First-Team All-Star in 2013.

 

11. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes

Ekman-Larsson has been backbone of the Coyotes defense for the past seven seasons. He's scored at least 12 goals in each of the past five full NHL seasons, including back-to-back seasons of 23 in 2014-15 and 21 in 2015-16. His NHL career-best 55 points in 2015-16 led the Coyotes in scoring. The 26-year-old is a power-play force; 40 of his 88 NHL goals and 106 of his 248 points have come with the man-advantage. He's also known for coming through in the clutch: From 2013-14 through 2015-16, he had 21 game-winning goals.

 

12. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets

Byfuglien, 32, led the NHL in ice time per game last season (27:26) and finished third in total ice time (2,195:34). He made 183 hits last season and had at least 200 in each of the previous three seasons. Byfuglien (13 goals, 39 assists last season) has double-digit goals in each of the past nine full NHL seasons and at least 50 points five times. He also has 164-power-play points and 34 game-winning goals. Byfuglien won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010 and was named to the All-Star Game in 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2016.

"When he's physical, there's no guy better than Dustin Byfuglien," Daneyko said. "He's big (6-foot-5, 260), he's powerful, he can shoot the puck [and] he can change the tempo of a game with a big hit, big shot. … He's got the abilities, the total package, to be a top-five guy, but he's certainly in the top 20."

Video: Dustin Byfuglien lands the No. 12 spot

 

13. Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets

Werenski, 19, led NHL rookie defensemen in points (47), assists (36), power-play points (21), power-play goals (four), plus-minus (plus-17), and shots on goal (188) last season. He was a huge boost to the power play and defense of the Blue Jackets, and began the season with a point in four straight games and in seven of nine (including three multipoint games). The No. 8 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft finished third in Calder Trophy voting and was named to the All-Rookie team.

"There is no ceiling for this guy," Daneyko said. "He is going to be an all-star for a lot of years. The way he handles himself, the way he controls the puck on the ice and jumps into the play. Just the silky smoothness of his skating ability, the vision, the passing ability -- tape-to-tape pass -- he was real impressive."

Video: Zach Werenski takes the No. 13 spot

 

14. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues

Pietrangelo, 27, scored an NHL career-high 14 goals last season to go along with 34 assists for 48 points, and has at least 37 points in each of the past six full NHL seasons. He's had at least 30 assists in each of the past four seasons, and is plus-56 in 539 NHL games. Pietrangelo led Blues defensemen in scoring in six of the past seven seasons. He had 51 points in 2011-12 and 2013-14, and was voted a Second-Team All-Star each time.

 
15. Kevin Shattenkirk, New York Rangers

One of the premier power-play specialists in the League, Shattenkirk had an NHL career-high 27 power-play points last season with the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals, and has had at least 25 in each of the past four seasons. He averaged 19:56 of ice time, had an NHL career-high 56 points (13 goals, 43 assists) last season, and has at least 43 points in each of the past five full NHL seasons. Shattenkirk, 27, has 298 points (68 goals, 230 assists) in 490 games and played in the All-Star Game in 2015.

Video: Daneyko breaks down Top 20 Defensemen Right Now list

 

16. Dougie Hamilton, Calgary Flames

In his second season in Calgary, Hamilton had NHL career highs in goals (13), assists (37), points (50) and game-winning goals (five). Hamilton, who finished eighth among defensemen in scoring, played 81 games and took a career-high 222 shots on goal. He helped Calgary tie a Flames record with 10 straight wins from Feb. 21-March 13 and qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The 24-year-old has reached double figures in goals in each of the past three seasons and is plus-21 in five NHL seasons.

 
17. Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers

New York's captain had 42 points (six goals, 36 assists) last season, and he's had at least 32 points in each of the past five full seasons. McDonagh was plus-20 last season, the third straight season he's been at least plus-20, and hasn't been lower than plus-11 in his seven NHL seasons. The 28-year-old had an NHL career-high 15 power-play points last season and played in the All-Star Game in 2016 and 2017.

"He can skate and he can skate for days," Daneyko said. "He never seems to tire, he plays in every situation, he's got a great sense of where to be on the ice at all times [and] uses his stick well. … Ryan McDonagh is as competitive as any defenseman in the National Hockey League. He competes every single shift."

Video: Ryan McDonagh takes the No. 17 spot

 

18. Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames

The 33-year-old captain of the Flames had 39 points (12 goals, 27 assists) in 81 games last season, following 2015-16 when he set NHL career highs with 21 goals and 56 points. In 11 seasons, Giordano has 340 points (99 goals, 241 assists) in 673 games. He played in the All-Star Game in 2015 and 2016 and was in the Norris Trophy race in 2014-15 with 11 goals and 48 points in 61 games before a biceps injury caused him to miss the remainder of the season. He won the NHL Foundation Player Award (commitment, perseverance and teamwork) in 2015-16 and was a finalist for the Mark Messier Leadership Award last season.

 
19. Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators

Ellis, 26, set NHL career-highs last season in goals (16) and points (38) and was plus-17, which led the Predators. He had 11 power-play points, three game-winning goals and led them in blocked shots (137). Ellis had 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 22 Stanley Cup Playoff games to help Nashville advance to the Cup Final for the first time. He has increased his goal total in each of the past four seasons and is plus-50 in six NHL seasons (352 games).

Video: Ken Daneyko looks at defensemen on the rise right now

 

20. Cam Fowler, Anaheim Ducks

Fowler had NHL career highs in goals (11), points (39), shots on goal (186) and blocked shots (134) last season. He led the Ducks in ice time per game (24:50) and played 1,987:51, 240 minutes more than their next closest player (Ryan Kesler, 1,746:54). The 25-year-old also had nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 13 Stanley Cup Playoff games and has 217 points (45 goals, 172 assists) in 494 regular-season games.

"He's elevated his game, as far as in the defensive zone," Daneyko said. "Great recognition of when to jump in and finding that balance. He always had the offensive tools, but uses his stick well in his own zone, and again, picking your spots of when to jump in and not getting caught and be a defensive liability. Cam Fowler took his game to another level this season."

Video: Cam Fowler takes the No. 20 spot

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