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NHL Network: Top 20 Defenseman

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks

Whether it's breaking up a big play, setting up a goal or scoring on the power play, some defensemen can do it all. It's time to take a look at the League's "Top 20 Defensemen Right Now" as chosen by a panel of NHL Network experts:

1. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

Doughty, 26, has been one of the best defensemen in the NHL for a number of seasons, and won the Norris Trophy for the first time in 2016. He didn't win the Conn Smythe Trophy in either of the Kings' Stanley Cup championship runs, but he would have been a worthy recipient either time. He has won Olympic gold medals twice, and was a critical part of Canada's success in both tournaments. He had 51 points last season (14 goals, 37 assists), the second-highest of his NHL career (59 points in 2009-10), and he's one of three defensemen to average more than 27 minutes per game of ice time during the past three seasons. Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild and Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators are the others.

2. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators

Karlsson, 26, is one of the game's best offensive players at the position. He has won the Norris Trophy twice, and had an NHL career-high 82 points last season, including a League-best 66 assists. He became the first defenseman in 20 years to have as many points in a season (Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers had 85 points and Ray Bourque of the Boston Bruins had 82, in 1995-96), and his 222 points the past three seasons are 39 more points than any defenseman. If Karlsson wins the Norris again, he'll be one of nine in NHL history to do so at least three times.

3. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks

Burns, 31, has been back on defense for the past two seasons and is making the case to stay there permanently. His playful personality has boosted his profile, but his play cemented his stardom. Burns had NHL career highs with 27 goals and 75 points last season, and had 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) to help the Sharks reach the Stanley Cup Final. He has 598 shots on goal the past two seasons, 58 more than the next defenseman (Erik Karlsson, 540).

4. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks

Keith, 33, is the only active player other than Karlsson to have won the Norris Trophy twice. Keith's time on ice is monitored during the regular season, but he often plays an incredible amount during the postseason. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2015 after he had 21 points (three goals, 18 assists) in 23 games while averaging 31:06 of ice time during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That's the second-most by any player who reached the Stanley Cup Final since 1998, just shy of Nicklas Lidstrom's 31:10 in 2002 with the Detroit Red Wings.

5. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning

The No. 2 pick of the 2009 NHL Draft, Hedman, 25, was rewarded with an eight-year, $63 million contract extension July 1. He has size (6-foot-6, 223 pounds) and is one of the best passers in the League at the position, especially on long-distance outlets to help ignite the Lightning offense. He might be the best bet to be the next first-time Norris Trophy winner now that Doughty has won it.

6. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins

Letang, 29, is second among defensemen in points per game in the past three seasons (0.81) behind Karlsson (0.90), but has had trouble staying healthy. That wasn't a problem during the 2016 playoffs, and he was a critical component of the Penguins' second championship in eight years. He had three goals and 12 assists in 23 games, averaged 28:52 of ice time per game and was a contender for the Conn Smythe Trophy.

7. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators

Josi, 26, might not be the most noted defenseman in Nashville, but quietly has become one of the best in the League. Josi is highly skilled and played on the Predators' top pair with Shea Weber. Going from Weber to P.K. Subban, acquired in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens on June 29, as a partner could be a big change, though there's no reason to believe a Josi-Subban top pairing wouldn't be successful. Josi is fourth in scoring in the NHL among defensemen during the past three seasons with 156 points, right behind Subban, who had 164.

8. P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators

Subban, 27, likely will pair with Josi with the Predators. Subban had 51 points (six goals, 45 assists) in 68 games last season, the third-highest total in his NHL career; he had reached double-digits in goals the previous three seasons. He ranked third in points among League defenseman the past three seasons with 164, behind Karlsson (222) and Burns (183). Subban already has endeared himself to his new fan base, and gold No. 76 jerseys should be popular purchases in Nashville this season.

9. Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens

Weber, 30, is a big, strong defenseman with a powerful shot and likely will have a big impact on the Canadiens' power play. He's fourth in the League in average time on ice among defensemen during the past three seasons, at 26:13 per game. During that span he led players at the position with 31 power-play goals and was third in total goals with 58. Weber will be in new surroundings this season following his trade to the Canadiens by the Predators for Subban, but is expected to be just as big a contributor for the Canadiens as he was during his 11 seasons with the Predators.

10. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes

Ekman-Larsson, 25, has scored more than 20 goals each of the past two seasons. Only 18 defensemen have scored at least 20 goals in a season in the past 20 years, and Ekman-Larsson joined fellow Swede Karlsson as the only ones to do it in back-to-back seasons. Ekman-Larsson, along with Hedman, are big reasons why Team Sweden will be one of the favorites to medal at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 in September. Ekman-Larsson has never finished higher than seventh in voting for the Norris Trophy, but that could change in the near future.

11. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild

Suter, 31, tied his NHL career high with eight goals last season, and set NHL career highs with 43 assists and 51 points. He has had at least 38 points in each of the past seven 82-game NHL seasons and has been one of the better defensemen on the power play, with 163 points (21 goals, 142 assists) in his career. Suter has played every game in a season six times in his 11 NHL seasons. In 2013 he was a Norris Trophy finalist and an NHL First Team All-Star.

12. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets

Byfuglien, 31, has been one of the fiercest defensemen in the League, with 222 hits last season and at least 200 each of the past three seasons. He also has 796 penalty minutes in 678 regular-season games, but that hasn't hampered his offensive ability. Byfuglien has had double-digit goal totals in eight straight 82-game seasons, and has had at least 53 points four times. In 11 NHL seasons he has 150 power-play points and 33 game-winning goals. He won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010 and was voted to the NHL All-Star Game in 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2016.

13. Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks

Seabrook, 31, is known for being a shutdown defender, but last season had NHL career highs with 14 goals and 49 points. He also had six power-play goals and 25 power-play points, which ranked second on the Blackhawks behind Patrick Kane (37 power-play points). Seabrook is as durable as they come, missing 11 games during the past 10 seasons. Seabrook, a three-time Stanley Cup Champion (2010, 2013, 2015) who played in the 2015 NHL All-Star Game, has 367 points (85 goals, 282 assists) in 844 regular-season games and 59 points (20 goals, 39 assists) in 119 playoff games.

14. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars

Klingberg, 23, was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team in 2014-15, when he had 40 points (11 goals, 29 assists), including 12 points on the power play, in 65 games. Last season he had 58 points (10 goals, 48 assists), a plus-22 rating, and four game-winning goals, including three in overtime. He led Stars defensemen with 22 power-play points last season, tied for 11th in the League among defensemen.

15. Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers

The No. 1 pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, Ekblad, 20, has been one of the best defenseman in the League for the past two seasons. He won the Calder Trophy in 2014-15 and made the NHL All-Rookie Team, and played in the NHL All-Star Game in 2015 and 2016. Ekblad had 39 points (12 goals, 27 assists), including 13 power-play points, and was a plus-12 in 81 games in 2014-15. Last season he had 36 points (15 goals, 21 assists), was a plus-18 and helped the Panthers win their first division title and qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

16. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues

Pietrangelo, 26, had seven goals and 30 assists last season, and has at least 37 points in each of the past five 82-game NHL seasons. He has had at least 30 assists each of the past three seasons, and is a plus-53 in 459 career games. Pietrangelo has led Blues defensemen in scoring in five of the past six seasons, and was named to the NHL Second All-Star Team in 2012 and 2014; he had 51 points in each season.

17. Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers

The 27-year-old Rangers captain had 34 points (nine goals, 25 assists) last season with an NHL career-high 8.0 shooting percentage, and is two seasons removed from having 43 points (14 goals, 29 assists). McDonagh was a plus-26 last season, tied for ninth in the League, and the third time in five seasons he was a plus-23 or better. He was named the Rangers team MVP in 2013-14.

18. Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers

Gostisbehere, 23, had a huge impact on the Flyers after being recalled from Lehigh Valley of the American Hockey League on Nov. 14. The Calder Trophy finalist finished fifth among rookies in points (46), second in power-play points (22) and tied for second in game-winning goals (five), and was tied for second among all players with four overtime goals. He also set a League record for rookie defensemen with a point in 15 straight games. Gostisbehere finished fifth on the Flyers in scoring despite playing 64 games, and was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team.

19. John Carlson, Washington Capitals

Carlson, 26, had 39 points (eight goals, 31 assists) last season, despite missing 56 games because of injury. Prior to last season he had not missed a game during the previous five seasons. He had NHL career highs in goals (12), assists (43) and points (55) in 2014-15. He tied Alex Ovechkin for the Capitals lead in playoff scoring last season with 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 12 games, and in 454 NHL regular-season games has 228 points (53 goals, 175 assists) and is a plus-52.

20. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, San Jose Sharks

Vlasic, 29, helped the Sharks reach the Stanley Cup Final with a plus-14 rating in the playoffs to go along with one goal and 11 assists in 24 games. That followed a regular season when Vlasic scored an NHL career high 39 points (eight goals, 31 assists) in 67 games. Vlasic has 47 goals and 179 assists with a plus-125 rating in 737 NHL games. The No. 35 pick in the 2005 NHL Draft has finished with a minus rating once in his 10 seasons, all with the Sharks.

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