Defensemen Ryan Suter and Erik Karlsson are two of the best at their position on the planet. They'll face off when Suter and the Minnesota Wild goes for its seventh straight victory and hosts Karlsson and the Ottawa Senators Thursday at Xcel Energy Center.
The matchup is a reminder of how there isn’t one blueprint to being a standout blue liner in today's NHL.
"No, there really isn't," Matt Dumba said. "It takes all types. On our d-corps, you can go through all of us, and each of us brings something different.
"It's kind of a little bit of a testament toward that."
Suter is one of the most highly used defenseman in the NHL. Entering Thursday, over the past five seasons, no defensemen has played within 300 minutes of Suter's total. He's the only skater in the league to have played over 10,000 minutes over that span.
"His defensive play is huge," Dumba said. "How he manages his ice, and just his positional play. It does a lot for us in the d-zone and in the o-zone. He's always in the right spot, and creating stuff from being so good positionally."
If Suter and the Wild can win on Thursday, it will inch closer to securing a spot in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Wild currently leads the Colorado Avalanche, the ninth-place team in the Western Conference, by five points. Any combination of the Wild earning and Colorado missing out on six points would secure the Wild a spot in the postseason.
Suter plays at all three strengths, is a driver of both puck possession and scoring chances, and has one of the lowest giveaway rates in his defensive zone in the league when games are tied or within a goal.
"You always talk about the calmness that [Suter] has back there, so many little plays breaking out of our end, controlling the puck down from our end and getting out of the zone that to the average person watching probably don't get noticed, or maybe to everybody watching don't always get noticed," Devan Dubnyk said. "But he's doing these things every single game for the entire game that allows our team to get the puck going the other way, and be in the other end."
Suter is having a career offensive year, setting personal-highs in assists and points. If he scores in any of the Wild's five remaining games, he'll set a new career best in goals. Suter has also set new Wild franchise marks for a defenseman this season in both assists and points.
"His all-around game and his leadership (have impressed me)," interim Head Coach John Torchetti said. "He's been joining the rush a lot more. He builds good confidence with all the young defenseman we have."
Though Karlsson and the Senators have been mathematically eliminated from the postseason, he is still one of the favorites to win the Norris Trophy, awarded each season to the league's top defenseman.
Karlsson leads all skaters this season in assists, and is fourth in the NHL in scoring. He has a chance to become the first defenseman to finish in the top five of an NHL scoring race since Paul Coffey finished third in 1986. Karlsson is the only defenseman in the past two decades to have finished in the top 10 of a scoring race; he finished 10th in 2012.
"One thing is he's fearless," Torchetti said. "He holds onto the puck. A guy is right on top of him and he's right on top of him. It's his poise with it, and he makes good reads."
That isn't to say the Senators 25-year-old captain is deficient in his own end. He is one of the highest impact possession-players in the league, and like Suter, also greatly influences his team's scoring chances.
"That one is tough, because a lot of people do just stereotype it as that," Dumba said. "But honestly, the more you have the puck, the other team can't score when you have the puck, and that's the mentality that those guys like PK (Subban) and Karlsson take on a game, which is one way."
What is a commonality between the two defensemen, Dubnyk said, is how efficient they are at quickly getting the puck up to their forwards under any circumstance.
"If you look at guys like Karlsson, or (Drew) Doughty, or (Shea) Weber, or [Suter], all the best defensemen in the league, they all bring different things offensively, but if you look at that, it's probably one thing that they all bring," Dubnyk said. "Moving the puck, and getting the puck going the other way better than everybody else."
Here is the Wild's projected lineup:
Zach Parise – Mikko Koivu – Charlie Coyle
Thomas Vanek – Mikael Granlund – Jason Zucker
Nino Niederreiter – Erik Haula – Jason Pominville
Jordan Schroeder – Jarret Stoll – Justin Fontaine
Ryan Suter – Jared Spurgeon
Marco Scandella – Jonas Brodin
Matt Dumba – Mike Reilly