By Sean Hartnett
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Here’s a look at the top 25 defensemen in the NHL entering the 2016-17 season.
1. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
The two-time Norris Trophy winner is a generational talent. No defenseman possesses the total confidence that Karlsson has with the puck on his blade. His dangling ability is a sight to behold. The 26-year-old will commonly beat three men in the neutral zone. Last season, he became the first defenseman since 1995-96 (Brian Leetch and Ray Bourque) to record at least 82 points.
2. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
Doughty captured his first Norris Trophy at the 2016 NHL Awards and should continue to be among top contenders for years to come. He led the league with a 58.9 Corsi For percentage in 5-on-5 situations, and no defenseman logged more regular season shifts per game than his 33.3.
3. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
Like Karlsson, having Letang on the ice is like having a fourth forward. The 29-year-old recorded 67 points in 71 games, only trailing Karlsson in points per game. He is an outstanding skater and an underrated hitter, though his passion sometimes results in reckless plays and undisciplined penalties.
4. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
Josi excels at leading the rush and transition play. A 61-point-getter, he displays coolness in possession and constantly gets into smart areas defensively to break up opposition plays. Just watch him once and you’ll quickly notice his all-world hockey sense.
5. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
At 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds, Hedman is an outstanding shutdown defenseman who skates well and demonstrates a growing sense of creativity. He’s on the verge of Norris Trophy contention.
6. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
What makes Keith such an effective defenseman is his combination of intelligence and mobility. The two-time Norris Trophy winner plays with remarkable ease in all zones and logged a whopping 38.3 shifts per game during the playoffs.
7. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
Burns is a true offensive dynamo. He led all defensemen with 30 power play points in the regular season and repeated this feat with 10 PPPs during the playoffs. His 24 postseason points were highest among all defensemen.
8. P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators
The gregarious 27-year-old is an absolute monster on skates. Subban excels at moving the puck up ice, initiates contact with bruising physicality and possesses a rocket shot. He has simplified his game over the years and will be adored in the Music City.
9. Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks
Seabrook plays a very safe game, packs a powerful shot. Joel Quenneville knows exactly what he’s going to get every night when he pencils in Seabrook on his first pairing.
10. Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues
There’s a reason why so many teams want to pry him from the Blues. Shattenkirk is an excellent transition player. He plays with tremendous poise and can be a threat on the power play, recording 26 PPPs last season.
11. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild
Suter is the prototypical all-around defenseman. He isn’t a true goal scorer, but he’s as steady as it gets and takes on a huge workload for the Wild – skating 31.6 shifts per game.
12. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars
The 24-year-old Swede is supremely confident in possession and displays top-level creativity. Klingberg finished fifth in points (58) and fourth in points per game (0.76) last season. His defensive game should mature with age.
13. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues
Recently named captain, Pietrangelo is a constant positive for the Blues. He displays total poise in all zones and is only a few seasons removed from being a 51-assist man.
14. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes
Ekman-Larsson led defensemen with eight game-winning goals and his 12 power play goals only trailed Shea Weber. An electric skater, the 25-year-old is a wizard with the puck – though he needs to trim his 96 PIMs.
15. John Carlson, Washington Capitals
Injuries cost him to miss 26 games – but Carlson finished ninth among defensemen with 0.70 points per game. The 26-year-old is excellent on the rush and was deadly in the playoffs, recording 12 points in 12 games.
16. Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers
McDonagh is a do-it-all defenseman for the Rangers. He’s not quite a stats darling, but he excels in all situations and plays a risk-free game.
17. Anton Stralman, Tampa Bay Lightning
More than traditional stats can bear out, Stralman makes a major difference for the Lightning by thriving against the toughest matchups and showing complete calm on the ice. He’s one of the most trustworthy defensemen on the planet.
18. Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames
Giordano’s tenacious game is a tone-setter. Few players in the league are as valuable to their team as this 32-year-old is to the Flames. He recorded a career-high 56 points last season.
19. Keith Yandle, Florida Panthers
Having signed a monster contract with the Panthers, Yandle pushed his statistics with the Rangers into Leetch territory. Possessing explosive speed, tenacity and excellent outlet passing, he is a great acquisition for the Cats. Yandle is a lock for 40 assists every year.
20. Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers
Gostisbehere electrified the hockey world as a rookie, recording 46 points in 64 games. The 23-year-old is deadly on the power play and his 0.72 points per game ranked eighth among blue liners.
21. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets
At 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, Byfuglein is a freight train on skates and packs a cannon shot. The 31-year-old can get caught in bad positions and spends more time than any defenseman in the penalty box at 119 PIMs.
22. Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers
This 20-year-old plays a very mature game, is an excellent skater and knows how to use his 6-foot-4, 216-pound frame effectively. It won’t be long before the former No. 1 overall pick enters elite territory.
23. Nick Leddy, New York Islanders
Leddy skates like the wind, excels on the rush and demonstrates top-class vision. He plays larger than his 6-foot, 199-pound frame and still has room to improve at age 25.
24. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, San Jose Sharks
Vlasic is an excellent puck-mover and plays a remarkably mistake-free game. He was tremendous for the Sharks throughout their run to the Stanley Cup Final. He’s not a secret anymore.
25. Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim Ducks
The 22-year-old has a very bright future given his blossoming all-around game. Lindholm recorded a 57.8 Corsi For percentage in 5-on-5 situations last season.
Why Weber didn’t make the cut: While he led the NHL with 12 power plays goals and logs impressive penalty kill minutes, Weber’s overall game is on the decline. His 5-on-5 goal differential was 0.18 percent last season, and he spends a lot of time chasing. He has been on the downward trend and could be exposed alongside a weaker group of blue liners in Montreal.
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