It is often the case that a winning team has a studly No. 1 defenseman on their blueline. If you run through the last 10 years of champions and President Trophy winners, I’d say basically all of those teams have a top-tier defenseman, and that player is a huge part of their success.
Now, there is a huge argument that comes with making this list, and it surrounds what skills and abilities you value the most in a defenseman.
Do you want the player who pushes the puck down the ice and initiates scoring chances, or the man who shuts down the other team’s top offensive player? The best option is both obviously, but those are beyond rare.
With that being said, here is my list of the NHL’s Top 10 defensemen at the start of this 2021-22 season.
#10: Dougie Hamilton, New Jersey Devils
Dougie Hamilton is a legitimate offensive threat from the blueline, scoring 42 goals from the backend over the last three years, leading all defenders.
However, like the next man on this list, there are question marks about his ability on both ends of the ice. That didn’t stop the New Jersey Devils from approaching the former Hurricane with a stellar seven-year, $63 million dollar deal though.
Hamilton should still produce on a slightly weaker offensive team in New Jersey, and if he continues his upward trend of late, he could end up higher on this list.
#9: John Carlson, Washington Capitals
It is near the beginning of the list, and I feel we have already reached a point for argument.
Some may question Carlson’s placement above Dougie Hamilton, and others will argue he does not belong on the list at all.
John Carlson is one of the premier offensive defensemen in this league, leading the league in points by a defenseman over the last five years by a large margin. However, many people would look to his defects in his own zone as a reason as to why he should not be on this list.
But the 259 points in 286 games in the last five seasons are hard to deny, and he is a huge part why the Capitals have been so lethal on the offensive end for so many years. Yes, he may fall behind on defense on occasion, but he logs the minutes, he competes with the other team’s top guys, and he is a consistent offensive force. He is a Top 10 defender in this league.
#9: Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars
The Stars have themselves one heck of a youngster on their blueline for years to come after they signed Heiskanen to an eight-year extension in the offseason worth $67.6 million.
He broke out for 26 points in 27 games in the 2020 quarantine playoffs when he helped push the Stars to the Stanley Cup Finals, and followed it up with a great campaign last season.
At 22 years old, there is still so much room for the defender to grow, and he will have plenty of time to do it in Dallas.
#7: Alex Pietrangelo, Vegas Golden Knights
Pietrangelo has been one of the best in the game for nearly the past decade, however, last season he seemed to be slightly off his game in his first season for the Golden Knights.
He still scored seven goals and 23 points in 41 games, but his production was low on a team that was expecting a lot more from him when they signed him to a seven-year deal last season.
He, in my eyes is still one of the strongest players at both ends of the ice, and I expect that production to pick up to where it was in St. Louis with a very strong Golden Knights roster.
#6: Jacob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes
The first appearance of someone who is not an offensive stud on this list, Slavin is the epitome of a shutdown defender. He has held down the fort in Carolina for the last several years, and with Dougie Hamilton now in New Jersey, he will be relied on even more to carry the weight on the back end.
His numbers will never jump off the page offensively. However, his lack of penalty minutes, consistently high plus/minus despite points, and his ability to shut down the other team’s top stars will be his call to this list for many years to come.
#5: Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins
Boston has slowly been building up the two-way play ability of Charlie McAvoy, and this season he will once again be one of the key players in a steady core that Boston has built.
McAvoy is a gifted offensive playmaker, running the power play, and leading transitions up ice. Then on top of that, he is also a top-tier defensive player who plays well-positioned hockey and uses his excellent skating ability well to handle the defensive zone.
Boston was smart in locking up his services for the long-term just prior to the start of the season with an eight-year, $76 million dollar deal.
#4: Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
We have now reached the tier of former, or future Norris Trophy winners with Roman Josi.
Josi has been regarded as one of the top defensemen in the game for quite some time now, and he has the 2019-20 Norris Trophy to back it up. He has been a part of very strong defensive teams in Nashville and has always contributed on the offensive end when he is on the ice.
He won’t dazzle you with his ability on offense, but his consistency on both ends of the ice and his ability to shut down the opponent’s top man is where his strength is.
#3: Adam Fox, New York Rangers
The future of the blueline in New York, Adam Fox was second in points and power-play points last season among defensemen and couple that with strong play in the defensive zone, you have yourself the 2020-21 Norris Trophy winner.
Fox’s ability to exit the defensive zone with speed and carry the puck through the neutral zone is really a beautiful sight, and it is what allowed for players like Artemi Panarin to flourish even more in New York.
While some may debate his victory of the award last season, there is no debating his impact. Fox is a beast.
#2: Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
It has shocked me that on my own list, I have dethroned Victor Hedman from the spot as the top defenseman in the NHL, but that shows just how good my choice for #1 really is.
Hedman has been a crucial piece for the back-to-back Stanely Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning and has led the league among defensemen with his two-way ability for several years.
His size, strength, and speed at his size are something to marvel at in a defenseman, and if he is able to avoid injury, the 2017-2018 Norris Trophy winner is sure to be in the running for the award again.
#1: Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche
No offense to Adam Fox, but I think he was the wrong up-and-coming young defenseman to award the Norris Trophy to last season.
Makar scored 44 points in 44 appearances last season and played some phenomenal defense in his own zone. He fuels the Avalanche offense from the back end and is able to make some astounding plays with his marvelous skating ability.
After only two years in the NHL, Makar has cemented himself as one of the best, and that is why the Avalanche were smart to lock him up for the foreseeable future in the offseason with a six-year, $54 million dollar extension.