2012-13 NHL Rankings: The Top 30 Defensemen Entering Next Season

Shane Darrow@@Pilsbury_BroBoyAnalyst IIJuly 19, 2012

2012-13 NHL Rankings: The Top 30 Defensemen Entering Next Season

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    Let the debate begin again! For my third installment of power ranking NHL positions, I have decided to take a look at those who man the blue line.

    Many people believe that being a defenseman is the easiest position on the ice, but put yourself in the skates of the guys that have to go back and retrieve the puck as opposing forwards come at you full speed—and I think you might second guess yourself.

    Defensemen need to have patience, intelligence, and more awareness than anyone else on the ice as they need to know everything that is going on in all three zones.

    Without further ado...let us begin!

    For my first two installments, click here for the top 30 centers entering next season, and click here for the top 30 goaltenders.

Honorable Mention: Nicklas Lidstrom

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    Had Nicklas Lidstrom not decided to retire, there is no doubt that he would be somewhere on this list. Lidstrom has won four Stanley Cups, seven Norris Trophies for the league's best defenseman, and led Sweden to the Olympic Gold Medal in 2006. 

    Behind Bobby Orr, he is in my mind the greatest defenseman to ever lace up the skates, and will without a doubt be voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

    While I believe that he still had another year or two left in the tank, he announced his retirement in May and will surely have his number 5 retired at Joe Louis Arena in the near future.

Best of the Rest

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    Jamie McBain, Carolina Hurricanes

    McBain had 27 points last year and was a staple to the Hurricanes power play. He is only 24 years old and has plenty of time to grow so that he can become an elite defenseman. His minus-7 rating and lack of consistency are what left him just off of this list.

    Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers

    While his plus-25 rating had him at 11th in the NHL amongst all skaters in his first full season in the NHL, McDonagh still has a lot of growing to do before he can consider himself one of the best defensemen in the league. His zero goals and 4 points performance in 20 games during the postseason displayed that while he is close, he still has a little bit to climb.

    Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix Coyotes

    The 21-year-old was a breath of fresh air on the Coyotes blue line this year, and was one of the great surprises of the NHL. Ekman-Larsson will eventually be one of the better defensemen in the league, but as of now, he just misses the cut.

    Nick Leddy, Chicago Blackhawks

    While there will be two defensemen from the Blackhawks on this list, Nick Leddy had an excellent season accumulating 37 points in 82 games. If he finds a way to improve his minus-12 rating, he may become an elite defenseman as time goes on, but as of now he falls just short.

    Brooks Orpik, Pittsburgh Penguins

    While his statistics are not very aesthetically pleasing, one could definitely make the argument that Orpik is the best defensive defenseman in the game. Up by one when the game is on the line, it is tough to argue that Orpik is not one of the guys you would want on the ice.

30. Filip Kuba, Florida Panthers

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    Last season's statistics (with Ottawa): 73 games, 6 goals, 26 assists, 32 points, plus-26 rating

    A lot of American viewers probably won't recognize Filip Kuba as a household name at first glance, but his plus-26 rating was the fourth highest among defensemen in the NHL last season.

    While by just looking at his numbers one could argue that he deserves a higher rank, there is always skepticism when a player steps into a new franchise, and going from Ottawa to Florida is one of the more dramatic changes of scenery that a player can make.

29. Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Last season's statistics: 78 games, 9 goals, 25 assists, 34 points, plus-21 rating

    Brent Seabrook has been a solid defenseman on the Blackhawks blue line for the last seven seasons. The only reason why he slips a little bit in this countdown is because of his 14 points decline from the year before.

    While he still could be seen as a top 20 defenseman in the league, Seabrook's decline in assists, points, and power play goals is hopefully not a sign of the future.

28. Jason Garrison, Vancouver Canucks

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    Last season's statistics (with Florida): 77 games, 16 goals, 17 assists, 33 points, plus-6 rating

    I know that I said the change of scenery for Filip Kuba would be a bad thing, but for Jason Garrison it is anything but that. He will thrive even more in Vancouver and will finally get the exposure as one of the better defensemen in the league.

    His type of play will never wow anybody, but his nine power play goals from last season will really improve the man advantage for the Canucks and also adds another offensive threat on a roster that already has plenty of them.

27. Mark Streit, New York Islanders

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    Last season's statistics: 82 games, 7 goals, 40 assists, 47 points, minus-27 rating

    Mark Streit was the ninth highest scoring defenseman in the NHL, but his lack of ability in the defensive zone almost didn't put him on this list at all. The 34-year-old from Switzerland will have to find a way to be more physical and effective on his own end if he wants the Islanders playoff slump to come to an end during his career.

    How bad was he defensively? Well, the Islanders captain's minus-27 rating placed him at 891st best in the NHL amongst all skaters.

    Yeah.

26. Jack Johnson, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Last season's statistics (with Los Angeles and Columbus): 82 games, 12 goals, 26 assists, 38 points, minus-7 rating

    Jack Johnson had to have had the hardest postseason of any other player in the NHL. While he had to finish the season with the hopeless Columbus Blue Jackets, he had to watch his old teammates win the Stanley Cup.

    Johnson still has what it takes to become one of the best defensemen in the league, but he is going to need to find a way to be mentally stable after going from the Stanley Cup Champion Kings...to the gutter of the Western Conference in Columbus.

25. Dan Hamhuis, Vancouver Canucks

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    Last season's statistics: 82 games, 4 goals, 33 assists, 37 points, plus-29 rating

    When most people think of the Vancouver Canucks, the players that come to mind are guys like Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler; and many people fail to realize how much talent they have occupying their blue line.

    Hamhuis had an incredible plus-29 rating, and his 33 assists were an underrated portion of the offense created in the neutral zone.

24. Ian White, Detroit Red Wings

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    Last season's statistics: 77 games, 7 goals, 25 assists, 32 points, plus-23 rating

    Now that Nicklas Lidstrom is gone and the Red Wings failed to sign defenseman Ryan Suter, it will be left to Ian White to lead the blue line in Hockeytown.

    While his statistics might not jump out at you, he will have an increased role next season and at 28 years old will be mature enough to handle the situation. Look for 40-50 points out of Ian White next season.

23. Sergei Gonchar, Ottawa Senators

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    Last season's statistics: 72 games, 5 goals, 32 assists, 37 points, minus-4 rating

    When Sergei Gonchar was with the Pittsburgh Penguins, he was one of the best defensemen in the entire the NHL—and while he is still one of the better defensemen in the league with the Senators, he has slipped a little since being in black and gold.

    Gonchar is averaging only 32 points a season in Ottawa and has a combined minus-19 rating, but his booming shot and solid play in all three zones of the ice gets him a spot on this list.

22. Johnny Boychuk, Boston Bruins

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    Last season's statistics: 77 games, 5 goals, 10 assists, 15 points, plus-27 rating

    If Boychuk finds a way to become more offensive throughout the rest of his career, he will become one of the best two-way defensemen in the league.

    With a plus-27 rating, Boychuk has established himself as one of the best defensive players in the league and last year wasn't a fluke. Over the past three seasons, Boychuk is a plus-52.

21. Kimmo Timonen, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Last season's statistics: 76 games, 4 goals, 39 assists, 43 points, plus-8 rating

    Kimmo Timonen led the Flyers' blue line in points with 43, however he had just four goals last season. He is as solid as they come, and he is a force on the Flyers power play.

    But the fact of the matter is that all four of his goals were with the man advantage, and he has failed to produce much offense at even strength. He averaged just over 21 minutes per game last year, and will hopefully be a staple to the Flyers defense for years to come—but his lack of offensive production leaves him just out of the top 20.

20. Kevin Bieksa, Vancouver Canucks

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    Last season's statistics: 78 games, 8 goals, 36 assists, 44 points, plus-12 rating

    The top 20 kicks off with the second of three Vancouver Canucks that will appear on this list. Bieksa was 13th in points among defensemen, and he had a great year dishing the puck with 36 assists.

    While he could be placed higher on this list and his physical play is one of his best attributes, his 94 penalty minutes last season needs to get reduced if he wants to be an important aspect in every area of the game.

19. Keith Yandle, Phoenix Coyotes

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    Last season's statistics: 82 games, 11 goals, 32 assists, 43 points, plus-5 rating

    The play of Keith Yandle was a huge reason why the Phoenix Coyotes won their division and ended up making it all the way to the Western Conference Finals where they were ousted by the eventual Stanley Cup Champions.

    While solid, his 43 points last season were a 16 point decrease from the season before and one has to wonder if he has already reached his peak. However, at 25, there is still room to grow, and Yandle will continue to be the guy counted on in the back end to help goaltender Mike Smith keep the puck out of the net.

18. P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens

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    Last season's statistics: 81 games, 7 goals, 29 assists, 36 points, plus-9 rating

    One of the most loved players by Canadien fans—and one of the most hated players by many others—P.K. Subban took no time in making a name for himself when he entered the NHL.

    Subban has been no stranger to controversy and has over 240 penalty minutes in the last two seasons, but he has also managed to put up 74 points over that same span. At 23 years old, Subban is going to get even better as time goes on, and has set himself up for a breakout year next season.

17. Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues

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    Last season's statistics: 81 games, 9 goals, 34 assists, 43 points, plus-20 rating

    A main reason why the St. Louis Blues were statistically one of the best defensive teams in the NHL last season was not only due to their goaltending duo of Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak, but they also had some great players manning the blue line.

    Shattenkirk had career marks in his first full season in the NHL, and while it looks like he is only going to get better, his lack of experience puts him at No. 17 on this list.

    However, I would not be surprised to see him have an all-star year next season.

    His minus-3 rating in nine postseason games last year hopefully won't be a sign of his future performances when it matters most.

16. Dennis Wideman, Calgary Flames

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    Last season's statistics: 82 games, 11 goals, 35 assists, 46 points, minus-8 rating

    Dennis Wideman was without a doubt the best defenseman on the Capitals roster last year, and was tied for 10th in points among all defensemen.

    The problem with Wideman is that after signing with the Flames in the offseason, Wideman will now play for his fourth team in four years, and has failed to really grab his bearings at any location.

    Wideman has been a minus-41 rating over the last three seasons; and while I still believe he is one of the better defensemen in the league, he could very easily fall off the radar in Calgary.

15. Dion Phaneuf, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Last season's statistics: 82 games, 12 goals, 32 assists, 44 points, minus-10 rating

    The only shining light in Toronto last season was Dion Phaneuf—he was finally able to play an entire 82 game season last year, and he accumulated 44 points in the process. It appears that he may be back to the form he was in when he put up back-to-back 50-plus seasons with the Flames five years ago.

    The Maple Leafs need a lot of help heading into next season. If they can get a breakout season from newly acquired James van Riemsdyk on the offensive end and continue to see improvement from Phaneuf in the defensive end, Toronto could make a run at the playoffs this upcoming season.

14. Michael Del Zotto, New York Rangers

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    Last season's statistics: 77 games, 10 goals, 31 assists, 41 points, plus-20 rating

    The next great young defenseman is going to be Michael Del Zotto of the New York Rangers. At the age of 22, Del Zotto has already played over 200 regular season games and has 89 points.

    He set career marks in goals, assists, points and plus-minus rating; and is only getting better as time goes on. He was a huge reason why the Rangers ended up with the number one seed in the Eastern Conference and if he can continue to stay healthy he will become an elite defenseman for years to come.

13. Alexander Edler, Vancouver Canucks

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    Last season's statistics: 82 games, 11 goals, 38 assists, 49 points, even rating

    The final of three Canucks to be on this list, Edler was seventh in total scoring for all defensemen with 49 points, and only put up 34 penalty minutes. While Edler is far from being a superstar in the NHL, he is as solid as they come on both ends of the ice.

    Many people will point at the offensive firepower of the Canucks for their success in recent years, but it's tough to argue that there is a better trio of defensemen in the league than Edler, Bieksa, and Hamhuis.

12. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Last season's statistics: 74 games, 4 goals, 36 assists, 40 points, plus-15 rating

    While last year might not have been the best statistical season in Keith's career, it is difficult to argue that he has established himself as one of the best defensemen in the NHL. He had 69 points three seasons ago, and although his 40 points last season seems like a dramatic drop off, his play on his own end more than makes up for it.

    When Keith is struggling offensively, he is one of the few players that makes up for it by being more physical in his own end. He was a huge reason why the Blackhawks hoisted the Stanley Cup a few seasons ago, and should continue to be one of the league's best.

11. Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings

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    Last season's statistics: 82 games, 15 goals, 21 assists, 36 points, minus-2 rating

    Alongside Ian White, hard hitting Niklas Kronwall will have to help fill the huge void that was left by the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom. I think that Kronwall is somebody who young defensemen should idolize because he knows how to play the game in all three zones effectively, and picks his spots to lay guys out on the ice...legally.

    There are a lot of guys that I put below Kronwall who have had more success offensively, but I truly believe that he is one of the best two way defensemen in the game today. If he finds a way to break open offensively, he could put himself in the top five.

10. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

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    Last season's statistics: 77 games, 10 goals, 26 assists, 36 points, minus-2 rating

    On the Los Angeles Kings remarkable run, the hockey viewing public was finally able to watch a great defenseman that had been hiding out on the west coast. Doughty may not have had the best regular season but his post-season performance is what puts him in the top 10 on this list.

    His playoff statistics: 20 games, 4 goals, 12 assists, 16 points, plus-11 rating.

9. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild

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    Last season's statistics: 79 games, 7 goals, 39 assists, 46 points, plus-15 rating

    The most highly sought after defenseman in the offseason finds himself at No. 9 on this list, even though the Minnesota Wild are paying him money that means he should be in the top three—but that's a different argument.

    There is no doubt that Suter is a great player; and I believe that living comfortably in Minnesota, having buddy Zach Parise alongside him and having a newly rejuvenated fan base will give him a sufficient boost next year. Sure, he will be playing under immense pressure, but I think he faces it like a champion.

    Still, I find it weird they gave him an "A" without him even playing a game with the organization yet.

8. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets

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    Last season's statistics: 66 games, 12 goals, 41 assists, 53 points, minus-8 rating

    Under the "facts you probably didn't know" file, Dustin Byfuglien was second amongst all defensemen in points with 53 last season, and he missed 16 games due to injury on top of it. He is the definition of an offensive defenseman, and will play a key role in getting the renewed version of the Winnipeg Jets back to the playoffs.

    He must, however, work on his game on his own end if he wants to be known as one of the elite defensemen around the league. He has had a minus rating in every season for the past three years.

7. Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks

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    Last season's statistics: 81 games, 9 goals, 39 assists, 48 points, plus-10 rating

    The 36-year-old from Ottawa has established himself as one of the best defensemen in the NHL for nearly a decade, and next season will be no different. His 48 points are the fewest he has had in a full season since 2004, but his presence on the blue line is something that fears all forwards.

    He may only be 5'11", but he plays like he is 6'4" and has no problem throwing his body around. The only problem is sometimes that physicality sends him to the sin bin.

6. Brian Campbell, Florida Panthers

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    Last season's statistics: 82 games, 4 goals, 49 assists, 53 points, minus-9 rating

    Brian Campbell is another guy who has been established for years, and after struggling through injuries, he managed to put together a full 82-game regular season last year. He is the leader of the Panthers blue line and set a career high with 53 points last season.

    While Campbell has never had a difficult time convincing critics that he can be a force in the offensive zone, his minus-9 rating leaves him just out of the top five.

    He is, however, one of the gentlemen of the game, and was awarded with the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct at the 2012 NHL Awards.

5. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues

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    Last season's statistics: 81 games, 12 goals, 39 assists, 51 points, plus-16 rating

    At the tender age of 22 years old, Alex Pietrangelo has put together two fantastic back-to-back seasons for a young defenseman. He has 94 points and a plus-34 rating over the last two seasons, which is nothing short of remarkable for a guy that is barely legal enough to drink a beer.

    The Blues will be one of the most difficult teams to score on for the next few years, and if Pietrangelo continues to get better, his name will be up for the Norris Trophy in the near future.

4. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Last season's statistics: 51 games, 10 goals, 32 assists, plus-21 rating

    Without a doubt the leader of the Penguins' blue line, Kris Letang has been a great defensive compliment to the offensive workings of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin over the last four seasons.

    But don't that he doesn't know how to put the puck in the net.

    While his season was shortened by injury, Letang averaged .82 points per game last season, which is the second highest points per game of anybody on this list. One could argue that he should be in the top three, but his injury-shortened season left him just outside.

3. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators

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    Last season's statistics: 78 games, 19 goals, 30 assists, 49 points, plus-21 rating

    Now that Shea Weber has lost Ryan Suter to the Wild, he is going to need to step his game up even more if he wants to take the Predators back into the playoffs. He has been the face of that franchise for years now, and although there have been rumors that he could be traded, he will most likely stay a Predator.

    On top of his fantastic statistics, Weber also had 10 power play goals, which makes him one of—if not the best—power play quarterbacks in the NHL.

2. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins

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    Last season's statistics: 79 games, 12 goals, 40 assists, 52 points, plus-33 rating

    The 6'9" giant has proven that he can do much more than have a heavy shot over the course of his career. He has turned into one of the most elite defensemen in the NHL and won the Norris Trophy two years ago en route to leading the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup.

    He knows how to play in every area of the ice, and there is no denying the fact that he can almost shoot the puck 110 miles per hour. His plus-33 rating was the highest amongst all defensemen, and if it weren't for one certain guy he would be the best defenseman entering next year.

1. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators

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    Last season's statistics: 81 games, 19 goals, 59 assists, 78 points, plus-16 rating

    All Erik Karlsson did was put up 78 points—which was by far the highest for defensemen and the 10th highest in the entire NHL—improve his plus-minus rating by plus-46 from the year before, and win the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman...all at the age of 22.

    There was no doubt that Erik Karlsson had the best season out of any other defenseman in the league last year, and had it not been for him, the Senators probably wouldn't have grabbed the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

    At such a young age, and continuously improving, there is no reason to believe that Karlsson can not have a repeat performance.

    He might also have the most swag of any player in the NHL.