Creating the Ultimate NHL Defenseman
Needing size, speed, and intelligence to survive in the NHL, elite defenseman are hard to find. From Eddie Shore to Dion Phanuef, the policemen of the blueline have evolved drastically over the years, and by combining the past with the present, a prototype defenseman is about to be formed.
The possibilities are endless: the spin-o-rama of Denis Savard paired with the bone crunching hitting ability of Chris Pronger, or the goalscoring ability of Mike Green, combined with the shot blocking skill of Karlis Skrastins.
After writing an article on Creating The Ultimate Goalie, I've been compelled to find out what would happen if I combined all the elements of a great defensemen together to form The Ultimate Defenseman.
The elements that make up a great defenseman are Skating, Stick Play, Physical Presence, Defensive Awareness, Offensive Awareness, Passing, Shot, Leadership, Size, Toughness and Durability.
Choosing the player who was the best at each aspect of the game is nearly impossible, and without choosing Bobby Orr for every category, here are my picks.
Creating The Ultimate Defenseman
Needing size, speed, and intelligence to survive in the NHL elite defenseman are hard to find. From Eddie Shore to Dion Phanuef the policemen of the blueline have evolved drastically over the years, and by combining the past with the present a prototype defenseman is about to be formed.
The possibilities are endless, the spin-o-rama of Denis Savard Paired with the bone crunching hitting ability of Chris Pronger, or the goalscoring ability of Mike Green, combined with the shot blocking skill of Karlis Skrastins.
After writing an article on Creating The Ultimate Goalie I've been compelled to find out what would happen if I combined all the elements of a great defensemen together to form The Ultimate Defenseman.
The elements that make up a great defenseman are Skating, Stick play, Physical Presence, Defensive Awareness, Offensive Awareness, Passing, Shot, Leadership, Size, Toughness and Durability.
Choosing the player who was the best at each aspect of the game is nearly impossible, and without choosing Bobby Orr for every category here are my picks.
Skating - Paul Coffey
Perhaps the best skater ever to lace them up; Paul Coffey could fly on the ice. Playing on the barn burning Edmonton Oilers of the 80’s Coffey was referred to as “a fourth forward” by Scotty Bowman.
Without his blazing speed, Coffey would not be able to play the game like he did. Almost like a ‘rover,’ Coffey patrolled all areas of the ice; offence and defence.
Stick Play - Niklas Lidstrom
Lidstrom is not known to use brute strength to take the puck off of attacking forwards. However, he uses his stick to perfection; whether it be poke checking, or cutting off a passing lane on the penalty kill.
Lidstrom takes very few penalties, even in the new NHL, and this is a result of the precise way in which he utilizes his stick.
Physical Presence - Scott Stevens
Opposing forwards knew that whenever they played the New Jersey Devils, that they were going to come away with more than a few bruises.
An imposing figure on the blue line, Stevens showed no mercy and would lower his shoulder into anyone who cut across the trolley tracks.
Just ask Eric Lindros, Paul Kariya or any other forward who played against Stevens and they will tell you that this steely-eyed rearguard was no slouch at laying the body.
Defensive Awareness - Larry Robinson
“Big Bird” towered over opposing players at 6’5”, but it was not his size or his 958 career points that set him apart from other defensemen.
Robinson’s defensive IQ was off the charts and winning two Norris trophies and 6 Stanley Cups, it is clear that he put his smarts to good use.
A career +730 player over 20 seasons, it is undeniable that Robinson knew what he was doing in the defensive zone.
Offensive Awareness - Bobby Orr
A revolutionary on the blue line, Orr was the first true ‘offensive’ defenseman. Watching his countless rushes can raise the hair on the back of your neck, and make other players look like they are standing still.
Only playing in 657 career games Bobby Orr was able to rack up eight Norris Trophies and was the only defenseman to ever lead the league in scoring; which he did twice.
Passing - Ray Bourque
With 1169 career helpers and 19 straight All-Star Game appearances, it is hard to say that anyone else was a better passer than Bourque.
Known for a great first pass out of the defensive end, Bourque could also quarterback the powerplay to perfection.
Paired with a laser guided wrist shot and great defensive play Bourque was not just a one-trick pony.
Shot - Al MacInnis
A goaltender's nightmare, MacInnis struck fear into the hearts of every goalie he faced.
Once after shattering the mask of Blues goalie Mike Liut, Liut remarked that there were two kinds of hard shots in the league “There's hard, and then there's MacInnis hard.”
Macinnis won seven hardest shot competitions, and blew 340 goals past cowering goalies, showing that he had a bit of accuracy to go with the heat.
Leadership - Chris Chelios
The oldest current NHL player, Chelios is a treasure chest of wisdom for rookies and veterans alike.
With an undying passion for the game and a quiet style of leadership, Chelios is an inspiration to all those who play with, and even against him.
Chelios’ resume includes being Co-Captain of the Montreal Canadians, captain of the Chicago Blackhawks from 1995-1999, and two time captain of the American Olympic team.
Size - Zdeno Chara
Standing at 6’9”, Chara scrapes the ceiling of almost every arena that he plays in. Using his imposing frame and 260-pound body, Chara has a booming shot and can plaster any NHL player into the end boards.
The tallest player ever to step on the ice, Chara is a one of a kind player physically, with the skills to match.
Toughness - Bobby Baun
A Stalwart defenseman for the Leafs, Baun cemented himself in the Tough Hall of Fame in one playoff series. After breaking his ankle in Game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup Finals, Baun had it frozen, returned to the game and scored the winning goal.
Most other players would have had a cast put on and watched Game 7 from the press box, not Bobby.
He sucked it up, shoved his swollen ankle into his skate and played his regular minutes in a game that brought him both agonizing pain and pleasure; the Leafs won the Stanley Cup.
Durability - Chris Chelios
No defenseman has played more games than Chelios, and he is still going strong. Chris is now 47 years old and his trainer says “he has the body of a 30 year old”.
Chelios hasn’t sneaked unnoticed through 23 seasons either, as he has won three Norris Trophies and three Stanley Cups.
An inspiration for middle-aged men everywhere Chelios could conceivably play until he’s 50 years old.
As we see the careers of defensive greats like Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger draw to a close, we can be comforted by the fact that there are many young up and coming defensemen in the NHL.
The future is promising for defensemen in the NHL. Mike Green is tearing up the league in Washington, and Dion Phanuef continues to lay down the law in Calgary.
However, no matter what they accomplish it will be hard to match the accomplishments of all the defensemen who have been selected for the Ultimate Defenseman.