Not all assignments are created equally. Some roles require a player to play frequently in the defensive zone, against players like Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, and possibly when down a man. Who is taking on those roles this year?
There are several analytics that can be used to paint a picture of a player's usage. The two simplest are the percentage of the player's shifts started in the offensive zone, relative to the defensive zone, and the percentage of all penalty-killing situations that are assigned to them.
How do we tell who is lining up against the Crosbys and Ovechkins of the league? Since the best players get the most ice time, the quality of competition can be estimated by looking at the average ice time of one's opponents (expressed as a percentage of a team's total ice time).
Likewise, the support a player gets can be estimated by looking at the average ice time of his linemates, both forwards and defensemen. The source for all of this fine data is Extra Skater, which pulls it directly from NHL game files.
While forwards are included in this study, obviously it is mostly defensemen who get the tough jobs. In the case of regular defensive pairings, we only took the one who is primarily driving the bus.
Whether by necessity or by design, here are the players taking on the toughest assignments so far this season, with no particular allowance made for how well they're doing it.
All advanced statistics are via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted.