NHL Power Rankings: Niklas Lidstrom and the 10 Best Defensemen in Hockey
In the fourth installment of NHL Power Rankings by position, I'm taking a look at the 10 best defenseman in the NHL today.
But first, a few ground rules. In order to qualify as a "defenseman," the player must be listed on NHL.com's 2010-11 regular season statistics page as a D and have played a minimum of one full NHL season (80-plus career NHL games).
Beyond that, I've taken into account a number of factors when crafting this list: offensive skill and production, defensive prowess, intangibles (blocked shots, giveaway/takeaway ratio, etc.), clutch play and leadership, to name a few.
And without further ado, here they are. The 10 best blueliners in the NHL today. Enjoy! Comments are welcome and appreciated!
10: Keith Yandle, Phoenix Coyotes
We begin with the Coyotes' Keith Yandle, a rock-solid defenseman who has developed in the quiet obscurity of the desert. Yandle boasts tremendous skating ability and mobility for a blueliner, along with superb offensive instincts and defensive acumen.
He frequently engages in the more physical aspects of the game and has a mean streak. He isn't afraid to rumble in the corners or battle for position or the puck.
On the power play, Yandle is an excellent quarterback. He is adept at making quick decisions, facilitating others and using his booming shot to get things started.
Despite his obvious strengths, Yandle still must improve his size and fill out his frame if he hopes to be able to handle the NHL's bigger forwards. He also has some work to do without the puck in all three zones. He does have a tendency to let his play slip when he isn't involved for periods of time.
9: Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawk's Brent Seabrook is the type of defenseman every coach would love to have. He has a nice combination of size (6'3", 220 lbs.) and skating ability to go along with a excellent hockey IQ.
He's as calm as anyone on the ice, routinely making the correct plays under extreme pressure. Seabrook is a rock-solid shut-down defender in his own zone.
For all of his defensive prowess, Seabrook does not have the high-end offensive skill set that others on this list possess. He does own a big shot from the point but lacks the passing and offensive instincts of his peers.
Nevertheless, he is a superb top-pairing defenseman who can consistently log big minutes and make big plays at both ends of the ice.
While Seabrook may often be overshadowed by his partner in crime Duncan Keith, any Blackhawks fan knows just how talented Seabrook is. It wouldn't surprise me in the least to see him as a Norris finalist in the next few years.
8: Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks
Dan Boyle is the prototypical offensive defenseman. He is silky smooth on his skates, moving as well as many elite forwards with and without the puck. He owns tremendous instincts at both ends of the rink and plays with a cool veteran savvy.
In the offensive zone or on the rush, Boyle is essentially a fourth forward, equally adept at making crisp, clean passes to open teammates or putting a hard shot on net.
Boyle's offensive prowess extends onto the powerplay, where his creativity with the puck and offensive acumen are usually prominently on display. He is one of the best in the NHL at successfully quarterbacking a powerplay.
For all of his talents, Boyle is still a bit of an undersized defenseman. As such, he tends to struggle against NHL power forwards, especially in the "dirty" areas of the ice.
He does tend to become frustrated from time to time, especially if he is physically dominated by a bigger forward. He will occasionally take bad penalties when agitated.
Overall, Boyle is an elite offensive defenseman with world-class skating ability. He is one of the top scorers among defenseman every season and will likely continue that trend for the foreseeable future.
7: Lubomir Visnovsky, Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks' Lubomir Visnovsky might be the most under-appreciated defenseman in the NHL. He possesses a tremendous hockey IQ and veteran savvy, all-world skating ability and a great shot from the point. He may be a bit undersized, but he more than compensates for his lack of brawn with his brain.
Visnovsky is one of the best defenseman in the NHL on the odd-man rush, regularly making perfect, tape-to-tape passes to open teammates. He is a natural power-play quarterback who remains calm and collected under pressure and makes the right decisions with the puck.
On the defensive end, the smaller Visnovsky can be outmuscled by larger power forwards. However, he often uses his superior hockey sense and savvy to out-maneuver bigger players, effectively negating their size advantage and forcing turnovers.
Earlier in his career, Visnovsky's ascent to the ranks of the NHL's elite was de-railed by injuries. He has bounced back in that department over the past two season and re-established himself as one of the league's best blueliners.
For good measure, he led all defenseman in scoring last season with 68 points (18G, 50A) while posting a superb plus-18.
6: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
At just 21 years of age, the Kings' Drew Doughty is already one of the premiere defenseman in the NHL. He possesses phenomenal ability in all three zones, is one of the best passers in the league and plays the game with the poise and composure of a veteran.
Doughty also boasts a heavy, accurate shot from the point and tremendous powerplay quarterbacking abilities. On the rush, he often acts as a fourth forward and is equally comfortable passing or shooting the puck.
Beyond his considerable offensive prowess, Doughty boasts outstanding shut-down defensive ability. He has the skating ability to stay with any forward in the NHL, the size to win puck battles in the corners and the hockey sense and savvy to disrupt plays before they ever get started.
The only shortcoming in Doughty's game is his tendency to shy away from physical play despite his immense size and strength.
It's also worth noting that Doughty did struggle a bit in 2010-2011, with his point total dropping 19 points (from 59 to 40) and his plus/minus rating slipping to plus-13 (from plus-20).
These losses in production were largely due to the fact that teams have noticed Doughty's inability to handle physical play from larger players. As Doughty fills out his frame and improves his strength, this should become a non-issue.
With his all-world skill set, Doughty should be a perennial Norris Trophy finalist for the next decade or two. He is a true franchise defenseman and already one of the best at his position in the NHL—and likely to improve.
5: Chris Pronger, Philadelphia Flyers
The top five begins with the Flyers' Chris Pronger, who even at age 37 remains one of the best blueliners in the NHL. Pronger is a massive blueliner with an awesome combination of size and skating ability.
He is one of the best one-on-one defenders in the NHL, combining great stick-checking with devastating physical play.
With the puck, Pronger is one of the best outlet passers in the game. He has the ability to put a puck on a teammates stick from anywhere on the ice at any time. He owns a cannon of a shot from the point, which he frequently uses on the powerplay.
Beyond his considerable physical talents on the ice, Pronger might be the best leader in the NHL. His on-ice presence is one of the most powerful in the game today, elevating and inspiring the play of his teammates.
Throughout his career, his teams have tended to take on his gritty, win-at-all-costs persona. He has led three different teams to the Stanley Cup Finals since the lockout—a phenomenal feat that stands as a testament to his leadership.
For all of his strengths, Pronger does have a tendency to cross the line from time to time, delivering questionable hits and taking bad penalties when frustrated. He isn't a natural rusher in the mold of players like Boyle and Doughty, but he more than compensates with superior vision passing ability.
Despite his recent slew of injuries, he remains one of the best defenseman in the NHL today.
4: Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
Over the past four seasons, Keith has established himself as one of the NHL's premiere defenseman, capable of taking over a game from either end of the ice. On the defensive end, Keith uses his superior skating ability to shut-down opposing forwards and disrupt opponent's offensive rhythm.
He possesses the size, strength and smarts to effectively handle larger power forwards.
He possesses exceptional offensive ability to go along with his stellar, shut-down defensive prowess. Keith owns a tremendous shot from the point and cerebral vision and passing ability. He tends to know where his teammates will be and is able to put the puck perfectly in that location.
Beyond that, Keith is one of the leaders of the recent Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks and, along with Brent Seabrook, forms what many (myself included) believe to be the best defensive pair in hockey today. He is a phenomenal on-ice leader and a true blueline anchor.
However, for Keith to establish himself as one of the top three defenseman in the league, he must continue to improve his play against larger power forwards and refine his offensive game. He must prove that his 2009-2010 offensive numbers were not an aberration.
3: Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings
When it's all said and done, the Red Wings' Nicklas Lidstrom might go down as the best defenseman to ever play the game. He'll be mentioned alongside legends of the game like Bobby Orr, Doug Harvey and Ray Bourque.
And while he might not be the best of all time, he'll certainly be in the conversation. He's been that good for that long.
At both ends of the rink, Lidstrom plays what may be the most intelligent game in the NHL today. He anticipates the play better than anyone else and uses that knowledge to dominate the game.
He always seems to be one step ahead of his opposition, using his world-class skating ability to arrive at the location where the play will be, not where it presently is.
Lidstrom possesses a deadly accurate shot from anywhere on the ice and a proclivity for creative playmaking. He combines his superior passing ability with his off-the-charts hockey IQ to make unbelievable plays with regularity.
On the defensive end, Lidstrom uses his intelligence and skating ability to magnificent effect. He reads the play better than anyone at the position and plays the game with the calm, collected composure only all-time greats have possessed.
The only shortcoming to his game is his lack of physicality.
Even at 41, Lidstrom is a force on the ice, though he has begun to show the effects of years of logging big minutes for 90-plus games per season.
He still has the offensive game to score 60-plus points, the defensive prowess to hold down some of the best offensive weapons in the world and the leadership to keep the Red Wings Stanley Cup contenders in the deep, talented and cutthroat Western Conference.
2: Shea Weber, Nashville Predators
If I were starting a franchise today and needed to find a blueline anchor, Shea Weber would be my guy. In terms of on-ice talent, he is the complete package.
He has the rare combination of size (6'4", 240 lbs), strength and skating ability to go along with a tremendous hockey IQ and sense.
On the offensive end, Weber owns one of the hardest shots from the point, excellent vision and passing ability and a penchant for making the big play. He tends to thrive in the spotlight and is willing to do whatever it takes to make his team come out on top.
In the defensive zone, Weber is a shut-down defender with a serious mean streak. He uses his size and strength to impose his will with regularity on forwards of all shapes and sizes and thrives on physical play in the tough areas of the ice.
While Weber does not possess the intelligence or savvy of a player like Lidstrom, he does have a high hockey IQ and uses it to anticipate the play. He is generally a sound positional defender but is susceptible to momentary lapses in judgment when going for the big hit.
Weber, like the Flyers' Chris Pronger, is a born leader. He allows his physical play to set the tone for the game and relishes the opportunity to drop the gloves with the opponents who cross his line in the sand.
1: Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
Topping this year's list of the best defenseman is none other than "Big Z" himself, Zdeno Chara. The Bruins' captain has established himself as a tower of power at both ends of the ice, combining phenomenal defensive prowess and tremendous offensive ability with ruthless physicality.
On the offensive end, Chara boasts the hardest shot in the game today, which he regularly unleashes on opposing goaltenders. He also has solid vision and passing ability coupled with his size and strength make him an all-around threat in the offensive zone.
Defensively, Chara is a shut-down blueliner. He has a massive reach to go along with punishing physicality. He routinely eliminates opposing teams' scoring chances using his stick or shoulder. He possesses good shot-blocking ability and forces turnovers at an astounding rate.
Chara relishes the opportunity to physically impose his will on smaller opponents (more or less everyone else in the league) and loves to play in the dirty areas of the ice.
Chara combines his physical abilities with excellent leadership skills. He is more than willing to drop the gloves or deliver a questionable hit if he believes it will inspire his teammates.
In the locker room, Chara is one of the most popular and respected players, frequently going out of his way to help and support his teammates. His off-ice conduct translates well into on-ice performance, as his teammates tend to display a fierce loyalty toward their captain.
He has the rare ability to unite a disperate locker room and bring a team together on the ice.
The only flaws in Chara's game stem from his massive size. Despite his very good skating ability, he still struggles against elusive smaller forwards with a veteran savvy to match his own. He doesn't have the speed that players like Dan Boyle and Drew Doughty do to join the rush.
Finally, Chara is prone to allowing his emotion and passion for the game to overwhelm his composure, resulting in questionable hits and unnecessary penalties.
Despite those shortcomings, Chara is still the best blueliner in the game today. He has an excellent offensive skill set, shut-down defensive prowess, and world-class leadership abilities.
He's already won a Norris and a Stanley Cup, and if he continues his high level of play, he'll win at least one more of each before he finally hangs up his massive skates.
The Honorable Mentions
These five blueliners didn't quite make the cut, but they still deserve to mentioned as some of the NHL's finest.
1. Mike Green, Washington Capitals
2. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
3. Ryan Suter, Nashville Predators
4. Kevin Bieska, Vancouver Canucks
5. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues.
Do you disagree with one of these rankings? Post your thoughts below! Thanks again for reading.