Ranking the Top 50 Defensemen for the 2014-15 NHL Season

Dave Lozo@@davelozoNHL National Lead WriterSeptember 29, 2014

Ranking the Top 50 Defensemen for the 2014-15 NHL Season

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    In the NHL, it's usually the superstar forwards who draw most of the attention. Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Phil Kessel filling the net is what always finds its way on highlight reels.

    But it's usually defense that wins championships, and this list of the NHL's top 50 defensemen will pay homage to the guys whose job it is to prevent Crosby, Ovechkin and Kessel from scoring.

    Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks won the Norris Trophy last season, but is he really the best defenseman in the NHL?

    What about Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators? How about Weber's former partner, Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild? P.K. Subban has the biggest contract, but is he the best defenseman?

    The best defensemen can do it all—score, serve as a No. 1 who can shut down the league's top scorers, skate, hit and play monster minutes. Some players don't do it as well as others, while some players possess only some of those attributes.

    This list will definitively answer those questions, as there is no room for debate with this ranking. It is flawless and above reproach, so any complaints will fall on deaf ears.

    NHL players, feel free to use this list in contract negotiations.

    Note: For the purposes of convenience and clarity, Dustin Byfuglien, a hybrid, and Brent Burns, who is bouncing between forward and defense, are not eligible for this list. But if you're curious, they'd probably rank somewhere between Nos. 30 and 45.

50-46: Gilbert, Spurgeon, Muzzin, Barrie, Hamonic

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    50. Travis Hamonic, New York Islanders: The bruising Hamonic will enter 2014-15 in a position to have his best NHL season, as he won't be saddled with Andrew MacDonald as a defense partner for lengthy stretches. He was a positive relative Fenwick player a year ago, and that figures to improve. He doesn't have much of an offensive game, but he was a point-per-game player in his final junior season, so there's potential for growth there with the 24-year-old.

    49. Tyson Barrie, Colorado Avalanche: The 23-year-old had a breakout season in 2013-14 with 13 goals and 38 points, and he was a positive relative Fenwick player on a bad puck-possession team. It's probably no coincidence that the Avs lost three of four games to the Minnesota Wild and were bounced from the first round after Barrie's season was ended by a knee injury. The next step for Barrie in becoming a complete defenseman is use on the penalty kill.

    48. Jake Muzzin, Los Angeles Kings: In his first full 82-game season, the 25-year-old blossomed and held his own playing alongside Drew Doughty in the playoffs. After scoring five goals in 76 regular-season games, he had six in 26 games as the Kings won a second Stanley Cup in three seasons. He's not really part of the penalty-kill rotation, but that role could increase in 2014-15 with Willie Mitchell's departure to Florida.

    47. Jared Spurgeon, Minnesota Wild: The 25-year-old had career-best in goals (5) and points (26) last season while posting a relative Fenwick percentage of plus-4.7. He averaged 22 minutes and 38 seconds of ice time per game a season ago and has progressed positively as his ice time and responsibility have increased in recent years. He stepped up in the playoffs as well with three goals in 13 games.

    46. Tom Gilbert, Montreal Canadiens: The 31-year-old was an incredible bargain signing this summer by the Canadiens. For two years and a $2.8 million annual cap hit, the Canadiens get a solid possession defenseman who is coming off a solid 28-point season with the offensively stunted Florida Panthers. Gilbert played a little more than 21 minutes per game last season and will be a boon for the Habs blue line this season.

45-41: Boyle, Sekera, Enstrom, Lindholm, Trouba

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    45. Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets: The 20-year-old Trouba finished sixth in Calder voting last season and could have finished a little higher if not for a scary neck injury that sidelined him early in the season. He had 10 goals and 29 points in 65 games last season, averaged nearly 23 minutes per game and was a big reason why the Jets could move Dustin Byfuglien to forward. Depending on how you feel about a rookie defenseman, a case can be made Trouba should be higher or lower on this list.

    44. Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim Ducks: Lindholm showed a lot for a rookie 19-year-old who may not have gotten a chance to play in the NHL if not for an injured Sheldon Souray being unable to play. He finished second in points among rookie defensemen with 30, and while Boston's Torey Krug led the way with 40, Lindholm logged bigger minutes and was a positive possession player against harder competition. 

    43. Tobias Enstrom, Winnipeg Jets: The diminutive Swede had 10 goals and 30 points a year ago while playing nearly 24 minutes per game. His reputation is somewhat hurt by playing most of his career in front of Ondrej Pavelec, who has a penchant for making his defensemen look worse than they are. But Enstrom was a quality possession player a season ago who persevered in the face of poor goaltending.

    42. Andrej Sekera, Carolina Hurricanes: The steady, reliable 28-year-old unveiled an offensive side to his game last year, posting personal bests of 11 goals and 44 points. Before 2013-14, Sekera never exceeded 29 points in a season. He led the Hurricanes in minutes and was in the black in terms of shot attempts. It's doubtful he can repeat those offensive numbers, but he should be just fine in all other areas.

    41. Dan Boyle, New York Rangers: At 38, the question remains about how much Boyle has left in the tank. Half of his 36 points last season came on the power play, which won't be loaded with the same talent in New York that existed in San Jose. He was in the black in raw Fenwick last season with the Sharks, but he was negative relative to the rest of the team. He can still quarterback a power play, but just how productive he can be is in doubt. He's still a rare commodity.

40-36: Faulk, Hamhuis, Johnson, Johnson, Boyle

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    40. Jack Johnson, Columbus Blue Jackets: Johnson has never been much of a possession player, but he plays huge minutes against top lines, so it's understandable that he isn't great in that regard. He played around 25 minutes per game last season and did so in all situations. He had a terrific yet brief playoff (three goals, seven points in six games), which could be a sign of things to come in 2014-15.

    39. Erik Johnson, Colorado Avalanche: With 39 points, Johnson tied his career high last season. Like almost every member of the Avalanche, he was a negative in raw possession numbers, but he still boasted positive relative Corsi and Fenwick percentages. His 23 minutes a night were the most on the Avs, who may rely on him even more this season.

    38. Dan Hamhuis, Vancouver Canucks: Last year was a down one for Hamhuis, but was it a matter of him closing in on 32 years of age or the John Tortorella Effect? Considering his track record and how the Rangers responded to a change in coaching last season, I'll chalk it up to Tortorella. Hamhuis' 22 points represented his lowest total since 2006-07, but he should bounce back nicely in 2014-15.

    37. Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes: Faulk had a 50.2 Fenwick percentage and plus-0.7 relative Fenwick percentage last season and will enter his fourth full NHL season after having his best one statistically in 2013-14. He had five goals and 32 points while playing 23:24 a night. The 22-year-old was a member of the U.S. Olympic team and very likely will be again if the NHL returns to the Olympics in 2018.

    36. James Wisniewski, Columbus Blue Jackets: Almost quietly, Wisniewski had his best NHL season in 2013-14. His career-best 51 points were tied for seventh among defensemen and he was a dominant possession player (54.2 Fenwick percentage). The only reason he's not five to seven spots higher is the fact that he plays mostly second-pairing minutes behind Jack Johnson and Fedor Tyutin. At age 30, he's also never had a season resembling this past one. Still, it's impossible to dismiss his fantastic offensive season.

35-31: Seidenberg, Stralman, Carlson, Brodie, Goligoski

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    35. Alex Goligoski, Dallas Stars: Once part of the punchline to the "Stars trade James Neal to the Penguins" joke, Goligoski showed last season why the Stars wanted him in the first place. With six goals and 42 points, the 29-year-old had his strongest season since he was dealt to Dallas in 2010-11. He played three more minutes per game than the Stars' next busiest defenseman, and with Stephane Robidas no longer in the fold, Goligoski could be even busier in 2014-15.

    34. T.J. Brodie, Calgary Flames: The 24-year-old rode shotgun with Mark Giordano for most of the 2013-14 season and acquitted himself quite well. He averaged 24 minutes a night—about four minutes more than his previous career high—and was a dominant possession player (plus-7.4 relative Fenwick percentage) who contributed four goals and 31 points in 81 games. He's in that class of "best defensemen you've probably never heard about."

    33. John Carlson, Washington Capitals: With 10 goals and 37 points, Carlson had his best offensive NHL season despite posting only mediocre possession numbers. Those numbers have the potential to pull a Benjamin Button and meet in the middle this season with new coach Barry Trotz at the helm. Carlson is a minute-muncher, and the additions of Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen this summer could take some pressure off him and allow him to flourish.

    32. Anton Stralman, Tampa Bay Lightning: After two excellent seasons with the New York Rangers, Stralman signed a five-year, $22.5 million contract with the Lightning this summer. That seems like a hefty chunk of change for a player who has five goals and 20 points in his past 129 games, but he's an elite possession player (56.3 Fenwick percentage) who can be just that against top competition. Playing on an extremely talented Lightning squad, his offensive numbers are likely to get a boost this season.

    31. Dennis Seidenberg, Boston Bruins: Remember this guy? Of all the reasons for the Bruins exiting the playoffs two rounds sooner than some predicted last year, Seidenberg's absence due to a knee injury is probably the biggest. The 33-year-old received Norris consideration in 2013 because he is a defensive stalwart. He has cracked 30 points in a season three times in a career, but Seidenberg is top-pairing player because of the defensive side of his game.

30-26: Niskanen, Markov, Phaneuf, Fowler, Voynov

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    30. Slava Voynov, Los Angeles Kings: The 24-year-old has two Stanley Cups in three years and was an integral part of the Kings' title in 2012, as he replaced Jack Johnson on the blue line after he was traded to Columbus. His Fenwick percentage was 53.8 last season, which is quite good. The Kings deploy him in all three phrases, and at his age, he could still get even better in the coming years.

    29. Cam Fowler, Anaheim Ducks: The 22-year-old had a resurgence in 2013-14 after having two rough seasons following a rookie campaign that saw him finish eighth in Calder Trophy voting. Injuries forced Fowler into the role of No. 1 defenseman and he excelled with six goals and 36 points. His big season helped him become a member of the U.S. Olympic team.

    28. Dion Phaneuf, Toronto Maple Leafs: The captain of the Leafs feels like the cut-off for what a team should consider a No. 1 defenseman. He plays big minutes in all situations and his eight goals and 31 points are perfectly acceptable considering the fact that he draws the tough matchups every night. He has brutal possession numbers (41.2 Fenwick percentage), but his relative Fenwick percentage was only 1.5 percent worse than the team average. He's extremely tough to judge considering his situation.

    27. Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens: After battling chronic knee issues for about three years, Markov has been reminding everyone why he's a top defenseman over the past two years. He had 10 goals and 30 points in 48 games two seasons ago and seven goals and 43 points in 81 games last season. The 35-year-old's mobility is diminished, but it's no coincidence that the Canadiens have been one of the East's top teams in the past two years with Markov healthy.

    26. Matt Niskanen, Washington Capitals: As if appearing out of nowhere, Niskanen had by far the best season of his career in 2013-14 in just about every statistical category. But his underlying numbers appear to say that last season was no fluke and there's every reason to think he can have another 10-goal, 46-point season with the Capitals. Niskanen didn't play that much on the penalty kill last season with the Penguins, but that could change in Washington.

25. Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings

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    By the Numbers: Niklas Kronwall had his best NHL season in 2013-14 with a career-best 49 points in 79 games. He had 51 points in 2008-09, but that was back when Nicklas Lidstrom was the do-it-all legend. Since Lidstrom retired in 2012, Kronwall has been excellent as the team's No. 1 defenseman. He plays 24 minutes per night in all three phases and had positive Fenwick and relative Fenwick percentages last year. In the two seasons since Lidstrom retired, Kronwall has finished 10th and 13th in Norris voting.

    Best Attribute: Yeah, Kronwall can score, but it's his willingness to throw his body around that makes opponents take notice of where he is at all times. He's only 6'0", 190 pounds, but he's become an imposing physical force on the ice.

    Why He's Here: Kronwall is the type of player who makes you stand up and leave your feet in adulation. He can hit, score, kill penalties and work a power play, and it can't be emphasized enough that he was filling the shoes of perhaps the best defenseman in NHL history. He will turn 34 years old during the upcoming season, which will put his excellent durability to the test. He has missed just eight games the past four seasons.

24. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    By the Numbers: In his past three seasons, Kris Letang has 102 points in 123 games, making him one of the best offensive blueliners in the league. The problem for Letang has been health. He has missed 89 games over that time with various injuries, including multiple concussions. Despite missing 13 of 48 games two seasons ago, he was a Norris Trophy finalist and has been top 10 in balloting on two other occasions. He was part of the Penguins' Cup-winning team in 2009 as a 22-year-old.

    Best Attribute: He's a forward in a defenseman's body and, really, only Erik Karlsson is a better offensive defenseman. His worst attribute might be luck, considering all the injuries he's faced in recent years, but he's like Phil Kessel on the blue line for the Penguins.

    Why He's Here: I do admit my personal bias against Letang, as I think he's below average in his own zone. The Penguins' coaching staff must have felt the same way to some extent, as it tended to shelter him from facing the best competition. Even with all that, he still plays 24 minutes a game and enters every season with the potential to be the NHL's top-scoring defenseman, so that's why he winds up in this slot.

23. Niklas Hjalmarsson, Chicago Blackhawks

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    By the Numbers: Niklas Hjalmarsson took a big step forward last season and was quietly earning himself tougher matchups on a more regular basis. He had career highs in goals (4), points (26) and ice time (21:17). While he's been slightly negative in terms of relative Fenwick percentage over the past five seasons, his Fenwick percentage has never dipped any lower than 52 in any one season. He rarely sees time on the power play but led the Blackhawks in penalty-killing time last season.

    Best Attribute: Clearly it's not his offensive acumen, but it doesn't mean he isn't a good skater. Sometimes that skating ability translates to playmaking and scoring, but his ability to move quickly in his own zone, along with his strength, makes him an excellent defensive defenseman. He's also showing signs of improvement offensively, so there is a lot of upside for Hjalmarsson.

    Why He's Here: The drawback on Hjalmarsson is his lack of power-play time. All 26 of his points last season came at even strength or while short-handed. His 22 even-strength points tied for 30th among defensemen last season. Though he's not bombing pucks from the point on Blackhawks power plays, he's still creating enough offense at even strength while playing excellent defense to warrant his place on this list.

22. Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues

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    By the Numbers: The 25-year-old had a career-high 10 goals and 45 points last season playing primarily on the Blues' second pairing. Shattenkirk is probably the best No. 3 defenseman in the NHL and would be a No. 1 on about a dozen other teams. He plays a shade over 20 minutes per game and his 26 power-play points last season were among the most in the league.

    Best Attribute: Shattenkirk has forward skills at a defensive position. He can shoot and pass, and the fact that he can do so while still being a tremendous possession player (55.3 Fenwick percentage) makes him special.

    Why He's Here: He's the rare defenseman who can be effective at both ends of the ice, something that warranted his inclusion on the U.S. Olympic team in 2014. It's debatable how effective he would be if he faced tougher competition like Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo do, but for the role he plays, there's maybe none better. He's young enough that he can still get better, but he's very likely to see a dip in his play in the upcoming years.

21. Andy Greene, New Jersey Devils

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    By the Numbers: At 31, Andy Greene played his most minutes per game (24:35) last season and was rewarded with a five-year, $25 million contract extension. He is the No. 1 defenseman on one of the best possession teams over the past three years. Greene's eight goals last season were the most of his career. In one of the many goofy decisions by Team USA's brass, Greene did not receive an invite to Olympic orientation camp last summer.

    Best Attribute: Greene is 5'11" and 190 pounds, and while he is no shrinking violet on the ice, he stays a step ahead of the competition with his excellent vision and anticipation. His stick always seems to be in the passing lane ahead of the play and he makes an excellent first pass out of his zone.

    Why He's Here: It's easy to take the Devils' possession dominance for granted, but it's a reality because they have a player like Greene on the back end controlling things. He has registered positive Fenwick and relative Fenwick percentages over the past three seasons. Couple that with his above-average offensive game, and Greene is one of the NHL's elite blueliners.

20. Christian Ehrhoff, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    By the Numbers: Since 2008-09, Christian Ehrhoff is 13th in points by defensemen and would probably be top 10 if not for spending the past two seasons dying on the vine in Buffalo. He posted a plus-5.7 relative Fenwick percentage with the Sabres last season and will probably have much better overall numbers now that he's with the Penguins. He's a 24-minute-a-night defenseman who can play in all situations and is virtually guaranteed to improve on his 33 points of a season ago.

    Best Attribute: Like a lot of guys on this list, his ability to create offense and mobility are what set him apart from more stationary defensemen. But unlike others who have those skills, Ehrhoff is doing it with a 6'2", 205-pound frame, so it's not as though he's easily pushed around. He can quarterback a power play, and now that he'll be doing it with the Penguins, his talent should be on full display.

    Why He's Here: As an offensive defenseman who can play tough No. 1 minutes, he's a rarity in the NHL today. Now that he's with the Penguins, it's likely that Paul Martin and Kris Letang will seek the bulk of those minutes, so he will be quite the luxury on a second pairing. Whatever his role may be in Pittsburgh, he's still a top defenseman who is a gift on a one-year, $4 million deal.

19. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators

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    By the Numbers: An interesting fact about Roman Josi is that he is actually not Romanhe is Swiss. But he's the other half of the Predators' top pairing with Shea Weber and doesn't get the respect he deserves. He plays more than 26 minutes per night, and no one besides him or Weber played more than 20 minutes per game for the Preds last year. Josi's 40 points left him just outside the top 20 in blue-line scoring last year. At 24 years old, he's only going to get better.

    Best Attribute: At 6'1" and 195 pounds, he isn't an imposing presence, but he can move the puck and skate with the best of them. His defense partner, Weber, is the guy who delivers the bone-rattling hits while Josi is the smooth-skating complement.

    Why He's Here: Josi probably doesn't get the respect he deserves, as the perception is Weber is one of the best defensemen in the world and Josi lives off him like those things that stick to whales. Well, it's maybe not that drastic, but the truth is Josi one of the best in the game. He's hardly an anchor around the neck of Weber and is a great defenseman on his own merits.

18. Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks

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    By the Numbers: The 29-year-old Brent Seabrook is probably the right-handed defenseman who just missed inclusion for Team Canada at the 2014 Olympics. His 41 points last season were the second-most in his career and he continues to log heavy minutes for the Blackhawks. He'll probably never win a Norris Trophy playing in the shadow of Duncan Keith, but the fact that he's missed just 10 regular-season games since 2006-07 is a testament to his durability.

    Best Attribute: Toughness is a trait that usually gets attached to players who are bad at hockey and need to have their lineup spots justified, but it really is something that makes Seabrook who he is. He can clear the front of the net, punish opponents and the fact that he can play that style while missing so few games speaks volumes about that toughness.

    Why He's Here: Seabrook isn't the best in any one particular area, but he's one of the few defensemen in the NHL to have a little bit of everything. He can skate, hit, pass, score, kill penalties, execute on the power play, clear the front of the net and start a breakout. He does it all in the face of stiff competition and is one of the big pieces of the Blackhawks' dominance over the past five seasons.

17. Keith Yandle, Arizona Coyotes

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    By the Numbers: Despite the fact that Team USA left him off the 2014 Olympic roster, the 28-year-old is one of the best puck-moving, American-born defenseman in the NHL. He had eight goals and 53 points in 82 games last season, the most among American-born defensemen. Yandle has led the offense-starved Coyotes in points over the past two seasons and played a little more than 24 minutes per night in 2013-14.

    Best Attribute: Yandle has top-five, at worst top-10, skating ability among defensemen. He's one of the best at being a one-man breakout and his speed allows him to join the rush without slacking on his defensive responsibilities.

    Why He's Here: His offensive abilities outweigh his defensive skills, but those offensive skills keep him out of his zone for long stretches. The Coyotes have been one of the better defensive teams in the NHL for years, and he has been a big part of that. Oliver Ekman-Larsson seems to be emerging as the team's preferred shutdown defenseman, but Yandle is still one of the best at what he does.

16. Paul Martin, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    By the Numbers: Paul Martin is 33 years old, has never finished higher than 23rd in Norris voting, yet is the anchor on the back end for the Pittsburgh Penguins. While Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik got most of the recognition, it's Martin who acts as the team's No. 1 defenseman, leading the team in ice time and even-strength ice time. Injuries have sidetracked Martin in the past two seasons, but he's still a 30-to-40-point player when he's healthy.

    Best Attribute: It's Martin's skating ability that allows him to stay at the top of his game. He's a playmaker and will see around three minutes of power-play ice time per game because of it. He can't blaze out of his own zone like Erik Karlsson, but he knows how to make a first pass that starts a breakout.

    Why He's Here: Letang gets the attention for being the Penguins' best offensive defenseman and Orpik received the praise for being that bruising, shutdown defenseman before he left for Washington, but the reason why the Penguins allowed Orpikand Matt Niskanento leave this summer was because Martin is their best defenseman. He excels against top competition and his possession numbers (51.5 Fenwick percentage) in the face of that are solid. He's the best defenseman in the NHL whom no one seems to recognize as great.

15. Brian Campbell, Florida Panthers

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    By the Numbers: The 35-year-old might be the most unappreciated defenseman in the NHL, as he languishes with a Florida Panthers team that has fewer eyes on it than a potato. But he remains among the top scorers along the blue line, with seven goals and 37 points last season. He has averaged nearly 27 minutes per game in the past three seasons and played the third-most minutes last year. He won a Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010 and has posted solid possession numbers (52.5 Fenwick percentage) on a poor team.

    Best Attribute: It's his ability to start breakouts with either his skating or passing ability. Last year, Hockey Prospectus looked into the best defensemen when it comes to zone exits, and Campbell was right near the top. That's the type of skill that's surely to erode as he reaches the end of his career, but the Panthers would be lost without him on the ice for half the game.

    Why He's Here: He's a complete defenseman and a breakout machine. It's just a shame he's had to do his work in relative obscurity over the past three seasons. He can hold his own against top competition, something that may make him attractive to contenders at this year's trade deadline, as he has two years at $7.1 million a season remaining on his contract. He has missed the playoffs in half of his 14 NHL seasons. Otherwise, he might have a stronger reputation as a winner and all that.

14. Jay Bouwmeester, St. Louis Blues

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    By the Numbers: Jay Bouwmeester is one of three St. Louis Blues in the top 25 on this list. After toiling for years with the Florida Panthers and Calgary Flames, Bouwmeester has shown in St. Louis why he's an elite defenseman. His 37 points in 82 games were his most since 2008-09. He and defense partner Alex Pietrangelo formed the second pairing on Team Canada's gold-medal squad at Sochi. He's always good for around 25 minutes a game against top competition.

    Best Attribute: As the NHL's current ironman with 717 consecutive games played, clearly his durability is unrivaled. At 6'4" and 214 pounds, he regularly uses his size to contain opponents, so it's not as though his streak is the result of avoiding contact. Bouwmeester is 247 games shy of the NHL record for consecutive games played, held by Doug Jarvis.

    Why He's Here: He's terrific defensively, solid offensively and suits up every night. It's easy for him to get lost in the mix in St. Louis, where Ken Hitchcock's system skews toward defense, but it's a system that can't be played well without great defensemen. He just quietly goes about his business as a top defenseman and looks poised to continue to do just that for at least a few more years.

13. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    By the Numbers: The second pick in the 2009 draft began to realize his potential last season. Victor Hedman posted a 53.7 Fenwick percentage and more than doubled his career bests with 13 goals and 55 points in 79 games. Now 23, Hedman is surrounded by an improved Lightning team this season, which could mean even more points in 2014-15. Only two defensemen—Shea Weber and Erik Karlsson—had more even-strength goals last season than Hedman's 10 (Burns played forward).

    Best Attribute: When Zdeno Chara is on the ice, it's quite obvious he wasn't blessed with the best skating ability. After all, he's 6'9", so it's understandable. Hedman is 6'6", yet he skates with the ease of someone six inches shorter. Perhaps his skating ability wouldn't be so remarkable if he was 6'1", but for a man of his size to have the speed he does, it's a terrifying combination for the other team.

    Why He's Here: Not too many defensemen had a better 2013-14 season than Hedman, but that was by far his best season in the NHL. He has the pedigree and skills to build on that season in 2014-15, so if he does that, he'll hear his name mentioned in Norris Trophy talk all year long. He could also post more impressive numbers just by playing a little more than he did last season—his 22:26 per game ranked 48th among defensemen last year. Two or three more minutes per game could turn him into a 70-point guy.

12. Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames

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    By the Numbers: At the age of 30, the undrafted Mark Giordano had his best NHL season and made people take notice of his overall game. While playing against top competition on a terrible Calgary Flames team, Giordano had a 53.5 Fenwick percentage and plus-8.7 relative Fenwick percentage. He also had 14 goals and 47 points, both career highs, and finished 10th in Norris voting after failing to garner a single vote during his first seven seasons.

    Best Attribute: Allow me to cop out a bit here and say that his work ethic is what makes him great. Consider that he reached the NHL despite going undrafted, isn't overly big (6'0", 200 lbs), isn't the fastest skater, doesn't possess the biggest shot, but he's pushed himself to the point where he was 10th in scoring among defensemen last season while playing 25 minutes a night.

    Why He's Here: As steady as he has been, and even with his breakout season, there's no telling what he could deliver this year or in the coming years. He can do it all and he's a No. 1 in Calgary, but can he match last season? If so, he'll be on lists like this for next few years. But it's possible that last year's all-round performance was a fluke, something we will be able to determine after 2014-15.

11. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes

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    By the Numbers: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who turned 23 in July, had the best season of his young career in 2013-14. In his fourth season, and second 82-game season, Ekman-Larsson had career bests in goals (15), points (44) and average ice time (25:54). He was part of the silver medal-winning Swedish team at the 2014 Olympics.

    Best Attribute: He has the type of skating ability that could allow him to become a 30-minute-a-night defenseman if he adds muscle to his 6'2", 190-pound frame. Only three defensemen (Andrei Markov, P.K. Subban and teammate Keith Yandle) averaged more power-play ice time last season, so there's room for him to play more at even strength and on the penalty kill this season.

    Why He's Here: He's still growing into the role of No. 1 defenseman, which he handled well last season. Yandle still plays a little more than Ekman-Larsson at even strength, but he hardly touches the ice on the penalty kill while Ekman-Larsson is part of the top short-handed defense pairing. Ekman-Larsson can still get better at even strength, in his own zone and even offensively, but there may be none as good at the same age right now.

10. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks

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    By the Numbers: Duncan Keith has accomplished a lot for a player who just turned 31 this summer. His accomplishments come in twos: two Stanley Cups, two Olympic golds, two Norris Trophies. He was second among all blueliners in points last season with 61 in 79 games as the Blackhawks reached the Western Conference Final for a second straight year. He doesn't consistently match up against top competition like he did four years ago, but he's still one of the best in the game.

    Best Attribute: His skating is a close second, but Keith has elite vision on the ice. He can make a pinpoint first pass out of the zone or find lanes with the Blackhawks on a power play. His league-leading 55 assists among defensemen last season are a testament to that, and his 208 assists since 2009-10 are 34 more than the next closest blueliner, Erik Karlsson.

    Why He's Here: Having the reigning Norris Trophy winner this low on a list of this nature may seem like an oversight or cry for attention, but he's just not the defensive stalwart he was in the past. That doesn't mean he's a liability, but he's not facing the consistent tough competition like others on this list. He's still an elite offensive defenseman who can log a lot of minutes, and he'd be a clear-cut No. 1 on a lot of teams, but with Niklas Hjalmarsson emerging as a shutdown guy, it's OK to use Keith the way the Blackhawks did last year.

9. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, San Jose Sharks

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    By the Numbers: The 27-year-old Marc-Edouard Vlasic isn't an offensive juggernaut—his 24 points last season were his most since 2008-09, when he had a career-best 36—but his points don't reveal his overall quality. Vlasic is a possession beast and had his best season in that regard in 2013-14 (59.3 Fenwick percentage). He doesn't see much time on the power play, which hurts his point totals, but he must be doing something right to have been selected to Team Canada for the 2014 Olympics. With Dan Boyle gone, Vlasic should get more responsibility this season.

    Best Attribute: It's not really one attribute, but he's very good positionally in his own zone and has good enough speed to recover in small spaces. That's not saying he's a great skater who can single-handedly lead breakouts, but he's good at coverage in tight spaces. He has strength and excellent anticipation skills, but he has just enough quickness to be a force below the hashmarks.

    Why He's Here: Being a great defenseman isn't about being a 60-point player. His numbers show that when he's on the ice, no matter who is out there against him, the Sharks carry the play. It's not all that different from Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman in the past two seasons, who doesn't have much to show in goals and assists but consistently carries the play. If you want one reason for the Sharks' collapse against the Kings last year, consider that Vlasic missed virtually all of the final three games of that series with a concussion.

8. Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers

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    By the Numbers: Free from the shackles of John Tortorella's "hey, guys, everyone lay down in front of the goaltender and block shots" system, Ryan McDonagh showed that he can be an elite double-threat defenseman. After posting 60 points in his first 169 career games, he had 14 goals and 43 points in 77 games under Alain Vigneault last season. He elevated his game to another level in the postseason, with 17 points in 25 games as the Rangers reached the Stanley Cup final.

    Best Attribute: He's stronger than a cup of coffee laced with cocaine, but it's his skating ability that allows him to be a force at both ends of the ice. His effortless stride allows him to cover a lot of ground and take gambles on the rush, as he can recover and track down anyone should the puck head in the other direction.

    Why He's Here: He has Norris Trophy potential but only has one season in which he showed his full capabilities. There were also times during the SCF against the Kings when he tried to do too much. That phrase that can be overused, but McDonagh was clearly pressing in situations and hurt the Rangers. If he can back his 2013-14 season up with a similarly excellent one in 2014-15 while cleaning up some of his minor flaws, he could garner top-five Norris votes at season's end.

7. PK Subban, Montreal Canadiens

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    By the Numbers: P.K. Subban has accomplished a lot in his four full NHL seasons. He has one Norris Trophy and one Olympic gold medal, two items that helped him sign an eight-year, $72 million contract this summer. Subban is seventh in points among blueliners since 2010-11 with 165 in 282 games. The Canadiens haven't leaned on Subban as heavily as other teams have leaned on other defensemen on this list—he's 18th in ice time in the past four seasons—but that will likely change going forward.

    Best Attribute: Subban isn't the fastest skater, but he may be the quickest. He can get himself to top speed from a dead stop as well or better than almost anyone in the NHL. He's smart, deadly offensively and has made great strides in maintaining his composure on the ice in recent years, but it's ability to recover defensively that's his best attribute.

    Why He's Here: As good as Subban is, he still has room to get better in his fifth full season. He hasn't been utilized heavily on the penalty kill early in his career, and although it's not Subban's fault, he had a hard time finding the ice consistently late in close games last season. How he responds to that increased responsibility and workload starting in 2014-15 will go a long way toward deciding where he's ranked next year.

6. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild

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    By the Numbers: Ryan Suter eats minutes like Joey Chestnut eats hot dogs. Since 2009-10, no one has spent more time on ice than Suter, who averaged a league-high 29:24 per game last season. Since leaving the Nashville Predators for the Minnesota Wild two years ago, he has finished second and fourth in Norris Trophy balloting, proving he's still elite without former partner Shea Weber. He's not an offensive threat like others near the top of this list—his eight goals last season tied a career high—but the 29-year-old is usually good for around 40 points a season.

    Best Attribute: As stated above, Suter plays a lot of minutes, and his durability and endurance make him special. While logging the NHL's most minutes over the past five seasons, he has missed just 15 games, 12 of which came during the 2010-11 season. Of course, he's very good at what he does, but the fact that he can play nearly half the game for an entire season is something that can be easily taken for granted.

    Why He's Here: He's money in the bank in terms of consistency and level of play. It's not a coincidence that the Minnesota Wild missed the playoffs for four straight seasons before Suter arrived and guided them to consecutive playoff appearances. While he's not offensively inept, he's not as skilled at the other end of the ice as other players on this list. If he maintains his level of play defensively and produces 50 or so points, he'd be top three in the league.

5. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators

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    By the Numbers: Erik Karlsson is the best offensive defenseman in the NHL by a mile. He has 63 goals and 237 points in 315 career games, numbers that would have been even greater if not for an Achilles injury suffered in the 2013 season. Even with that absence, his 211 points since 2010-11 are 26 more than the next closest defenseman, Keith Yandle, who has played 39 more games than Karlsson over that span. In 2012, Karlsson won a Norris Trophy. He won't turn 25 until May 2015.

    Best Attribute: Of course, it's Karlsson's electric skating ability that aids in breakouts and defensive recovery. Coming off an Achilles injury, he "slumped" to 20 goals and 74 points in 82 games last season. "No, it’s not the same, but it feels a lot better than it did last year," Karlsson told the Ottawa Citizen's Ken Warren at the start of training camp. If he feels better than he did last year, his skating ability will be even better, too.

    Why He's Here: The knock on Karlsson is his lack of dominance in the defensive zone. He's not a primary part of the Senators' penalty kill—he finished 13th in short-handed ice time on the team last season—and he's not going to muscle many forwards from the front of the net with a 6'0", 180-pound frame. But, man, have you seen how great he is offensively? The positives outweigh the negatives here in a big way. There isn't a team in the league that doesn't covet Karlsson.

4. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    By the Numbers: Zdeno Chara is no spring chicken—he's actually a human being born in Slovakia—but he's still among the elite defensemen in the NHL. The 37-year-old had 40 points in 2013-14, his fewest in an 82-game season since 2002-03, but his 17 goals were the most he's scored since 2008-09. He was runner-up in Norris Trophy voting last year and has been top five in voting in the past four seasons. If not for his poor luck of playing at the same time as Nicklas Lidstrom, Chara would have more than one Norris Trophy.

    Best Attribute: He has plenty of them, but it's his length that makes him unique. At 6'9", he has the reach to poke the puck from two counties away. Skating around a human being as long as Chara is nearly impossible. Of course, he's strong and had the NHL's hardest shot as recently as 2012, but it's his length that helps keep him among the best on the blue line as his speed diminishes in his late 30s.

    Why He's Here: The only thing keeping Chara from being a couple of spots higher is his age and the questions that come with being almost as close to 40 as he is to 35. He remains a shutdown defenseman and proved he can be an effective forward on the power play last season. Chara parked his massive frame in front of the net and scored 10 power-play goals last season, the second-most of his career. Whatever he's lost in speed in recent years he's made up for in other ways.

3. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues

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    By the Numbers: Alex Pietrangelo is one of the best in the business and may only be scratching the surface. The 24-year-old won gold with Canada at the Sochi Olympics while having his best NHL season in 2013-14. He had eight goals and 51 points and played a career-high 25:22 per game in 81 contests. He was nearly a point-per-game defenseman over four years in the OHL, so he could still get better offensively. He finished fifth in Norris Trophy in voting last year and will probably win at least one Norris before his career is over.

    Best Attribute: Maybe this is more about perception than reality, but Pietrangelo appears to be one of the smartest players when he's on the ice. He seems to be one step ahead in a lot of instances, whether it's reading a pass from an opponent, tracking a puck along the wall or being in the right place to sweep away a rebound. He has size, speed and hands, but he seems to have the ability to anticipate that few playersdefensemen or otherwisepossess.

    Why He's Here: He's among the few defensemen who can deliver a 50-point season while playing against the opposition's top offensive players. He kills penalties, works the power play and averaged 19:11 of even-strength ice time per game last season, which ranked 18th in the league. That shows there's room for him to take on even more responsibility, although the Blues are so deep on defense that it's not really necessary. Much like Drew Doughty, if he played in a different system, he could be even better offensively than he's already shown.

2. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators

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    By the Numbers: Shea Weber leads all defensemen in goals since 2009-10 with 83 and his 38 power-play goals over that time are also tops. He's also the prototypical shutdown defenseman who logs major minutes—he's fourth in the NHL in minutes played the past five seasons. The 29-year-old has been top three in Norris Trophy voting in three of the past four years. He won back-to-back Olympic golds with Team Canada in 2010 and 2014.

    Best Attribute: His slap shot from the point is the stuff of nightmares for goaltenders. At the 2012 All-Star weekend, Weber finished second to Boston's Zdeno Chara with a 106 mph rocket. Those aforementioned 38 power-play goals are a testament to his shot from the point, as is the time he ripped a shot through the net while scoring a goal for Canada at the 2010 Olympics.

    Why He's Here: A strong case can be made that Weber is the best defenseman in the NHL despite lacking a Norris Trophy, but at 29, he's on the other side of what could be a Hall of Fame career. He can still put the clamps on the most elite of scorers, even with defense partner Ryan Suter leaving for Minnesota as a free agent two years ago. He can do it all on the ice, but so can the No. 1 player on this list, who is slightly younger and quicker on his skates.

1. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

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    By the Numbers: Drew Doughty's 221 points in 442 career games aren't eye-popping, but he's a gifted offensive player who improves in the postseason once the leash is loosened. He's won two Stanley Cups, two Olympic golds and has finished in the top 10 in Norris Trophy voting in four of the past five seasons. He won't turn 25 until December.

    Best Attribute: His best attribute is he has all the attributes of an elite defenseman. He's tough, smart, skates like the wind, can kill penalties and quarterback a power play. There may be a player here or there who is better than Doughty in one of those areas, but no one is as complete as him.

    Why He's Here: On top of the skill, Doughty provides durability. Only six players have logged more regular-season minutes since 2011-12 and no one has more playoff ice time in the past three years than Doughty. He is under contract at $7 million per season through 2018-19, and with rising salaries, that will only be more of a bargain going forward. Doughty likely has at least another eight to 10 years of peak play ahead of him.

    This is the second installment in B/R's positional-ranking series in the lead-up to the 2014-15 season. Take a look at the top NHL's top wingers, and check back later this week for our rankings of goalies and centers. Then the series culminates with our overall ranking of the NHL's top 100 players on Oct. 6.

    All basic and advanced statistics courtesy of NHL.comHockey-Reference.comStats.HockeyAnalysis.com and Behind the Net. All contract details via CapGeek.