Ranking the 10 Best Offensive Defenseman in the NHL Today

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistOctober 9, 2021

Ranking the 10 Best Offensive Defenseman in the NHL Today

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    The primary role of NHL defensemen is to prevent their opponents from scoring. There are those, however, who are as renowned for their offensive skills as their defensive ones.

    Some, such as the Tampa Bay Lightning's Victor Hedman, play a terrific two-way game, contributing to their team's scoring while playing a responsible defensive game. Others, like the Colorado Avalanche's Cale Makar, excel on the attack.

    The following is our ranking of the top-10 offensive defensemen in the NHL today. Some are established veterans, while others are young blueliners rising quickly among the ranks of the game's elite puck-moving rearguards. Recent performance, career offensive numbers and consistency factored into this compilation.

    You can weigh in on this topic in the comments section below.

Honorable Mention

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    Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks

    Winner of the James Norris Memorial Trophy in 2016-17, Burns enjoyed five straight 60-plus point campaigns from 2014-15 to 2018-19, including a career-best 83-point effort. However, the 36-year-old's point-per-game production (0.59) over the past two seasons slid to 24th among NHL blueliners.

             

    Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

    A Norris Trophy winner in 2015-16, Doughty had exceeded the 40-point plateau seven times in his 13 NHL seasons. The 31-year-old's point-per-game production (0.56) declined over the past two seasons to 29th among all rearguards as the Kings rebuilt with younger talent.

           

    Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers

    The Calder Memorial Trophy winner in 2014-15, Aaron Ekblad has five seasons with at least 36 points, including a career-best 41 points in 2019-20. The 25-year-old had 22 points in 35 games in 2020-21 before suffering a season-ending leg injury.

            

    Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars

    In just three seasons, the 22-year-old Heiskanen blossomed into the Stars' best all-around defenseman. He netted 33 points during his 2018-19 NHL debut, 35 points 68 games as a sophomore and 27 points in 55 games last season. He was also their leading scorer (26 points) in the 2020 playoffs.

         

    Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks

    A two-time Norris Trophy winner, Karlsson netted at least 62 points six times in his 12 NHL seasons. Injuries, however, have hampered the 31-year-old since joining the Sharks in 2018-19, dropping his point-per-game average (0.57) to 21st overall during that period. 

           

    Torey Krug, St. Louis Blues

    After nine seasons with the Boston Bruins, Krug signed with the St. Louis Blues in 2020. He struggled at times with his new club last season, finishing with 32 points. That's the first time he was below 40 points in a season since 2014-15.

           

    Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins

    The 23-year-old McAvoy rose in just four seasons to become the Bruins' top defenseman. He's netted 30-plus points three times and could be poised to put up bigger numbers as he enters his playing prime.

            

    Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs

    A strong skater who logs big minutes for the Maple Leafs, the 27-year-old Rielly reached or exceeded 27 points in each of his eight NHL campaigns. That includes a career-high 72 points (along with 20 goals) in 2018-19.

            

    Shea Theodore, Vegas Golden Knights

    The Golden Knights' patience in developing Theodore's game is paying off. The 26-year-old rearguard netted 46 points in 71 games in 2019-20 and 42 points in 53 games last season. He could move up among the elite puck-movers with a strong outing in 2021-22.

            

    Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets

    The 24-year-old Werenski is a skilled and mobile blueliner, tallying 47 points as a rookie in 2016-17. He exceeded the 40-point plateau again in 2018-19 and 2019-20. A season-ending injury limited him to 20 points in 35 games last season.

            

    Keith Yandle, Philadelphia Flyers

    The 35-year-old Yandle sits fourth overall among defensemen with 600 points since his NHL debut in 2006-07. However, his output fell to just 27 points in 56 games last season, the lowest since his 12-point performance in 2007-08.

10. Tyson Barrie, Edmonton Oilers

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    Over 10 NHL seasons, Tyson Barrie has proved himself as a reliable point-producing defenseman. Since his first full campaign in 2013-14, he's tallied 38-plus points eight straight times across stints with the Colorado Avalanche, Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers.

    The 30-year-old Barrie's offensive skills put him seventh among NHL defensemen since 2013-14 with 381 career points. He led all blueliners in scoring last season with 48 points.

    Signed in July by the Oilers to a three-year contract, Barrie's production should remain among the league's best. He became a key cog in their offensive attack last season, especially on the power play. He should remain among the league's high-scoring defensemen while skating with superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

9. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars

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    John Klingberg wasted little time establishing himself among the NHL's scoring defensemen, tallying 40 points in 65 games in 2014-15. The 29-year-old became the Dallas Stars' highest-scoring blueliner over the past seven seasons with 327 career points and is ninth overall among all NHL rearguards during that period. 

    A superb skater with strong play-making abilities, Klingberg tallied 40 points or more in his first five NHL campaigns. Injuries and a shortened schedule limited him to 32 points in 2019-20, but he netted 36 points in 53 games the following season.

    Eligible for unrestricted free-agent status in July, Klingberg could earn a lucrative new contract with the Stars or another NHL club. A return to his 40-point form this season could ensure a hefty raise as well as maintain his place among the league's elite offensive defensemen.

8. Dougie Hamilton, New Jersey Devils

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    Dougie Hamilton's offensive skills were apparent early in his NHL career with the Boston Bruins, exceeding 40 points for the first time in 2014-15. Those abilities would make him the top defenseman in this year's NHL free-agent market, earning him a seven-year, $63 million contract with the New Jersey Devils.

    The 6'6", 230-pounder isn't a physical blueliner, but he uses his long reach to strip opposing players of the puck and his big strides to move the puck up the ice. Thanks to his powerful shot, he sits fourth among all rearguards with 94 total goals since 2014-15. He also netted at least 40 points six times in the past seven seasons with the Bruins, Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes.

    Now 28, Hamilton faces the challenge of becoming a blue-line leader for the rebuilding Devils. They could become a playoff contender if he maintains his usual level of production with his new teammates.

7. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators

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    Winner of the James Norris Memorial Trophy in 2019-20, Nashville Predators captain Roman Josi is among the NHL's best defensemen. In addition to his solid defensive game, his mobility, puck-moving skills and ability to log big minutes has contributed to his offensive success.

    Josi made his NHL debut in 2011-12 but came into his own as a point producer in 2013-14 with a 40-point performance. That was the beginning of seven straight seasons with 40-plus points, including a career-high 65 during his Norris Trophy campaign.

    Though limited to 33 points in 48 games last season, Josi remains among the game's elite mobile blueliners. His 107 goals since 2013-14 rank fourth overall among defensemen, and he's fifth in total points with 412 over the same period.

6. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Through 15 NHL seasons, Kris Letang has been a mainstay on the Pittsburgh Penguins blue line. His mobility and puck-handling skills earned him three Stanley Cup rings and placed him among the league's highest-scoring defensemen.

    Despite missing time because of injuries throughout his career, the 34-year-old sits sixth in points among NHL blueliners since his debut, with 582 in 853 games. His 0.67 points-per-game average is second to Erik Karlsson (0.79) during that period.

    Letang is approaching the period in his career when his offensive output could start to decline. Nevertheless, he tied for third among defensemen last season with 45 points. That suggests he still has some productive seasons left in him.

5. Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks

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    A skilled, young defenseman with considerable offensive ability, Quinn Hughes' 53-point performance in 2019-20 made him a finalist for the Calder Memorial Trophy. He led all rookies in points, finished fourth among Canucks regular-season scorers and third with 16 points in postseason scoring.

    Last season proved more difficult for Hughes and the Canucks as they missed the playoffsdue in part to a slow start and a COVID-19 outbreak. He and his teammates also struggled defensively, giving up the third-highest shots-against per game (33.4) and sixth-most goals-against per game (3.34). Nevertheless, Hughes finished third among Canucks scorers with 41 points in 56 games.

    Entering his third NHL season, the 21-year-old should continue to shine as one of the league's best-scoring defensemen. He's fifth in total points (94) over the past two seasons and has yet to reach his playing prime. Signed to a new six-year contract, Hughes will be a significant contributor to the Canucks' offensive punch.

4. John Carlson, Washington Capitals

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    The linchpin of the Washington Capitals defense corps, John Carlson's smooth skating and offensive skills make him an invaluable part of their scoring attack too. His production from the blue line during the 2018 playoffs played a crucial role in their march to the 2018 Stanley Cup, netting 20 points in 24 games.

    A model of consistency, the 6'3", 215-pound Carlson has reached or exceeded 32 points in 10 of his 12 NHL seasons. That includes tallying 68 points in 2017-18, 70 points in 2018-19 and 75 points in 2019-20. He's led all NHL defensemen in total points over the past four seasons with 257. He's also the leader in power-play points (106) during that period.

    Now 31, Carlson continues to produce at a high level, tallying 44 points in 52 contests last season. With his size, speed, hockey smarts and booming shot, he remains among the NHL's top offensive rearguards.

3. Adam Fox, New York Rangers

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    In just two seasons, Adam Fox has joined the ranks of the NHL's elite defensemen. The 23-year-old New York Rangers star took home the James Norris Memorial Trophy last season, joining Hall of Famer Bobby Orr as the only sophomores to accomplish that feat.

    Fox is a talented all-around defenseman, logging a team-leading 24:42 of ice time per game and 102 blocked shots while finishing second with 38 takeaways last season. It's his offensive prowess, however, that draws the most attention. Fox led all NHL defensemen in 2020-21 with 42 assists while finishing second with 47 points.

    Now the Rangers' undisputed top blueliner, Fox will face considerable pressure to follow up last season's impressive performance. Given his youth, impressive mobility and play-making abilities, more Norris Trophies could be sitting on his mantel in the near future.

2. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche

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    It didn't take Cale Makar long to secure his spot among the NHL's top stars. An impressive rookie campaign earned the Colorado Avalanche defenseman the Calder Memorial Trophy in 2019-20. He followed that up by becoming a finalist last season for the James Norris Memorial Trophy.

    Only 22, Makar possesses the speed and offensive skills of a more seasoned NHL veteran. The 5'11", 187-pounder collected 50 points in 57 games as a rookie to finish second among Avalanche scorers. As a sophomore, he tallied 44 points in as many games, leading the club in power-play ice time per game (4:11) while finishing second with an average ice time per game of 24:19.

    Makar's point totals would have been higher if not for injuries. Still, his point-per-game percentage over the past two seasons (0.93) ranked second among defensemen with at least 100 games played. His puck-moving abilities and offensive instincts make him among the league's top rearguards. If he can stay healthy, he should remain a perennial Norris Trophy candidate.

1. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Since 2014-15, the Tampa Bay Lightning have been the NHL's top franchise. They won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2020 and 2021, reached the Cup Final in 2015 and won the 2019 Presidents' Trophy with a record-tying 62 wins. Playing a major role in those accomplishments was Victor Hedman, who finished tied for third among NHL defensemen last season with 45 points.

    The 6'6", 241-pound Hedman is the complete package of size and overall skills. Since 2013-14, he's come into his own as an offensive blueliner. In those eight seasons, he's third overall behind Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson in total points among defensemen with 429. Unlike Burns and Karlsson, his point-per-game (0.83) over the past two seasons remains among the top 10, sitting fourth overall.

    Hedman's strong two-way game earned the James Norris Memorial Trophy in 2017-18 and the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2019-20. Now 30, the long-time Lightning rearguard shows no sign of slowing down. While younger defensemen like the New York Rangers' Adam Fox and Colorado Avalanche's Cale Makar are on the rise, Hedman's consistency makes him the league's best offensive blueliner.

                 

    Stats and trophy info via NHL.com.

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