Balanced Excellence: The Top 10 Two-Way NHL Defensemen
What constitutes a top-end defenseman? There are many excellent defenders in the league, but a lot of them thrive in one area or another. Some are offensive wizards while others are defensive shutdown types. The true gems of the league can do it all.
This past summer there was a lot of debate about whether or not Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green was worthy enough to win the Norris Trophy. The primary reason was because his defensive game was lacking. Many think he is just a forward playing on the blue line.
I'm not sure I would go that far, but they do have a legitimate argument. When you take a look at my top 10 two-way defensemen you'll see that he has a long ways to go to join this elite club.
10: Jack Johnson
Jack Johnson still isn't a household name, but he should be. Playing on the West Coast Kings and in the shadow of Drew Doughty doesn't help his case, but he is quietly becoming one of the best two-way defenders in the league.
He is still only 23 years old, but he's almost an NHL veteran. This season he has 19 points in 31 games and plays over four minutes per game on the power play. Usually players who play this much on the power play do not see a lot of time killing penalties, but he logs over a minute per game doing that, too.
If Johnson is this good now, it's scary to think how good he can be with a few more years under his belt. Keep an eye on this late-blooming star.
9: Dan Boyle
There hasn't been as much recognition around Dan Boyle this season, but that doesn't mean his game has slipped. Even at the age of 34 he continues to remain one of the top 10 all-around defenders in the game.
For the Sharks he is still counted on to be on the ice in all critical situations. With 23 points in just over 30 games, no one is questioning his offensive ability yet. Boyle plays an incredible five minutes per game on the power play and over two minutes per game on the penalty kill.
It's pretty amazing that he logs 27 minutes of ice time per game and he almost has 100 shots on the season.
Fantasy players know what I'm talking about already, but in case you don't, I'm here to tell you Boyle is still an elite rearguard.
8: Marc Staal
Much like Jack Johnson, Marc Staal is quickly becoming one of the better defensemen in the NHL. Not to be outdone by his brothers, Marc brings his own style of play to the ice every night, and the Rangers were smart to give him the contract he was looking for this summer.
He already has six goals on the season, with half of them coming on the power play. A lot of people were unsure about his offensive upside, but he is showing that he can get it done at both ends of the ice. His main strength lies on the defensive end, though.
Staal is a smart player and loves to mix it up one-on-one. These are good ingredients for a top-end penalty killer and that is what he does, logging over three minutes per game in this area. Keep an eye on this kid because he's headed for stardom.
7: Chris Pronger
One would think after all the years of incredible amounts of ice time and punishing style of play that Chris Pronger's two-way game would begin to suffer.
Before his recent injury he was once again on pace for a 40-point season. He continues to play over seven minutes per game on special teams and is always counted on to shut down the opposing team's top lines.
Pronger is the rock and glue of that Flyers defense and despite his age, remains one of the best all-around defensemen in the NHL.
6: Alexander Edler
Alexander Edler is a player who I've been high on since his rookie season. Living in Vancouver, I'd had the chance to see him develop over the years and it's safe to finally say that he has reached that upper echelon of NHL defensemen.
On the surface you wouldn't think he is as good as he is, but let's take a closer look at his numbers.
Like other players on this list, he sees significant time on special teams, clocking in at over six minutes per game. He also plays close to 25 minutes per game in total ice time. He has one of the highest plus/minus ratings on this list and also the least amount of giveaways.
In case you were wondering about his physical game, he has twice as many hits as Chris Pronger this season.
Don't be fooled by his soft-spoken demeanor because this kid has all the tools you'd want in a top-pairing blueliner. His stock is definitely on the rise.
5: Brent Burns
Brent Burns is another guy that people might be surprised to see on this list, but he is having another breakout year this season. I say another because he has had stellar stretches of play before, but he's always seemed to be on the short end of the stick with injuries.
However, his name was often mentioned when it came to Team Canada selections, and this year he's making a name for himself as one of the league's best two-way players once again. He is only second in the NHL to Dustin Byfuglien in goals by defensemen, but plays a much better all-around game.
Burns plays big minutes on special teams, plays extremely aggressive, and does it all on a very subpar Minnesota team.
4: Brent Seabrook
Brent Seabrook is straight-up one of the best defensemen in the NHL. If it wasn't for the three guys ahead of him, he would get a lot more accolades for what he does.
He's on pace for a 40-point season and leads this list in hits with 95. That is quite the combination to have on your blueline. When the Blackhawks won the Cup he finally got to play in the spotlight, but like Jack Johnson he plays a lot in the shadow of his defensive partner.
Seabrook is only 25, though, so there is more than enough time for him to get his due.
3: Drew Doughty
Drew Doughty might not be having as good a season as he did last year, but that does nothing to diminish his status in the league. It's hard to believe he's only 21 because he has ascended so fast up the defensive ranks. Many general managers in the league would choose him first if they had their pick of defensemen to start their franchise with, and who would argue?
The guy plays over seven minutes on special teams and 25 minutes of total ice time per game. What else can he do? A better question is what can't he do. He's a brilliant skater, hits with aplomb, and is rarely out of position.
I could go on and on about him, but I'll save that for another article. For now I'll just say that he is easily the third-best all-around defenseman in the league right now.
2: Duncan Keith
It might be strange to see Duncan Keith at number two on this list given the fact that he is coming off a Norris Trophy and Stanley Cup win. This doesn't mean that he isn't one of the best at what he does, though.
At this point we are splitting hairs when we talk about the best all-around defensemen in the league, because I'm not sure anyone would argue if I had Keith at number one either.
Like the rest on this list he does it all and does it with consistency. However, he does lead this list in two important categories—total time on ice and takeaways. These are critical areas to be good at if you want to be called the best. Keith is on pace for 50 points this season as well.
At 27, he is in the prime of his career and should top this list for many years to come.
1: Nicklas Lidstrom
It might be a little bit ironic that Nicklas Lidstrom recently made my list of the top 20 players on their last legs, but this doesn't mean his game is deteriorating. No one knows how long he will play, but in a recent interview he said he'll hang them up when he can no longer do what he does.
If we are to hold him at his word, he's not retiring anytime soon. Lidstrom acknowledged that he doesn't join the rush as much as he used to, but that hasn't hurt his offensive production much. He is currently on pace for a 65-point season and he scored his first NHL hat trick last week for good measure. Not bad for a 40-year-old defenseman who has seemingly done it all.
Another interesting stat that he holds this year is the least amount of giveaways on this list. That's pretty impressive given the fact that he plays over seven minutes a game on special teams playing against the opponent's best players every shift.
What it all translates into is the current rank of number one on the top 10 two-way defensemen list. Even if he does decide to retire after this season, at least he will be going out on top.