From the goal scorers to the coaches to the netminders, everyone on a hockey team loves a great defenseman. They hustle, hit, block, and backcheck all with the goal of keeping the puck out of their own net. Top-pairing defenseman have become a premium in the NHL and finding one is a foundation step in creating a contender. The value of a no.1 defender has perhaps been lowered in the past couple seasons after both the Penguins and Knights made it to the Stanley Cup Finals without one, but make no mistake, these players make it a whole lot easier. Sometimes teams even need two.
These are the top 10 defensemen of 2018-19.
Top 10 NHL Defensemen of 2018-19
10. John Klingberg – Dallas Stars
Though he’s only spent four years in the league, Klingberg has already established himself as a dominant offensive defenseman. He has not yet had a season posting less than 40 points on the year and capped 2018 with his best total yet — 67 points, good for third in points by a defenseman. With all the points he puts up it is easy to forget that he is still only 26 and his overall game is still improving. His defensive game improved in 2017-18 and though offence is still his priority, he’s turning into a very complete defender. Klingberg saw relatively regular penalty killing time for the first time and will only improve his hockey IQ as he gets older. If he continues to improve at the rate he’s going, Klingberg could be a lot higher on this list very soon.
9. Brent Burns – San Jose Sharks
One thing that makes a defenseman so valuable is his shot from the point. Burns has that and a lot more to offer on the blueline. Perhaps the most recognizable shot of any defender, Burns puts it to use every year as he has now led defenders in shots three years in a row. His 2016-17 campaign concluded with him taking home the Norris Trophy after being a nominee the year before and racking up a whopping 76 points. He has also finished the last four straight seasons in the top-two for points by a defenseman. Both his goals and shooting percentage fell in 2017-18 but there is little reason to think Burns will fail to produce more offence in 2019. As long as Burns limits his turnovers, he has become an incredibly important part to the Sharks success over the past half-decade.
8. Seth Jones – Columbus Blue Jackets
Still just 23 years old, Jones has become a staple on the Jackets blue line. After being buried on the depth chart in Nashville, the 4th pick in the 2013 draft was traded to Columbus in 2016 and has become one of the most complete defenders in the entire NHL. He finished the 2018 season 10th in defensive scoring with 57 points and 4th in defensive takeaways. This lead to him finishing 4th in Norris voting. Jones has all the intangibles to be the next best defenseman in the NHL. He has size, a bit of speed, a great shot, and incredible hockey IQ. His ice time has increased every season he has played and is always justifying the expectation coaches have of him. As long as Jones keeps doing what he does, he’ll crack into the top-three of this list very soon.
7. John Carlson – Washington Capitals
After always playing second fiddle to another member of the Capitals defence, Carlson finally got a chance to shine on his own in 2017-18. He lead all defenders in scoring, contributed significantly to both the powerplay and the penalty kill, all while helping his team to another Metropolitan Division title. The success then carried into the playoffs in which he posted 20 points in 24 games, while blocking shots, and grabbed the first Stanley Cup in Capitals franchise history. 2018 was Carlson’s first year as a truly dominant defenseman as he had only posted more than 37 points in one season before, but his defensive game had always been solid leading up to this season. Carlson is in the middle of his prime and if he duplicates the success he had in 2018 for a couple more years, could become a huge problem for each forwards, defenders, and goaltenders.
6. Roman Josi – Nashville Predators
Josi is value wise maybe the best player in the NHL. Nashville inked a then 22-year-old Josi to a seven-year(s)/$28 million deal with a cap with of just $4,000,000 a year. Now in 2018, he has beyond outperformed his deal. Josi has recorded over 40 points every year since 2013-14 and had a career-best +24 rating last season. He rarely gives the puck away, is his teams best penalty killer and has lead Nashville in total time on ice per game since 2015. Josi is just the kind of defender that does whatever he is asked successfully. He’s had to share the ice with Shea Weber, P.K. Subban, and Ryan Ellis but always looks like the most complete defender on his team when it’s his shift. Josi should make his first All-Star game soon and a Norris could follow.
5. Alex Pietrangelo – St. Louis Blues
Similar to Josi, Pietrangelo has quietly become one of the NHL’s best defensemen by improving his game every year. Since stepping into the league at age 21, Pietrangelo has never missed more than 11 games in a single season. His numbers have steadily hovered around the mid-40s to low-50s while only having one season where he tallied less than 40 points (37). He’s become one of the most versatile weapons on the Blues’ blueline, killing penalties, blocking shots, and chipping in on offence. Pietrangelo is a disciplined player who plays great defence but can differ to his partner if he wants to step up and make plays up the ice. Having made the All-Star game twice at 28, Pietrangelo always shows why he has become one of the most respected defensemen in the NHL.
4. Erik Karlsson – San Jose Sharks
Karlsson may not be your typical defender but he is no less valuable considering his incredible offensive talent. A four-time All-Star, while already taken home the Norris trophy twice in his nine-year career, Karlsson’s point production is impossible to ignore. Granted, he may spend a bit too much time around his opponents hash marks, but he is almost always putting himself to good use. Over Karlsson’s last six healthy seasons, he has not put up less than 62 points a year. His 2016 season was so special he became the first player since Ray Bourque and Brian Leetch did it in 1996, to put up a point per game as a defenseman. Karlsson may have some defensive flaws in his game but when you contribute to the offence as much as he does, you can get away with it.
3. Drew Doughty – Los Angeles Kings
While only being 28 years old, it feels like Doughty has been in the NHL forever. Playing his first season in 2008-09, the 2008 2nd-overall pick has been making an impact on the NHL since he was just 19. His hockey IQ allowed him to break into lineups early in his career and has been what sets him apart from a lot of other defenders. His great offensive and defensive upside have translated into an insane amount of ice time. Doughty led the NHL in average time on ice in 2018 but had his most insane year in 2014-15 when he averaged an insane 29 minutes of ice time per game. Last year he averaged almost four more minutes on the ice than any of his teammates. Doughty is a hard worker and smart player leading him to become one of the best NHL defensemen over the past decade.
2. Ryan Suter – Minnesota Wild
If you don’t believe great no.1 defenders help you get wins, consider that Suter hasn’t missed the playoffs in eight years despite moving teams. Over his 13 year career, Suter has become the prototype for the stay at home defenseman. Though he clearly prioritises his own end the of ice, he is not afraid of creating offence. He’s put up over 40 points in each of his last three seasons (51 twice) and had his first season with a negative plus/minus (-1) since 2009 in 2017-18. 2018 was also the first time in six years he didn’t finish in the top-10 for Norris voting. Suter is big, rugged, and does an incredible job of protecting the puck. When you try to think of the dream NHL defenseman pairing, Suter almost always makes the cut.
Victor Hedman – Tampa Bay Lightning
It may have taken a couple years to find his footing but Hedman has become easily the best defenseman in the NHL today. He has incredible size (6’6″), vision, awareness in both the offensive and defensive zone, all while being very light on his feet. This past season was Hedman’s cleanest as he finished sixth in points by defenders, sixth in league plus/minus, and first in goals by a defenseman on pace to claim his first Norris Trophy. He’s made back-to-back All-Star games and with the talent around him could be a Stanley Cup winner very soon. His time at the top of this list may be short-lived but Hedman’s talent on and off the puck mixed in with his ability to create mismatches with his size is very special.
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