Having a solid defensive corps is essential to building a championship team. Because of this, NHL teams are always trying to draft the next big defensemen, and they are quick to label players who experience early success as studs. Unfortunately, sometimes the numbers don’t quite back up the claims. Here are my picks for the top three overrated defensemen in the NHL.
The Top 3 Overrated Defensemen in the NHL
3. Colton Parayko – St. Louis Blues
After putting up 0.63 points per game over three seasons at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Parayko made the jump to the NHL in the 2015-16 season. A third-round pick of the Blues in the 2012 draft, Parayko quickly cemented himself as a mainstay on the St. Louis blue line. Though not touted as an offensive defenseman, he has averaged a solid 34 points per 82 games so far though his seven-year career while averaging over 22 minutes of ice time per night. He is also a very disciplined player, only taking a penalty once every nine games on average.
All this points to a solid defensive defenseman who is still able to contribute offensively. However, the advanced metrics paid a different picture. His “goals for” ratio (GF%) over the past three seasons is 49.38%, so the Blues have been scored on slightly more when Parayko has been on the ice that they have scored.
However, what’s even more concerning is that his “expected goals for” ratio (xGF%) has been 45.04% over the same period. This difference suggests that Parayko is a defensive liability who is getting bailed out by playing with good teammates. In addition to this, his “Corsi for” ratio (CF%) over those three years is 44.0%, showing that the Blues are significantly outshot when he is on the ice.
2. Mattias Ekholm – Nashville Predators
Similar to Parayko, Ekholm is another top-pairing defenseman who is considered a strong defender who can also chip in in the offensive end. Drafted in the fourth round in 2009, Ekholm played four seasons in Europe and one in the AHL before finally cracking the Predators lineup in 2012-13 season. He has put up solid point totals, averaging almost half a point per game over the past three seasons. Along with averaging 21:48 per game through his nine-year NHL career, he has also represented Sweden at nine different international tournaments.
Despite these points in his favour, Ekholm’s game seems to have similar issues to Parayko’s. The Nashville Predators are known for their tight defensive game, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at Ekholm’s advanced stats. Over the past three seasons, he has a CF% of 46.36% and an even lower xGF% of 44.68%. These numbers are impacted by the amount of time that Ekholm plays on the penalty kill (over two minutes per game), but on a strong defensive team like Nashville, these numbers indicate that Ekholm’s abilities may be overrated.
1. Adam Larsson – Seattle Kraken
Larsson was not drafted to be an offensive threat (he had 26 points in 87 games in the Swedish Elite League), but he was touted as an elite defensive defenseman when the Devils took him fourth overall in 2011. Despite being up and down between the NHL and AHL during his first four seasons, his reputation shot through the roof when he was traded (one for one) to the Edmonton Oilers for Taylor Hall in after the 2015-16 season.
Unfortunately, despite his defensive reputation, Larsson’s play has never really lived up to the hype. Along with being a first-pairing defenseman who scores less than 0.2 points per game on average, his numbers also show that he is a defensive liability in his own end. His GF% over the past three seasons is 40.35% (even lower than his xGF% of 42.56%), and his CF% over that period is 43.32%. While Adam Larsson is on the ice, his team has been significantly outshot, out-chanced, and outscored. Because of this, I think that Adam Larsson is the most overrated defenseman in the NHL.