A midsummer ranking of the No. 1 defenseman on the NHL’s 31 teams.
There are two things to keep in mind when reading this.
First, this is a ranking of each team’s No. 1 defenseman. It is not a ranking of the NHL’s top 31 defensemen. In other words, only one Nashville Predators blueliner made the list, not three or four. (The choice here was P.K. Subban, with all due respect to Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm.)
Second, these rankings reflect each blueliner’s projected value for this coming season, 2018-19. No more, no less. It’s not about each defenseman’s past body of work or long-term future upside. That’s why the likes of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, both of whom are dealing with injury issues that will impact their performance this season, are ranked lower than you might expect.
And away we go, ranking the 31 NHL teams’ No. 1 defenseman in 2018-19:
1. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
The No. 1 defenseman in Ottawa is the No. 1 defenseman in the league. Problem is, he might have been traded while you were reading this.
2. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
Big like Chara, smooth like Karlsson. OK, not quite as big as the former and not quite as smooth as the latter. But he’s the best combination of big-and-good on any NHL blueline today.
3. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
When he’s on, he can take over a game like nobody else. And he’s usually on.
4. P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators
If you’re in the Josi camp, that’s a good camp, too.
5. Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
Trending up, way up, just like his blueline partner Zach Werenski.
6. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
Bring back the rover and free The Beard.
7. John Carlson, Washington Capitals
Was there anybody more important in the Caps’ playoff run to their first Stanley Cup?
8. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets
A brick wall that can skate. And hit. And score and defend and intimidate and run a power play and…well, he’s the best brick wall the NHL has seen in some time, let’s just leave it at that.
9. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues
He does it all so efficiently that he sometimes gets overlooked.
10. Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers
Anyone else feeling a breakout for Ekblad this season? The 22-year-old is coming off a healthy year as he skates into his fifth NHL campaign.
11. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes
He’s the New Doan in Arizona, the franchise veteran who’s waiting for the rest of the team to catch up with him.
12. Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia Flyers
Keep your eye on this guy, he’s a contender for the Norris Trophy in the not-too-distant future.
13. Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes
Big defender with a big shot, but you have to wonder why he keeps getting traded.
14. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars
He’s making a name for himself offensively, but don’t sleep on his defensive acumen.
15. Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames
The Flames captain turns 35 when the season begins, but he hasn’t shown much sign of slowing down yet.
16. Cam Fowler, Anaheim Ducks
The leading man on a young and talented blueline in Anaheim.
17. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild
He went down with a broken ankle at the end of last season, which was devastating for Minnesota’s playoff hopes. The good news is, he expects to be ready to go for training camp. If he isn’t, Mathew Dumba is the Wild’s No. 1-in-waiting.
18. Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs
Smart, mobile and competitive, he’s more adept in the offensive end.
19. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
Forget about that (awfully) rough first half last season. When all was said and done, Letang ranked in the top 10 in average ice time among NHL defensemen (25:20). At 31, he’s still got something left in the tank.
20. Erik Johnson, Colorado Avalanche
Tyson Barrie gets the points, but Johnson is the defenseman the Avs lean on, especially when they’re trying to shut down opponents. He ranked second among NHL defensemen in shorthanded ice time per game last season (3:40).
21. Nate Schmidt, Vegas Golden Knights
You’d be smiling, too, if you went from depth defender to key cog in one season.
22. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
He’s logged a lot of miles and he’s finally slowing down at 35, but the Blackhawks’ blueline is frightfully thin so he’s going to get overworked some more.
23. Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo Sabres
It’ll be another Rasmus representing Buffalo’s blueline this time next year, but the minute-munching Ristolainen will do until the rookie Dahlin is ready.
24. Chris Tanev, Vancouver Canucks
Solid and dependable in his own end, he’s a second-pair defender forced into first-pair duty on the rebuilding Canucks.
25. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
Boston’s hoping that Charlie McAvoy will soon be ready to take over as the team’s blueline linchpin, but Chara keeps chugging as he approaches 42. It must be the old-man strength.
26. Sami Vatanen, New Jersey Devils
The headline is his offense, but he proved his all-around worth on the Devils’ top pairing last season.
27. Darnell Nurse, Edmonton Oilers
A tough customer who was one of the brighter lights in a dark season for Edmonton last year.
28. Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens
He missed most of last year with injury and he’s not expected back until November or December after undergoing off-season knee surgery. So he probably won’t be up to speed until the playoffs, which the Canadiens aren’t expected to make.
29. Mike Green, Detroit Red Wings
In reality, you want him on the second pairing and running the power play.
30. Nick Leddy, New York Islanders
Knows what to do when the Isles have the puck, but his minus-42 rating last year was by far the worst in the league.
31. Kevin Shattenkirk, New York Rangers
The Rangers’ No. 1 by default, he’s a boon on the PP but doesn’t kill penalties.