Ranking the top 10 NHL defensemen entering the 2021-22 season

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It’s getting chillier out, which may solely imply one factor: the NHL season is correct round the nook.

After two wonky seasons, 2021-22 is shaping as much as be a full 82-game slate (knock on wooden, please) chock-full of the slickest targets, flashiest saves and numerous big-time moments. But earlier than issues get underway, and as the league hits the reset button, it is the good time to kind via the rosters and choose the top goaltenders, defensemen and forwards.

The NHL as a complete has develop into a younger man’s recreation, and that’s nowhere extra prevalent than on the blue line. Adam Fox, in simply his second season, snagged the 2021 Norris Trophy, with fellow sophomore Cale Makar proper behind him. Then there are guys reminiscent of Miro Heiskanen, Aaron Ekblad, Quinn Hughes, Jacob Chychrun and on and on. These younger rearguards might not have a complete lot of expertise, however are bringing offensive sparks to their squads whereas controlling the play in their very own finish.

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Taking into consideration current numbers and who may very well be primed for a star-making season, Sporting News breaks down the top-10 defensemen in 2021-22:

Top 10 defensemen in 2021-22

Honorable point out: Quinn Hughes (Vancouver Canucks), Shea Theodore (Vegas Golden Knights), John Carlson (Washington Capitals), Darnell Nurse (Edmonton Oilers), Jeff Petry (Montreal Canadiens), Morgan Rielly (Toronto Maple Leafs), Jakob Chychrun (Arizona Coyotes), Ryan Pulock (New York Islanders)

10. Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers

Remember him? Ekblad was having a Norris Trophy-worthy season in 2020-21 earlier than struggling a fractured leg in late March. When the 25-year-old wasn’t injured, he tied for first in the NHL amongst defensemen with 11 targets (in simply 35 video games) and ate up lots of ice time for the Panthers (25:05). Fast-forward six months later, and Ekblad is again, wholesome, able to go and anticipated to have an enormous 12 months.

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9. Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars

At simply 22, Heiskanen is amongst the spectacular checklist of younger NHL stars on the blue line. One of the smoothest skaters in the recreation, his offensive numbers slipped a bit in 2020-21 (27 factors in 55 video games) regardless of seeing his ice time rise a full minute (24:58) for ninth-most in the NHL. Fourth on the workforce with 52 blocked photographs, his 5v5 numbers dipped; nevertheless, his play on energy performs ticked up. His particular person anticipated targets elevated (1.97 in 2019-20 to 2.34 in 2020-21) because of his three targets with the man benefit, per Natural Stat Trick.

8. Dougie Hamilton, New Jersey Devils

How good was Dougie Hamilton final 12 months? He completed fourth in Norris Trophy balloting because of 42 factors in 55 video games with the Hurricanes, boasting 56.03 p.c of the shot makes an attempt at 5v5 (according to Natural Stat Trick). That ranked sixth amongst defensemen who skated no less than 800 minutes; he additionally ranked seventh with a 62.12 Goals For share. He has a brand new squad in 2021-22, however Hamilton ought to as soon as once more be a dominating blueliner.

7. Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins

With Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug, McAvoy formally grew to become the man final season in Boston. He scored 21 even-strength factors (one behind Adam Fox) throughout final season’s common season and had the fourth-best Corsi For share (58.51) at 5v5 amongst defensemen who skated no less than 800 minutes. He additionally claimed the top spot at Shots For share (61.13). He ought to get some extra power-play time this season after scoring eight of his 12 factors with the man benefit in the postseason. It’s a contract 12 months for the 23-year-old, so count on massive issues in 2021-22.

NHL ODDS, PREDICTIONS: Stanley CupCalder | Vezina | Norris

6. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators

The Norris Trophy winner in 2020, Josi is cool, calm and picked up on the blue line. His offensive numbers dropped a bit year-over-year from 2019-20 to 2020-21, going from 65 factors in 69 video games to 33 factors in 48, respectively. But he is nonetheless a play driver: A 200-foot defenseman, according to The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn, Josi not solely excels at possession out of the zone (59 p.c) however on zone entries too (20.5 entries per 60). Translation: He will get the puck out of his personal finish after which creates offense effectively.

5. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes

If there’s anybody on this checklist who’s a pure defensive defenseman, that is your man. There’s a purpose he gained the Lady Byng in 2021: He had solely two penalty minutes per recreation, regardless of taking part in virtually 23 minutes a recreation and dealing with the top guys in the league. Some query whether or not he can produce the identical numbers this season with out his accomplice Hamilton, however Slavin has been in keeping with and with out him by his facet. Per Hockey Reference, Slavin has a profession 51.3 p.c Corsi For, with 55.3 p.c of his begins coming from the defensive zone which is fairly strong.

4. Alex Pietrangelo, Vegas Golden Knights

There’s a purpose Pietrangelo was already named to Canada’s Olympic workforce: He’ll present management, but additionally is certainly one of the top D-men in the league. He struggled a bit throughout the common season (COVID-19 protocol and accidents did not assist), accumulating simply 23 factors in 41 video games. Just 45.3 p.c of his photographs got through to the net, his lowest since 2013-14, and created solely 0.20 targets per recreation, his fewest since 2015-16. He discovered his recreation once more in the postseason, accumulating 12 factors in 19 video games with 52.8 p.c of his shot makes an attempt getting via. He additionally noticed his Corsi For share rise from 52.9 p.c, to 54.2.

3. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning

The 2021 common season might not have been the Lightning defenseman’s finest 12 months (word: He had meniscus surgical procedure in the offseason), however he was lights out in the postseason. After scoring 45 factors in 54 video games, the Swede scored 18 in 23 playoff video games on the option to the Lightning’s second straight Stanley Cup. Hedman was a Norris Trophy finalist in 2021, and there is no purpose to assume he will not be again in the remaining group once more this season.

2. Adam Fox, New York Rangers

Truth be advised: The two guys in the top spots are actually in a 1A-1B scenario. There has been lots of flip-flopping right here on who ought to have in the top spot: Fox edged Makar for the Norris Trophy in 2021 after scoring 47 factors in 55 video games — good for 0.85 factors per recreation — however for now, he is No. 2 heading into the season. The Rangers scored 88 targets when Fox was on the ice (85 for Makar), and the Long Island native is an elite defenseman who drives the play of the Rangers; he created a fourth of the workforce’s targets per recreation in 2021, per Hockey Reference.

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1. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche

Makar completed second in the Norris Trophy balloting in 2021, although that will have been strongly influenced by the expertise he’s surrounded by and the reality he solely performed 44 video games. But make no mistake, this Calgary child oozes expertise. He led all defensemen in 2021 (min. 800 minutes), with a CF% of 60.88, which principally interprets to, “The Avalanche dominated play when he was on the ice.” Colorado additionally had an xGF% of 61.77 when he was on the market; the solely man higher? His defensive accomplice, Devon Toews (63.09). He collected 44 factors in 44 video games and averaged 24:19 minutes, and is anticipated to proceed his masterful play in 2021-22.

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