Whether it’s breaking up a big play, setting up a goal or scoring on the power play, some defensemen can do it all. But who are the top 20 defensemen in the NHL today?
NHL Network will answer that question Sunday. Ken Daneyko, a defenseman who played 20 seasons in the NHL (1982-2003), won the Stanley Cup three times with the New Jersey Devils and now works as an NHL Network analyst, shared his input with what makes a top defenseman.
“To me you have to be well-rounded,” Daneyko said. “A lot of these guys are offensive and people just look at numbers. I would take a guy on my team who’s more well-rounded with 35 points than a guy with 60 points. It isn’t as easy to find players like this anymore.”
The top 20 defensemen will be revealed in the show, but Daneyko discussed some on the bubble who just missed the cut among the show producers and NHL Network analysts who made up the selection panel.
Tyson Barrie, Colorado Avalanche
Barrie, 27, set NHL career highs in goals (14), assists (43), points (57), power-play goals (seven) and power-play points (30) last season despite missing 14 games because of injury. The seven-season NHL veteran had a 7.9 shooting percentage, his highest since 2014-15 (8.6). He ranked second on the Avalanche in ice time per game (22:42), behind defenseman Erik Johnson (25:26). Barrie also had four assists in six Stanley Cup Playoff games.
“Dynamic offensively, just needs to be a little more well-rounded and pick his spots better,” Daneyko said. “He can be vulnerable defensively.”
Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia Flyers
After he had 30 points (six goals, 24 assists) in 82 games as a rookie in 2016-17, Provorov had 41 points (17 goals, 24 assists) in 82 games last season. His 17 goals were tied for the NHL lead among defenseman with Dougie Hamilton of the Calgary Flames and Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Provorov, 21, led the Flyers in ice time per game (24:09) and shorthanded ice time per game (2:35), was plus-17, and had an 8.4 shooting percentage. He hasn’t missed a game in his two NHL seasons. His 169 blocked shots tied for 10th in the NHL, and his 148 hits were third on the Flyers.
“For such a young age, poise, good in all three zones and only getting better,” Daneyko said. “He moves the puck and has good offensive instinct. He’s going to be a real good player for a long time.”
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, San Jose Sharks
Vlasic, 31, has spent 12 seasons with the Sharks and continues to be overlooked despite his excellent work defensively and offensively. His 11 goals and 161 shots on goal last season were personal NHL bests, and his 32 points were his third-highest total. Vlasic has had a plus rating in each of the past 10 seasons (plus-9 in 2017-18), and his 174 blocked shots last season ranked seventh in the NHL. He averaged 22:33 of ice time last season, second on the Sharks to defenseman Brent Burns (25:15), and his 2:49 of shorthanded ice time per game led San Jose.
“There’s a reason he gets picked for Team Canada always,” Daneyko said. “He doesn’t put up offensive numbers that everyone wants, but he’s a dependable, reliable, shutdown guy. He’ll chip in offensively a little but is just a sound, steady defenseman, and you never have to worry about him.
Matt Dumba, Minnesota Wild
Dumba, who turned 24 on July 25, set NHL career highs in goals (14), assists (36) and points (50) last season. He has increased his total in the three categories in each of the past four seasons. He was rewarded with a five-year, $30 million contract July 21. He scored four game-winning goals, including two in overtime. In addition to finishing second on the Wild in total ice time (1,952:49; defenseman Ryan Suter had 2,088:38), Dumba was second in hits (136) behind forward Marcus Foligno (185) and fourth with 112 blocked shots.
“Great year last year, and he’s only getting better,” Daneyko said. “He’s a dynamic player who reads the play well and jumps in the play. He has great offensive instincts, is learning the other side, picking his spots. The sky is the limit for him.”
Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers
Ekblad, the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, had an NHL career-high 16 goals last season, tied for fourth among defensemen. His 8.5 shooting percentage was an NHL career best, and his 38 points were one shy of his career high set in 2014-15, when he won the Calder Trophy as top rookie in the NHL. Ekblad, 22, ranked second on the Panthers in ice time per game (23:23), behind defenseman Keith Yandle (24:49).
“He had a great rookie year then dipped a little for whatever reason, or injuries. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he is in the top 20 or mid-top 20 next year with a solid year this year.” Daneyko said. “He’s mobile, moves the puck well, has a good shot, and is pretty strong.”
Here is the schedule (all episodes will air at 7 p.m., ET):
Aug. 12: Top 20 defensemen
Aug. 19: Top 20 wings
Aug. 26: Top 10 goalies
Sept. 2: Top 50 players (50-41)
Sept. 9: Top 50 players (40-31)
Sept. 16: Top 50 players (30-21)
Sept. 23: Top 50 players (20-11)
Sept. 30: Top 50 players (10-1)