NHL Network knows who the best players are in the League right now. They will reveal their lists in a nine-episode series that runs through the start of the regular season. The third episode is Sunday at 6 p.m. ET and focuses on the top 20 defensemen.
Did your favorite defenseman make the list? Tune in Sunday to find out and join the conversation with the #NHLTopPlayers hashtag. Here is a preview of the series and a look at five defensemen on the bubble who just missed the top 20.
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 on what makes a top defenseman.
“The evolution of the game seems to be more on offense, but I still like a more well-rounded defenseman,” Daneyko said. “Sometimes it gets lost in the shuffle that it’d be nice to be able to defend as well at times. That’s why Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning) is at the top of the charts for me, being a guy that can play the game any way you want it.”
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.
Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres
The No. 1 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, Dahlin was a finalist for the Calder Trophy last season after ranking first among rookie defenseman and third among all rookies with 44 points in 82 games. He ranked second in assists (35) and average ice time (21:09), and had eight multipoint games, tied for the second-most by an 18-year-old defenseman in NHL history (Phil Housley, 13; Bobby Orr, 8).
“Even when the Sabres started to struggle as a team, you watched him and he just continued to play through everything,” Daneyko said. “He continued to perform at a high level for such a young defenseman. To come in and play as poised as he did for most of the year … there’s no doubt Dahlin, maybe not this year, but he has the potential to be a top five guy in a couple of years.”
Thomas Chabot, Ottawa Senators
In his second full NHL season, Chabot had 55 points (14 goals, 41 assists) in 70 games after having 25 points in 63 games in 2017-18. The 22-year-old ranked 10th in points and eighth in points per game (0.79) among defensemen to play at least 50 games. Chabot led the Senators in average ice time per game (24:17), which ranked 14th in the League.
“You’re going to see more hiccups on a team that struggles and gives up some goals and doesn’t win as many hockey games, but for me, he’s going to be a top 10 guy in a couple of years,” Daneyko said. “He’s a guy that his skating stride is effortless. He’s just a very graceful guy, the way he carries the puck, capable of going end to end. He’s honing his craft still.”
Tyson Barrie, Toronto Maple Leafs
Barrie set his NHL career high in assists (45) and points (59), and tied his high of 14 goals with the Colorado Avalanche last season. He also had eight points (one goal, seven assists) in 12 Stanley Cup Playoff games to help the Avalanche win a series for the first time since 2008. Barrie, who has scored at least 49 points in four of the past five seasons, became Colorado’s all-time leading scorer among defensemen last season. The 28-year-old, who was traded to Toronto on July 1, had 307 points (75 goals, 232 assists) in 484 regular-season games with Colorado.
“He’s kind of one of those guys who plays the way the game has gone, but his numbers don’t lie,” Daneyko said. “The past two seasons, close to 60 points, 14 goals in both of those years. Tyson Barrie played very well last year. He’s still evolving, but no question an elite, puck-moving defenseman who can join the attack with the best of them.”
Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets
Although he missed 40 games last season, Byfuglien managed to score 31 points (four goals, 27 assists), with more than half of them on the power play (16). Prior to that, he had at least 45 points in the previous seven full NHL seasons, and the 34-year-old, who won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, ranks fourth in points (416) and goals (122) among defensemen since 2010-11.
“If I’m looking for one game, a big game, he’s one of the guys, top five guys for me I’d probably pick because of his size (6-foot-5, 260 pounds), strength and dominance when he is on his game,” Daneyko said. “Injuries are a part of it, and maybe his game dipped a little bit, but he’s still such a dominant force on the ice that can turn the game many different ways.”
Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes
Slavin tied his NHL career high with eight goals and had 31 points in 82 games last season. The 25-year-old helped the Hurricanes qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2009, and his 11 assists in 15 playoff games was tied for fourth among defensemen. Slavin, who led Carolina in average ice time per game (23:02), hasn’t missed a game in the past three seasons and has scored at least 30 points in each of them with a plus-25 rating.
“He’s definitely in my top 20,” Daneyko said. “He’s elevated his game to that well-rounded defenseman level that I like. He has size (6-3, 207), reach, length. His offensive game is continually growing and he’s superb in his own end defensively.”
Here is the remaining schedule (all episodes will air at 6 p.m., ET):
Aug. 18: Top 20 defensemen
Aug. 25: Top 10 goalies
Sept. 1: Top 50 players (50-41)
Sept. 8: Top 50 players (40-31)
Sept. 15: Top 50 players (30-21)
Sept. 22: Top 50 players (20-11)
Sept. 29: Top 50 players (10-1)
Originally published at https://www.nhl.com/news/nhl-top-defensemen-honorable-mentions/c-308530434