As a nice companion piece to the recent top 15 forwards in the Metropolitan Division, here’s the same for what should be the best defensemen in the division this season.
And while the Metro is dominated by offensive stars like Crosby, Ovechkin, Panarin, Malkin and Aho, there’s a very good crop of defenders out there that are tasked with shutting down these high-skilled players.
Honorable mentions: Brian Dumoulin (PIT), Jaccob Slavin (CAR), Dmitri Orlov (WSH), P.K Subban (NJD)
#10 Ryan Ellis, Philadelphia Flyers: One of the biggest additions of the summer was the trade Philadelphia swung to add right handed shot Ryan Ellis. If healthy, he will be a game-changing addition for the Flyers with his skating and offensive ability. Injuries have been a concern with him missing 40 games in the last two seasons (including a big hit in the Winter Classic from Corey Perry) but when on the ice with the puck on his stick this is a defender who will make a big impact in the division.
#9 Ryan Pulock, New York Islanders: A main reason for NYI’s success, Pulock has been a tower of power on the Island. His stats fluctuate but the 6’2, 220 pounder has a great shot from the point that has put him in the 9-10 goal range in three of the last four seasons (though he only scored twice in the 2020-21 regular season). Defensively he is even more stout, leading NYI with 97 hits last year and blocking 106 shots along the way.
#8 Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia Flyers: Provorov has had a bit of an up-and-down career, but hasn’t always had the support of other top players on the list with a litany of partners (a problem potentially solved with the addition of Ellis). Provorov is a good three-zone defender, he blocked 106 shots last season. He has excelled offensively scoring 20 total goals over the last two shortened seasons.
#7 Brett Pesce, Carolina Hurricanes: Pesce is pretty much the prototype of an actually good defensive defenseman. He has the size at 6’3, 206. He can skate really well for his size and gets around the ice with ease. Pesce isn’t a huge factor in the offensive zone, but can move the puck well (4 goals and 21 assists last season). He flies under the radar because he’s not the flashiest or most skilled player, but he’s tremendously effective.
#6 Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets: Werenski put up 20 points (7G+13A) in just 35 games last season. Now without the departed Seth Jones, Columbus will need Werenski more than ever. Werenski is one of the premiere goal scoring defensemen in the league, since he entered the NHL in 2016-17 he’s found the back of the net 65 times. Only two defenders (Brent Burns and Dougie Hamilton) have scored more goals in that time period.
#5 Adam Pelech, New York Islanders: For a long time, I’ve been banging the drum that Pelech (and partner Ryan Pulock) are the most under-rated players in the game. Which after two long playoff runs and limiting stars like Sidney Crosby, is starting to come to the surface. Pelech isn’t a huge offensive contributor (just 14 points [4G+10A] in 56 games last season) but he’s able to log a ton of minutes and usually frustrates opponents by using his 6’3, 205 pound frame to separate them from the puck. The Islanders have excellent team defense concepts and structure, and Pelech is the most important brick in their wall. He’s no longer under-rated or going unnoticed for his high level of play.
#4 Dougie Hamilton, New Jersey Devils: Hamilton going from Carolina to New Jersey presents the rare intra-division free agent move of massive importance. Hamilton has long been a somewhat polarizing player for stylistic reasons — advanced statistics tend to love him since he controls play and pumps an insane amount of shots on net from the point (his 180 SOG last year led all NHL dmen by a mile). To the eye test and personality test, some are left wanting to see more assertive style or personality, but his on-ice impact can’t be denied. Hamilton is one of the best and most well-rounded top defensemen in the league, and the Devils gave him a seven year, $63 million contract because of it.
#3 John Carlson, Washington Capitals: Carlson is at his best when he or his team has the puck. He’s one of the league’s best power play quarterbacks, working the middle of the ice with a shot or pass decision, and his ability to read defenses and his booming shot usually has the Caps among the leaders of the NHL’s PP percentage. Carlson put up 10 goals and 34 assists last season, ranking fifth in defensemen in the league in points. Defensively his play can be an adventure, but WAR metrics graded his 2020-21 a lot favorable than earlier seasons.
#2 Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins: Letang was a point machine, putting him 45 (7G+38A) in 55 games last season, tying him for third in scoring among NHL defensemen. He’s been the No. 1 guy in Pittsburgh for well over a decade now, which is incredible staying power to play against top competition and still tilt the ice in his team’s favor. While 5v5 defense has never been a huge calling card in Letang’s career, he’s somewhat quietly become an elite PK’er in the league (finishing in the 88th percentile of WAR looks in the last three seasons).
#1 Adam Fox, New York Rangers: you win the Norris, you get first place, that’s how it goes. In just his second season last year, Fox captured the vote for the league’s defensemen when he put up 47 points in 55 games. Despite being 5’11, 180, Fox is the perfect modern NHL defensemen with his skating ability, mind for the game and offensive skill with the puck. Against the Pens last season, Fox scored eight points (2G+6A) in eight games, averaging over 24 minutes per contest. He also isn’t simply all-offense, he blocked 18 shots against the Pens (and had 102 on the season, tying him for 15th among defenders). Right now no one’s stock on the blueline is higher than the Blueshirt’s 23-year old phenom.