We continue our trip around the Metropolitan Division by looking at the top-15 defensemen in the division going into the 2022-23 season. We already looked at the forwards a week ago, and you can check them out here.
Next week: The Goalies.
The Penguins have two players crack my top-15, including one of their big offseason additions.
1. Adam Fox, New York Rangers. Other than Igor Shesterkin, I think Fox is the best player on the Rangers (and that includes the forwards) and he is definitely already one of the best overall defenders in the league. He already has a Norris Trophy and at his age, production, and ability I would not rule out another one in his career. He can do it all, in all three zones, and in every situation. An all-around stud.
2. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins. Speaking of great all-around players, Letang still has it. And I am honestly not even sure if he has lost a step yet. If he has, it might only be a fraction of a step. If that. Even in his mid-30s he is an elite player and still a top-10 vote-getter in the Norris Trophy race almost every year. He is actually coming off one of the best seasons of his career at age 34 and remains a core player in Pittsburgh.
3. Dougie Hamilton, New Jersey Devils. This might be my own personal bias coming into play here, but I have always been a huge fan of Hamilton’s game. He is one of the league’s best possession drivers, can score, and is better in his own end that he sometimes gets credit for being. When he is healthy he is one of the best blueliners in the league.
4. John Carlson, Washington Capitals. His defensive game has tailed off a lot the past couple of years, but he can still bring it at an elite level offensively at both even-strength and the power play.
5. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes. An outstanding defender that has more offensive punch to his game than you might realize. Maybe not in terms of goal-scoring, but in terms of moving the puck and helping to drive the team’s offense. He is kinda like a modern-day Paul Martin.
6. Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets probably overpaid him a little, but honestly I am okay with it. They signed him at a time where they needed to show they could keep a star, he is still in his prime, and he is a really good player. If you are going to give somebody a little extra money, make it somebody at the top of your roster.
7. Noah Dobson, New York Islanders. Am I getting ahead of myself with this one? Maybe. But man did he look good last year, and I think he is on his way to big things now and in the future. A real bright spot on an otherwise declining team.
8. Adam Pelech, New York Islanders. The classic New York Islander: He will not do anything to stand out offensively, but as solid of a defender as you will find in the NHL.
9. Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers expected him to be a top-pairing defender, they use him like a top-pairing defender, but he has not really become a top-pairing defender. That does not make him a bad player by any stretch of the imagination. He is just simply not the player he was supposed to be.
10. Jeff Petry, Pittsburgh Penguins. Petry has been one of the most underrated players in the league going back to his days in Edmonton. It has only been over the past few years that he has started to get recognition for his play, and he is going to be a huge upgrade for the Penguins’ defense this season.
11. Dmitry Orlov, Washington Capitals. Not somebody that is going to carry your defense, but a really solid No. 2 defender that can make an impact offensively. He kind of gets lost in the shuffle a bit in Washington given the star power they have throughout the lineup.
12. Ryan Pulock, New York Islanders. Pelech and Pulock are very good on their own, they are tremendous together as a pairing. For all of their flaws, the Islanders do have a really good defense to build around.
13. Brett Pesce, Carolina Hurricanes. He is not going to give you much in the way of offense, but he is an outstanding defender and quietly been a key part of the Hurricanes’ rise in the Eastern Conference. He is their Brian Dumoulin.
14. Brent Burns, Carolina Hurricanes. Burns can still score, but he is not a good defender at this point in his career (and that was never really his strength, either). I do think he is going to be a great addition for the Hurricanes, though. A better version of what they had in Tony DeAngelo.
15. Jacob Trouba, New York Rangers. Very physical, almost to a fault. His contract sucks, and I thought the Rangers should have tried to dump it, but that is easier said than done. Having said all of that, he does brings some value as a defender both in his own zone and offensively.