Check out our rankings of the best NHL defensemen for the 2021 NHL season.
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Now that a handful of games from the 2021 NHL regular season are in the books, we have enough information to start drawing some serious conclusions. This holds especially true for player rankings, and it's why we're taking this opportunity to discuss the best NHL defensemen in 2021.
Of course, because this season is still so young, we're not only basing our findings off the sub-10-game sample we're working with as of this writing. The beginning of any year is mostly about monitoring the pecking order for any seismic changes from the previous campaign.
To build our list of the NHL's best current defensemen, we'll rely heavily on what we saw from the top NHL defensemen in 2020, including the Stanley Cup playoffs. We will also take into account what we've watched thus far, in addition to how likely players are to hold their current position for the rest of the year.
And in case you're wondering, this snapshot of the NHL's defensive hierarchy does serve a sports-betting purpose. The folks over at Bovada actually provide odds for who will win Defensive Player of the Year. If nothing else, it clues you in on which teams to monitor as you consider any NHL futures.
Ranking Best NHL Defensemen
As always, our rankings will go in reverse order. We'll start with No. 10 and work our way up to No. 1. And remember: Defensemen are being ranked as if we're acquiring them for the entire 2021 NHL season.
10. Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars
Defense in the NHL is all about stamina. Miro Heiskanen has that covered for the Stars.
Not only did he lead the team in total ice time per game last year, but he went on to set a record in the postseason for points by a Dallas defenseman, tallying six goals and 20 assists. At only 21, many think he has a Norris Trophy in his future, suggesting he will only climb this list.
9. Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins
Known for getting off to slow starts, Charlie McAvoy is the quintessential finisher. Last year, in addition to leading the Bruins in ice time per game, he also paced the team in blocked shots while finishing third in total hits.
All this, and he still managed to set his career-high in points, anchored by a personal-best 27 assists.
8. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
Some veterans fade. Kris Letang isn't one of them.
The three-time Stanley Cup Champion finished third in the entire NHL in ice time per game last season. That is absurd. He continues to rank among the best in the business at killing power plays, and his 44 points are nothing at which to scoff.
7. Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes
Sticking Dougie Hamilton inside the top seven is a little bit of a risk. He's working his way back from a broken fibula that limited his availability last season.
And yet, the time he was available proved to be incredibly impactful. He racked up 40 points by mid-January, and no defenseman has scored more goals over the past three years.
6. Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
The 6'4" Seth Jones continues to be a revelation on the ice. Columbus leans on him not just for a ton of playing time in general, but to navigate their shorthanded stints. His size and length render him the equivalent of two defenders in certain spaces.
It also doesn't hurt that he's a playmaking wizard. He dropped 24 assists during the abridged 2019-20 campaign, and the year before, he finished with a whopping 41 assists.
5. Alex Pietrangelo, Vegas Golden Knights
Though Alex Pietrangelo has spent the past half-decade suiting up for the St. Louis Blues, his skill set is already translating nicely to the Knights.
Capitalizing on power players continues to be his specialty. Also: Very few defensemen put as much pressure on the opposition's net. He scored 16 goals and launched 225 shots through 70 appearances last season.
4. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche
Cale Makar took home the Calder Trophy last season—the NHL's Rookie of the Year award—and he's delivering an adequate encore this year.
While Makar does need to improve his passing instincts and puck handling, he has proven to be a viable scoring threat and heavy hitter. His postseason performance in particular last season—four goals, 11 assists—suggests we should expect great things from the 22-year-old.
3. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
Roman Josi is the reigning Norris Trophy winner, which means he has a case to be even higher. Among all defensemen, he ranked fifth in power-play points (23 goals, 19 assists) and third in net goal rating (plus-22).
If there's one thing holding him back, it's his shot-blocking. Josi isn't the tallest, and he lacks the east-west speed to effectively closeout. Still, this is all nitpicky. He's darn good.
2. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
Plenty of people would have Victor Hedman in the No. 1 spot. We're not here to argue with them. It's a close call.
Hedman is the entire package. He is 6'6", incredibly mobile, superphysical, boasts an excellent shot form, and perfectly marries speed and high IQ. It's all this that has made him a finalist for the Norris Trophy in each of the previous three seasons, and he shows little signs of slowing down.
1. John Carlson, Washington Capitals
John Carlson just edges out Hedman on the back of what he did last season. He led all defensemen in assists (60) and total points (75) while making real strides as a scorer.
His case is boosted further by his start to the 2021 campaign. He is flashing more accuracy when hanging around the net and is on pace to post a career-high shooting percentage—no small feat given that he's on the wrong side of 30.
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