By Chris Nosek
The hardware given to the best defender in the league can be one of the hardest to project because we are in a time where the top defensemen must also produce offensively instead of just being relied on to shut down the other teams best players. With Roman Josi taking the hardware home last season, he showed the incredible balance of defending while jumping up into the offense from the blueline. So will Josi be good enough to defend his title and take home the award again?
Victor Hedman, Roman Josi, and Dougie Hamilton lead the way in Vegas as the favorites to take home the trophy this season and all deserve to be there. Josi, as mentioned before, took it home last season, while Hedman helped lead the Lightning to a Stanley Cup championship and finished 3rd in overall voting last season. All three are top pairing defensemen on teams that have offenses who are expected to put up a lot of points, so if any of these guys earn the award it won’t surprise anyone in the hockey world.
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Probably the best bet for any gambler when it comes to risk reward (odds to win are +1600 per lasvegassportsbetting.com) the 13-year veteran of St. Louis looks to join the Vegas Golden Knights and bring his 451 career points with him. Playing in a top pairing role with Brayden McNabb, the Golden Knights have plenty of playmakers and goal scorers up front who will help Pietrangelo add to his offensive numbers. Averaging 24:38 in ice time per game will also give him plenty of time to shine in his defensive zone as well.
Last season’s Calder Trophy winner also finished in the top 10 in voting for the James Norris Trophy after posting 50 points in just 50 games last season, it was his 15 points over 15 games in the playoffs that really showed Makar can handle all the big moments of the National Hockey League. With playmakers like MacKinnon, Rantanen, Landeskog, and Burakovsky up front, Makar won’t be hurting for points, and averaging just over 21 minutes per night on the top pair with Devon Toews, he will see plenty of time with opponents top 6 forwards to show off his defensive abilities.
Another top 10 finisher in voting from just a season ago and one of the best upcoming defensemen in the league, Werenski will be relied upon heavily in his 5th season in Columbus. Paired with Seth Jones on the top pairing, he will likely hover around the 23-24 minutes per game average that he’s been at for the past two seasons – both of which have seen him post 40+ points. In a division where he will be called upon to help shutdown Steven Stamkos, Sebastian Aho, and Patrick Kane for over 40% of the season, Werenski will have a great chance to show off his defensive abilities along the blueline.
Since it was announced that now former Bruins captain Zdeno Chara would be signing with the Washington Capitals, everyone in Boston is now looking at Charlie McAvoy and saying: “alright kid, it’s your time to shine.” The keys to the Boston Bruins defense have officially been handed over to the 23-year-old kid from Long Beach, New York and all eyes are now on him. Last season he posted 32 points over 67 games and has 92 over his 187 career games, so the offensive talent is there. The question that remains for McAvoy is: without Chara next to him, is McAvoy able to take his game to another level and help lead the Bruins on a playoff run? Doing so will help his case to take home the first trophy since the team took home the President’s Trophy last season.
Receiving just a small number of votes last season, Anthony DeAngelo took a giant step forward in his development for the New York Rangers. Improving from 30 points in 61 games in 2019-20 to 53 over 68 games last season. Already averaging 18:25 in ice time per game in his 5th season, the number 19 overall selection in the 2014 draft will be sharing the ice with extremely talented forwards like Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and so many others who will really help his point total. Can DeAngelo step up for the Rangers and help shutdown the strong opponents in the MassMutual East division? If so, he could surprise many and sneak away with the designation as the league’s best defender.
Entering his third season with the Dallas Stars, the 21-year-old former number 3 overall pick played in all but one game for the Stars since the 2018-19 season, Heiskanen has posted over 30 points in both seasons. It was in the playoff bubble in Edmonton that Heiskanen really established himself as a defenseman who can score by posting 26 points over the 27 games Dallas played on their way to the second place finish at the hands of the Lightning. With weak goaltending (compared to the league average) in Chicago and Detroit, along with goaltending questions for the Panthers, Hurricanes, and even Nashville to a degree, the Stars should be able to score more than finishing 3rd from last in goals for. Heiskanen needs to take a huge step forward for the Stars, but if he does then he could find himself in discussions for this award.