Being a defenseman can be a thankless job. Seriously, the better you are at your job, the tougher it becomes as the coach sends you out against the most-skilled scorers.
What makes a hot defenseman is also up for debate. Is it an offensive-minded defenseman like Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson? A strong two-way defender like Colorado’s Erik Johnson? Is it something in between like San Jose’s Dan Boyle? Or is a hot defenseman more like Chicago’s Duncan Keith?
And a list like this can’t omit the Kings’ Drew Doughty, even though he’s sitting out this week with an injury.
While defending tends to be more of a supporting role, these five guys are coming up big for their teams in that role.
Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
According to team stats, Karlsson leads his team in points. You could make a case that a true defenseman shouldn’t be leading his team in points, but you also can’t argue with what 71 points does for a team.
Those points may not be enough to make the Senators true contenders. However, they’re making a push — and Karlsson is leading the rush, as he usually does.
Erik Johnson, Colorado Avalanche
Johnson is a classic two-way defenseman, a finesse player who can keep control of the puck among a legion of opponents. His bombs from the point generate scoring chances. Unfortunately, that play by definition is for support, not grabbing headlines. Yet that’s what makes Johnson such a hot representative of the style.
During a recent post-game press conference, head coach Patrick Roy described Johnson as the “[Colorado Avalanche’s] best defenseman this year.” And the Avalanche are one of the hottest teams around right now.
Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
Speaking of thankless jobs, being more in the stay-at-home style of defense doesn’t make for highlight reels. Yet Keith has served as the backbone of two Stanley Cup-winning Blackhawks squads. He’s highly skilled in what he does — which is prevent opponents from scoring.
Of course, Keith can rack up the assists when need be — according to team statistics, he’s got 54 on the season. That’s some support.
Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks
Boyle should be called Iron Man. Sports analysts like to point out his age, 37. Danny Boyle likes to score goals and rack up assists. Thus far he’s winning out, leading the Sharks’ defenders in points.
Where Boyle really shines is the playoffs, a time when his age — or the experience it affords him anyway — doesn’t seem like such a liability anymore.
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
Doughty has become the cornerstone of the Kings defense. He has impressive international experience — a couple Olympic gold medals plus World Junior honors — but he shines in the Kings’ uniform. He’s a youngster, 24 years old, but he’s already played in 50 playoff games with the Kings.
So, even though Doughty is out with a shoulder injury, he’s expected to be back for the first game of the playoffs. With the level of big-game experience he has, he’s sure to be nothing but beneficial to the Kings’ playoff hopes.
Photo by Jae C. Hong / AP
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