By Nick Fathergill
Last week, we took a look at the meilleur du meilleur in the NHL Central’s excessive list of talented forwards. However, as dominant and game-changing as those fine young players are, they’re nothing without a shutdown blue line. The NHL’s top defenseman award, the Norris Trophy, is given to the blueliner who “demonstrates the greatest all-around ability in the position” each season (NHL.com). It just so happens the Central plays host to a two-time Norris winner, a two-time runner up, and another runner up. Among others, these stud D-men not only defend their defensive zone, but also show a propensity for getting the puck in the net. Here’s a look at the NHL Central’s Top Five Defensemen.
5. Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis Blues)
Had it not been for a abdominal injury suffered at the hands of the Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin (bleacherreport.com), Shattenkirk may have had a legitimate chance at a Norris Trophy this year. In just 49 games, Shatty had totaled 40 points to go along with a solid +1 rating on a Blues team that was headed for the playoffs (sports.yahoo.com). However, with ESPN Fantasy Hockey reporting that the stud defenseman will be out until late March, a Norris seems unlikely. One of the best offensive defensemen in the game, Shattenkirk was primed to turn in his true breakout season following terrific campaigns in 2011-12 and 2013-14. However, Shatty’s seemingly one-sided play is what prevents his moving up this list any time soon.
4. Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis Blues)
The fourth overall pick in the 2008 draft (sports.yahoo.com), Petro is the anchor of a Blues defensive unit that ranks among the best in the game. Although overshadowed this year by Shattenkirk’s terrific numbers, the 25-year-old Canadian has been the most consistent and dominant blueliner for St. Louis in recent years. Excluding the strike year, Pietrangelo’s average season since 2010 consists of 10 goals/38 assists for 48 points, and a +18 rating (NHL.com). Moreover, his 33 points so far this year are nothing to shake a stick at, although certainly not his best. However, if Petro can return to form he has displayed since 2010, the Blues will be even more primed to win a Stanley Cup.
3. Ryan Suter (Minnesota Wild)Embed from Getty Images
Suter, who left the Nashville Predators in 2012 to sign a mega-contract with the Wild (13 years, $98 million), does everything right (latimes.com). Son of USA great Bob Suter and former Norris runner up, the 30-year-old from Wisconsin scores at a productive rate, averaging 42 points/season over his last five full campaigns (sports.yahoo.com). The scoring is merely an afterthought with Suter though. Maybe the best pure defender in the league, Suter’s aggressive style has largely resonated with his teammates, and probably shaken up a few opponents, too. After all, there’s a reason Minnesota gave 13 years to a veteran.
2. Duncan Keith (Chicago Blackhawks)
Maybe the most accomplished defenseman in the National Hockey League, Duncan Keith is often overshadowed by his incredible teammates (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, etc.). Keith, coming off his second Norris Trophy (’09-’10, ’13-’14), brings just about everything to the table (hockey-reference.com). Not known for his goal-scoring ability, the 31-year-old Manitoban makes up for it with a tight style of defensive play and huge assist numbers. In 749 career games, Keith has 335 helpers and a plus/minus of +143 (sports.yahoo.com). But, just to venture a guess, his Norris trophies probably come in second to the two Stanley Cups Keith has hoisted (2010, 2013).
1. Shea Weber (Nashville Predators)Embed from Getty Images
The two-time Norris runner up molds a rare ability to score with one of the most physically imposing bodies in the business. The 6’4”, 233 lb. brute from British Columbia was selected by Nashville with the 49th overall pick in 2003 (sports.yahoo.com). He went on to become the best defenseman on the Predators, and maybe the best in all of hockey. In ten years in the league, Weber has already amassed 15 or more goals seven times, unprecedented for a defender in this day and age (NHL.com). Aside from his scoring ability, Weber’s scary size and giant hits make him one of the most feared men in the league. His career plus/minus of +60 on a Nashville team that hasn’t been very good until this year is equally impressive (sports.yahoo.com). And, to think Weber and Ryan Suter were teammates on Nashville until 2012. Forget horror movies. That’s what kept opponents up at night.
Honorable Mentions: Roman Josi (Nashville Predators), Erik Johnson (Colorado Avalanche), Brent Seabrook (Chicago Blackhawks)