The Carolina Hurricanes boast one of the very best defensive cores in the NHL, but will they be given a run for their money by one of the teams in their new Central Division?
Among that group of teams are the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the reigning Stanley Cup runner-ups, a team with the reigning Norris Trophy winner, a team with a controversial number one man, and a team or two that are just terrible.
Let’s take a look at the defensemen of the new Central Division.
Duncan Keith - Connor Murphy
Calvin de Haan - Ian Mitchell
Nikita Zadorov - Adam Boqvist
The Blackhawks have experienced a theatrical fall from grace over the last few seasons, even if they did manage to upend the Edmonton Oilers in the play-in round back in August.
Chicago’s blue line comprises a mixture of old faces, young and promising talent, and... stopgaps.
Keith and Seabrook remain on the team, though Seabrook has plummeted to a firmly below-average defenseman with an albatross of a contract.
On the other hand, Keith hasn’t fallen off to that degree, but he is still a regressing player with diminishing contributions. He had a career-low corsi share in 2019-20, but he did have offensive numbers that resembled his previous two seasons.
Zadorov came over from the Colorado Avalanche via the Brandon Saad trade, which has been largely considered a loss for the Hawks. De Haan is a familiar name in Carolina and might have been Chicago’s best defenseman last year - when. He was playing. He was hampered by injuries, which have unfortunately become all too common for him.
Boqvist and Mitchell are the young, exciting guys on the back end. Boqvist played in 41 games as a rookie last season and was a dangerous offensive weapon. Still just 20 years old, he is expected to build off of a promising debut campaign and iron out some of the defensive struggles he had.
Mitchell, 21, is a very mobile and talented puck-handler who could play his way into Calder discussions if he gets the opportunity. He is coming off of a great three-year career at the University of Denver.
There are bright spots here, but it is a largely uninspiring defensive group.
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard
Dean Kukan - Andrew Peeke
On paper, this is a top-heavy blue line that drops off precipitously after the two big names in Werenski and Jones.
There’s a lot of debates that center around Jones, who is considered by some to be a top-10 defenseman in the league. Others think he is a very overrated player whose big minutes give off the idea that he is a Norris caliber defender.
His possession metrics aren’t good. But he played north of 25 minutes a night last season and scored at a half-point-per-game pace, so he must be great, right? That’s the argument that happens there.
Werenski’s metrics were better, and he scored 20 goals in the shortened campaign last season. Together, those two make up a very competent top pairing, regardless of where you land on evaluating them.
Gavrikov was very impressive last season, and he’s probably the most attractive option outside of the top-two. In a more sheltered role, he was very effective. His role should increase this season.
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Jamie Oleksiak - Miro Heiskanen
Andrej Sekera - Mark Pysyk
Heiskanen has ascended and turned into one of the best young players in the league over the last two seasons. His playoff run with the Stars en route to a Stanley Cup Final appearance added more reason to be excited about his future.
If he stays paired with Oleksiak, they should be a great shot-suppression tandem.
Klingberg has been around for a while now, and at this point, we know he is. He is a very talented and dynamic defenseman who is just two seasons removed from a 67-point year.
Oh, remember Andrej Sekera? Well, he’s there, too.
Danny Dekeyser - Filip Hronek
Marc Staal - Troy Stecher
Patrik Nemeth - Jon Merrill
Holy hell. An absolutely dumpster fire.
Hronek is young and put up a lot of points last year, which is exciting.
Staal on your second pairing is... not good. Stecher is at least league average. Merrill was an excellent shot suppressor last season, so he’ll be a very welcome addition to this team.
MacKenzie Weegar - Aaron Ekblad
Riley Stillman - Anton Stralman
Gustav Forsling - Keith Yandle
Marcus Nutivaara - Radko Gudas
The Cats claimed Forsling off of waivers from Carolina this week, a minor hit to the Canes’ defensive depth. He should be a seventh or eighth defenseman in Florida, but with Nutivaara currently injured, maybe he’ll start the year in the top-six.
Over the offseason, there was a lot of rumored interest in Weegar - namely from the Maple Leafs. There’s good reason for that because he’s an excellent defender. He had a career year in 2019-20, becoming a shutdown defenseman while also upping his offensive numbers.
Roman Josi - Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm - Dante Fabbro
Mark Borowiecki - Matt Benning
Josi was a deserving Norris Trophy winner last season. He was flat-out phenomenal, and his pairing partner Ellis has been a great asset in Nashville for years.
Ekholm is coming off of a strange year by his standards. His defensive numbers took a massive hit, but he still had the sterling offensive numbers.
The Preds need a big step forward from Fabbro for this top-four to excel. As a rookie last season, Fabbro was a black hole for offense. I mean, he was awful. The team generated almost no shots in high-danger areas when he was on the ice.
Victor Hedman - Jan Rutta
Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev - Luke Schenn
Right behind Josi in the Norris race was Hedman, who had a great regular season followed by a transcendent postseason run.
He was completely dominant in the postseason and was a massive reason for Tampa Bay’s Stanley Cup run. Everyone knows how great he is.
With McDonagh and Sergachev filling out the left side after Hedman, Tampa Bay boasts one of the best trios of LHD in the league. This is a champion-caliber defensive core that should remain great in 2021.