The National Hockey League’s Northwest Division has some good defensemen, but most of them reside on one team.
The Vancouver Canucks easily have the deepest blue line group, but they are aging.
Here are my rankings of the No. 1 defensemen in the Northwest Division.
No. 5 – Ryan Whitney, Edmonton Oilers. He is a big, offensively skilled defenseman, but is not a No. 1 guy. He is a good skater with a good shot and power play skills. Despite having good size, he does not play physical enough and has mental lapses in the defensive zone. Statistically, he had one of the best offensive seasons among any defensemen in the NHL with a little under one point per game, but only played in 35 games.
No. 4 – Jay Bouwmeester, Calgary Flames. The top free agent two years ago has not played up to the label in Calgary. He was a two-way force for the Florida Panthers prior to joining the Flames, but his production dropped considerably the last couple seasons. He has good size, skating ability, hockey IQ and shutdown capability. Despite lacking a physical presence, he can get back to the form he had in Florida. The Flames will need him to be the leader of what might be the weakest defensive unit in the division.
No. 3 – Marek Zidlicky, Minnesota Wild. He has a rocket shot, great puck moving skills. When he is on the ice, he is like a fourth forward. All the offensive skills are great, but he does not have the size to match up with big forwards. He had injury issues last season, most notably a shoulder injury from a big hit. He can be neutralized by quick and physical players.
No. 2 – Erik Johnson, Colorado Avalanche. The former No. 1 overall draft pick is one of the best young defensemen in the league. He is the most complete defenseman in the division, but is still raw and needs to be more consistent. He is a strong skater with a good shot and a mean streak that can take an opponent out of the game.
No. 1 – Dan Hamhuis, Vancouver Canucks. The shutdown defender can log big minutes while dominating an opponent’s top line. He has a high hockey IQ and can start a rush with a good first pass. The knock on him is that he does not play physical enough and has trouble with big power forwards. Also, he is not a big offensive contributor. However, his value was seen in last season’s Stanley Cup final after he got hurt. The Canucks defense just wasn’t quite the same.