Top defenseman in NHL in 3 seasons debated

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NHL Network is spending the offseason presenting the best current NHL players at each position. On Sunday, the network’s producers and analysts chose the top 20 defensemen in the League in a special program that airs at 6 p.m. ET on NHL Network. To add to that conversation, we asked eight NHL.com writers to pick the player they think will be the best defenseman in three seasons. Here are their choices:

 

Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche

I would put Makar atop any list of the NHL’s best defensemen in three seasons (I might do it sooner, but I wasn’t asked that). He has looked comfortable and confident with the Avalanche since he made his NHL debut in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he scored six points (one goal, five assists) in 10 games. He won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie last season with 50 points (12 goals, 38 assists) in 57 regular-season games. Sure, there were times when the 21-year-old made rookie mistakes, but they were rare. Makar finished ninth in the Norris Trophy voting for the League’s best defenseman last season, and he’s only going to get better over the next few seasons. — Tracey Myers, staff writer

The NHL is becoming more and more of a young man’s game, so I’m agreeing with Tracey’s selection of Makar. This is a player who looks tailor-made for the new NHL and he is only going to get better as he gains more experience and knowledge. He could approach a point-per-game (.88 per game last season) while driving play and performing solidly defensively. He has confidence, poise and talent, reasons why I’m putting my money on Makar. But, you know, check back in three seasons. — Amalie Benjamin, staff writer

Video: Top 5 Cale Makar plays from 2019-20

 

Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets

Jones should be near the top of the list after seven NHL seasons. But the lone time he finished higher than ninth in the Norris Trophy voting was when he was fourth in 2017-18. Anyone who watched Jones in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season saw how he can control a game with his tireless engine. Jones averaged 35:53 of ice time in five games against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference First Round, including an NHL-record 65:06 in Game 1, which went five overtimes. In three seasons, Jones will be 29 and still very much in his prime. Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi had never been a finalist before he won the Norris last season at 30. Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson was 30 and a first-time finalist when he finished second in the Norris voting last season. So maybe, in three seasons, Jones will finally receive the recognition he deserves. — Tom Gulitti, staff writer

Victor Hedman reached the pinnacle of his NHL career last season when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and helped the Lightning win the Stanley Cup. He did it at age 29. Jones is trending toward becoming the most dominant defenseman in the NHL. That’s why I’m in agreement with Tom. After watching how he often controlled play at both ends of the ice in the playoffs, his pedigree is obvious. “I’d like to see anyone who defends as hard as Seth Jones does in this league,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. So would I. — Mike Zeisberger, staff writer

 

Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars

The signs were there that Heiskanen was going to be an elite NHL defenseman the moment he entered the League as a 19-year-old rookie in 2018-19, but it was his performance in the playoffs last season that catapulted him into that upper echelon. He led Stars defensemen with eight goals, 27 assists and 35 points in 68 regular-season games and led them again with six goals, 20 assists and 26 points in 27 postseason games. Heiskanen almost always makes the right play while never seeming overwhelmed or under pressure. He’s getting better and his intelligence and poise have become exceptional assets. Not only will he become a finalist for the Norris Trophy within the next three seasons, but he’ll win the award. — Mike G. Morreale, staff writer

Video: COL@DAL, Gm6: Heiskanen beats Hutchinson for goal

 

Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks

While Makar is a solid choice, I look at what Hughes did in his rookie season as more impressive. He scored 53 points (eight goals, 45 assists) in 68 regular-season games and 16 points (two goals, 14 assists) in 17 postseason games. I say it’s more impressive because Hughes did it with less of a supporting cast than Makar, who excelled on a proven Avalanche team. During the next three seasons, Vancouver’s core will continue to grow, and Hughes’s production should grow with the maturation of the team. He averaged 22:48 of ice time per game during the postseason and had nine power-play points, which was second at the position behind Hedman, who had 10 but played eight more games. — Rob Reese, fantasy staff writer

 

Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning

The reflex here is to pick a younger defenseman. This is about the future, right? But I’m not going to write off the old guys because they aren’t that old. Hedman is 29. Carlson, Josi and Alex Pietrangelo are each 30. Each is capable of being the best three seasons from now. Nine times in the past 26 seasons, the Norris has been won by someone 33 or older. Yeah, the list features Nicklas Lidstrom, Ray Bourque, Paul Coffey, Chris Chelios and Al MacInnis, but it also includes Mark Giordano, who won his first Norris at age 35 in 2018-19. My pick is Hedman, who has been a Norris finalist each of the past four seasons and won it in 2018. He’s the youngest of the old guard. Three seasons from now, he’s still going to be 6-foot-6, still going to be a beast in all three zones and probably still going to be playing for a contender in Tampa Bay. — Nick Cotsonika, columnist

 

Roman Josi, Nashville Predators

As Nick asks, why are we always so distracted by the new, shiny objects? Hedman, Carlson, Pietrangelo and Josi will each remain in their prime three seasons from now, not heading for rocking chairs or farewell tours, so I pick Josi, a thinker at either end of the ice. He was a deserving Norris winner last season after an extended journey of excellent seasons. I don’t see the award as a culmination either, since he is unlikely to have forgotten how to play in three seasons. — Tim Campbell, staff writer

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