Defensemen are the backbone of every NHL team. They’re the last line of defense between some of the league’s elite goal scorers finding themselves all alone against the goaltender. On the defensive end, players are expected to be physical and limit the opposing team’s scoring chances as best they can. On the other hand, they’re looked at as quarterbacks on the power-play and sometimes lethal goal scorers on the offensive end.
And now more than ever, NHL defensemen are more expected to produce on the offensive end. During the 2022-23 season, there were 12 NHL defensemen that registered at least 60 points.
Since defensemen are such an integral part of the sport, I compiled a list of the league’s top 10 blue-liners. Career production, where their career currently stands and how they could perform in the future were all factors that were taken into account.
10. Josh Morrissey, Jets
Josh Morrissey had the most impressive season of his NHL career in 2022-23, as he registered a career-high 76 points (16 goals and 60 assists). Morrissey previously had no more than 37 points in a single season. During the 2022-23 campaign, The 28-year-old also set a franchise record for the longest point streak by a defenseman as he did so in 11 consecutive games in December 2022. Morrissey ended up being named a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top blue-liner. If this ends up being the new norm for Morrissey, then he will cement himself as one of the NHL’s top defensemen.
9. Quinn Hughes, Canucks
Quinn Hughes has quickly established himself as a marquee defenseman in the NHL. Hughes became the fastest defenseman in NHL history to reach 200 assists when he accomplished the feat in just 263 career games. The Canucks blue-liner tallied a career-high 76 points, which was good for third among defensemen behind only Erik Karlsson and Josh Morrissey. Hughes became the first defenseman to register back-to-back 60-point season since Paul Coffey and Ray Bourque did so in 1993-94. The former first-round pick excels as a puck handler and really is a phenomenal playmaker as he always is looking for his teammates. At just 23 years old, Hughes has already developed into a superstar, and the sky is the limit for what he’ll be able to accomplish throughout his career.
8. Rasmus Dahlin, Sabres
The great “Macho Man” Randy Savage once said “the cream always rises to the top.” That’s certainly been true when it comes to Sabres blue-liner Rasmus Dahlin. Dahlin has registered 126 points over the past two seasons, including tallying 73 points (15 goals and 58 assists) in 2022-23. In doing so, Dahlin became just the second Sabres defenseman to reach 70 points in a single season as he joined Hall of Famer Phil Housley, who accomplished the feat on three occasions. The biggest improvement for Dahlin in recent seasons has been an uptick in the goal scoring department. Dahlin has reached double-digit goals in each of the past two seasons with 28 during that span.
7. Erik Karlsson, Penguins
The 2022-23 campaign marked a resurgence for star defenseman Erik Karlsson. Karlsson hadn’t registered more than 45 points in his first four seasons with the Sharks, but he absolutely exploded to the tune of 101 points (25 goals and 76 assists). It was the highest point total of his career, and Karlsson became just the sixth defenseman (the first since Brian Leetch in 1991-92) in NHL history to have a 100-point season. As should come as no surprise, Karlsson’s torrid performance netted him the second Norris Trophy of his career after winning the award in 2011-12 as a member of the Senators. Now Karlsson takes his talents to Pittsburgh as he was acquired by the Penguins in a three-team trade during the offseason, and he should continue to thrive.
6. Victor Hedman, Lightning
It’s painful to see Victor Hedman slide down this list, but the Lightning blue-liner isn’t quite as youthful as he once was. At 32 years old, Hedman’s production was reduced during the 2022-23 season with 49 points (nine goals and 49 assists). That was down from an 85-point (20 goals and 65 assists) campaign in 2021-22. Hedman still is a key cog for the Lightning and logged 23:43 of ice time on a nightly basis. The veteran defenseman has had a storied career, including winning the Norris Trophy in 2017-18 and the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2020. The decline definitely isn’t happening for Hedman just yet.
5. Charlie McAvoy, Bruins
Charlie McAvoy has taken his game to a completely different level over the past two seasons. The Bruins star defenseman has tallied back-to-back 50-point seasons following a 52-point campaign (seven goals and 45 assists) in 2022-23. Despite missing the first few weeks of the 2022-23 season, McAvoy still managed to lead Boston in blocked shots (131), while finishing third on the team in assists (45). McAvoy has a beautiful sniping shot that can easily find the back of the net, especially if there’s traffic in front. It also doesn’t hurt that the 25-year-old isn’t afraid to lay a big hit in open ice. McAvoy has transformed into one of the NHL’s premier defensemen, and it’ll be interesting to see if he’ll be able to register 50-point seasons on a yearly basis going forward.
4. Miro Heiskanen, Stars
Miro Heiskanen absolutely exploded to the tune of a career-high 73-point season (11 goals and 62 assists) during the 2022-23 season. The Stars blue-liner was tied with Rasmus Dahlin and Brandon Montour for the fifth-most points by a defenseman in the league. Heiskanen proved to be a warrior as he logged 25:29 of ice time (sixth among all skaters). The former third-overall pick also became just the fourth defenseman in NHL history to record 30 playoff assists at the age of 23 or younger, joining Paul Coffey (50), Cale Makar (45), and Ray Bourque (32). Heiskanen registered 12 points (one goal and 11 assists) in 19 games during the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and he continues to prove that he’s an elite top-pairing defenseman.
3. Roman Josi, Predators
Since bursting onto the NHL scene, Roman Josi has established himself as one of the league’s top defensemen. Josi had a season for the ages in 2021-22 when he registered a career-high 96 points (23 goals and 73 assists), while also tallying a league-best 11 power-play goals. As a result, Josi was a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman. The Predators star followed it up with a team-leading 59-point season (18 goals and 41 assists) in 2022-23. At 33, Josi still has several elite years left in the tank and has to be included amongst the league’s top blue-liners.
2. Adam Fox, Rangers
Adam Fox has earned Norris Trophy nominations as the league’s top defenseman in each of the last three seasons. Fox won the award in 2021 and racked up 72 points (12 goals and 60 assists) in 2022-23. It marked the second consecutive campaign in which the Rangers defenseman logged at least 70 points. Fox’s 50 assists ranked as the fifth-most in the NHL, and he also finished seventh in power-play points (29). The Rangers blue-liner also registered his 200th career point in just 241 games, becoming the second-fastest Rangers defenseman to accomplish the feat. Fox has established himself as a terrific puck-handler in the open ice, and that’s one of the key reasons he is one of the top playmakers at his position. It definitely won’t be a surprise if Fox adds a few more Norris Trophies to his collection before his career is finished.
1. Cale Makar, Avalanche
Injuries limited Cale Makar to just 60 games during the 2022-23 season, but the Avalanche defenseman is still the best at his position around the league. Even though his time on the ice was somewhat limited, Makar still racked up 66 points (17 goals and 49 assists) and was named a finalist for the Norris Trophy. Makar finished fourth in the NHL in goals (17) and showcased his ability as one of the league’s top scorers at the position. In fact, the Avalanche star tallied 1.1 points-per-game, which was second among NHL defensemen behind only Erik Karlsson (1.23). Makar also reached the 200-point mark in just 195 games, becoming the fastest defenseman in NHL history to achieve that feat by passing Sergei Zubov’s previous record of 207 games. At just 24 years old, Makar is easily the most offensively gifted blue-liner and possesses tremendous speed that is second to none. With 152 points over the last two seasons, Makar has easily cemented himself as the league’s top defenseman.