Pioneered by Doug Harvey, perfected by Bobby Orr and carried out by many, the role of an offensive defenseman just might be one of the most exciting roles in hockey. A defenseman who can turn heads and steal the spotlight is both valuable and fun to watch.
Up until the early 1960s, defensemen were discouraged to offer offensive creativity and were often ostracized or even traded if they stepped out of their boundaries. The common disposition that defensemen couldn’t or shouldn’t get caught up in the offensive end was overturned when hockey fans caught a glimpse of Doug Harvey for the first time. Harvey was one of the first of many defensemen to assume the offensive role and get away with it. Not only did his style of play earn the respect and attention of fans, it also proved to be successful. Harvey won seven James Norris trophies along with six Stanley Cups.
Shortly after Harvey retired, Bobby Orr emerged to keep the torch going. Orr’s immediate success in the NHL further revolutionized his position. His signature play, which started off behind his own net, saw him move up ice through an entire five-man defense and usually ended a goal. This was the type of play that inspired and transformed every offensive defenseman we have come to love.
So, in honor of all the fun-to-watch offensive defensemen, lets take a look at the top 20 flashiest offensive defensemen of all time.
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20 Sheldon Souray
Sheldon Souray wasn’t the smoothest skating defenseman but he had one hell of a slap shot, one that few shot blockers would opt to get in front of. In 2003/04 Souray tied for place in the Hardest Shot competition at 102.2 mph. Following that year, Souray posted 26 goals with the Montreal Canadiens in 2006/07 and 23 goals with the Edmonton Oilers in 2008/09.
He was a stud on the power play too. Souray scored 51 of his 109 NHL career goals on the man advantage.
19 Rob Blake
Much like the aforementioned Sheldon Souray, it's his point shot that earned Blake a spot on this list. Blake played 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks. The six-foot-four defenseman recorded two 20 or more goal seasons and won the Norris trophy in 1997/98 with the Kings.
Blake was a better skater and playmaker during his younger days in the NHL but was more reliant on his slapper towards the end of his career. Either way, he knew how to put the puck behind the goaltender. His career total of 240 goals ranks him eleventh in defensemen scoring.
18 Dustin Byfuglien
His jaw-dropping combination of size and speed lands Dustin Byfuglien on this list. At six-foot-five and 260 pounds, Byfuglien is explosive from the point as well as in transition.
Byfuglien can even be effective while playing on the right wing.
The 30-year-old has two 20-goal-seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets and put up 11 goals and 16 points in the playoffs, when he won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010.
17 Sergei Gonchar
Now a savvy veteran defenseman, Sergei Gonchar, 41, is currently holding onto the tail end of what was a remarkable career. To date, Gonchar has 220 goals and 811 points in 1,301 games. In his prime, Gonchar had a particularly wide skillset. He could use his size and speed to carry the puck up ice or could showcase his playmaking skills by dishing crisp tape-to-tape passes from blue line to blue line. Gonchar put up a career high of 26 goals with the Washington Capitals in 2001/02 and won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008/09. Gonchar is still an asset on the power play and has a nice shot from the point.
16 Sergei Zubov
Sergei Zubov may have had some of the best hands we’ve ever seen on a defenseman in the NHL. One of the more polished stick handlers of his generation, Zubov put up a consistent 10 or more goals every season. In his sophomore year with the New York Rangers, he put an insane 89 points in only 78 games. That year, Zubov also recorded five goals and 19 points in 22 games during a Stanley Cup winning playoff effort. With the Dallas Stars, where he spent 12 seasons, Zubov won his second Stanley Cup in 1999 and scored 71 points in 78 games in 2005/06.
15 Duncan Keith
A two-time Norris trophy winner, Duncan Keith is looking more and more like a future Hall of Famer with every passing season. His ability to log seemingly inhuman amounts of ice time allows him to showcase his skills more than any other defenseman in today’s NHL. His most recent success may be his real ticket onto this list. Keith is the number one blue-liner on the Chicago Blackhawks, a team now argued to be a modern dynasty. Keith has helped turn the franchise around, winning three Stanley Cups in the last six years. His third and most recent Stanley Cup run was hands down his best stretch of hockey. Keith recorded three goals and 21 points in 23 games and his contributions were enough to earn the Con Smythe trophy. Even at 32 years of age, Keith’s best hockey might actually be ahead of him.
14 Andrei Markov
Andrei Markov, a talented and creative quarterback on the power play, is ranked third in goals, assists and points by a defensemen in Montreal Canadiens franchise history. In his 15 seasons in the NHL, Markov has played every season in the red, white and blue. In 2008/09 Markov recorded a career high of 52 assists and 64 points. That year, he also led the league with 39 points on the power play.
It is his playmaking and puck moving ability to convert that earns Markov a spot on this list. He could have been ranked even higher but his offensive play hasn't been quite as fast or exciting since he endured a pair of knee injuries.
13 Brian Rafalski
Brian Rafalski was a quick bloomer in the NHL. The five-foot-ten offensive defenseman joined the New Jersey Devils after playing three years of pro hockey in Finland. In his rookie year with the Devils in 1999/2000, he recorded 32 points in only 75 games. During the playoffs that year, he banged in another eight points, helping his team hoist the Stanley Cup. The following season, Rafalski had 52 points and another 18 points in the playoffs.
12 Borje Salming
Borje Salming was one of the first Swedish players to enter the NHL. All though his goal totals weren’t as high as some of the defensemen on this list, it was the way he could move the puck up the ice that made him special. He'd make a zigzag pattern as he traveled up ice, dangling around his opponents. He also holds a .686-point per game average over 17 seasons in the NHL. Salming was also one of the best defensive defensemen on this list, playing huge minutes late into his career during an era where time-outs occurred far less than in today's game.
11 P.K. Subban
P.K. Subban is one of the flashier defensemen in the NHL today. Whenever he hits the ice, you can expect to see a big play, offensively or defensively, as Subban’s combination of speed and skating ability is rivaled by few other active defensemen. He can rush the puck up ice and has a deadly point shot. The 2012/13 Norris trophy winner also thrives under the spotlight. From on-ice showboating to speaking with the press, Subban loves when all eyes are on him. The talented two-way defenseman can also quarterback a power play and play a nice shutdown role too.
10 Phil Housley
Phil Housley, though small, played a big offensive game, scoring 19 goals and 66 points in his rookie season, Not satified with that tally, he put up 31 goals and 77 points in his sophomore year. What made Housley so incredible to watch was his incredible puck handling skills, which is comparable to other greats like Orr and Coffey. When he retired, his 338 goals and 1,232 points were enough to make him the leader in points among American-born players. Forward Mike Modano would later surpass that record.
9 Larry Robinson
Larry Robinson, was the best of the Montreal Canadiens big three (formed with Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe) in the 70s and 80s. Robinson could block a shot at one end of the ice, regroup, take the puck back up the other way and end the rush with a score. Although he didn’t provide the best of the big three offensively, he could also use his skills defensively to make exciting plays. On defense, Robinson’s speed, size and long reach made it hard to be eluded. On offense, that same skillset made him dominant and tough to stop. Robinson won the Conn Smythe once, the Norris trophy twice and the Stanley Cup six times.
8 Guy Lapointe
While Larry Robinson was the best all-round defenseman of the big three, Guy Lapointe offered the most offense. Like Robinson, Lapointe was a strong skater and puck mover. Sadly, Lapointe’s career was rather short. He only managed to play 884 games but he had a big impact on every single one of those games. Lapointe racked up 622 points, scoring more than 0.7 points per game. Incredibly, during the playoffs, Lapointe scored at an even higher rate.
7 Ray Bourque
Ray Bourque’s 1,579 career points were no accident. Bourque has more career goals, points and shots on goal than any other defenseman in NHL history. He was the most consistent and complete defenseman of all time, putting up more than 70 points in a season 12 times and the only season Bourque scored fewer than 10 goals was his last. That year, he also hoisted his first Stanley Cup. To fully demonstrate his brilliance, consider this statstic: Bourque averaged just under a point a game on his 1,612 game career.
6 Erik Karlsson
Despite being one of the quickest players in the NHL today, Erik Karlsson might seem a little unaccomplished to be slotted with some of the greatest to ever play at his position. Nonetheless, Karlsson’s hands and smooth skating is incomparable to any other defenseman in today’s NHL. His confidence and high-compete level mixed with speed gives him the ability to dangle his way through the neutral zone. At 25 years old, Karlsson is still honing his skills and getting better. By the end of his career, Karlsson could be even closer to the top of this list.
5 Paul Coffey
Paul Coffey may have been the smoothest skating defenseman in league history apart from Bobby Orr. He was definitely one of the fastest and more offensively dominant defenseman in his own era. In 20 years of NHL hockey, Coffey has broken and still holds 11 different records. Not only was Coffey the fastest guy on the ice, but he was also the fastest defenseman to reach 1,000 points. Scoring over a point a game throughout his career, Coffey is the second highest scoring defenseman and the 13th highest scoring player in NHL history.
4 Doug Harvey
Doug Harvey was arguably the flashiest player of his time and helped pioneer the role of an offensive defensemen, as he was one of the first defenseman to get involved in the offensive zone. Harvey’s speed and puck possession abilities enabled him to go beyond the territory of any other defenseman. His innovation on the ice earned him seven Norris trophies (second to Bobby Orr who has nine), six Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens and inspired the other defensemen on this list.
3 Denis Potvin
Denis Potvin could really do it all. He played a physical game but could also skate with the best of them. Potvin’s speed and stickhandling allowed him to dance around an opposing defense but his playmaking also made everyone around him better. After devastating the defense in the neutral zone, Potvin’s killer instinct and shot from the blue line could put the challenging team out of their misery. Potvin won the Calder trophy with 17 goals 54 points over 77 games during his rookie season. When the Islanders won the Stanley Cup four years in a row, Potvin boasted 85 points and 27 goals in 78 playoff games. His goals per game average of .292 is second to only Bobby Orr.
2 Nicklas Lidstrom
Nicklas Lidstrom played a bit of a slower and calmer style of hockey than anyone else on the list, but he may have still been the most fun to watch. Other defensemen on this list were known primarily for how fast or elusive they were, but it was Lidstrom’s efficiency, knowledge and passing at both ends of the rink that allowed him to dominate. His more than accurate shot and ability to finish were an added bonus. Lidstrom’s six Norris trophies, 264 goals and 878 assists in 1,564 games makes him one of the greatest defensemen of all time.
1 Bobby Orr
Forget about the flashiest defenseman, Bobby Orr was the flashiest player in league history. Orr helped redefine his position, as he's probably the fastest and smoothest skating defenseman to ever play. Orr could lead every rush and still come back in time to play defense. Unfortunately, Orr’s career expired early, as knee injuries got the best of him. In only 657 career games, he managed a devastatingly impressive 915 points. Had Orr played another 1,000 games, he may have surpassed Ray Bourque as well as other NHL greats like Ron Francis or Mark Messier on the points list.
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