Fans like great goals, big saves and big hits. The majority of the great goals come from forwards who spend the most amount of time in the attacking zone. Obviously goalies are charged with making the big saves so the classic ideal of an NHL defenceman gives players of this position few opportunities to excite fans with their skills.
Next to the goalie, a team's top defenceman or top defence pairing spend the most amount of time on the ice. A star defenceman can be described as the anchor of a penalty killing unit or the quarterback of a team's power play. Defencemen have a huge impact on a team's fortunes through the large amount of time they spend on the ice and the importance their play in specialty teams.
The evolution of the position of the defenceman has come about with rule changes like the forward pass, but more so because of the incredible talent by some special players. These pioneers demolished stereotypes of what was thought a defenceman should be. They challenged conservative thinking coaches and general managers and transformed the game for the better and to the benefit of all young defensmen to follow.
In the modern NHL, defencemen are asked to be dominate in all areas of the ice. They are responsible for being strong defensively as they always have, but much of a team's offensive strategy begins with puck possession in the defensive end.
The way defencemen play today gives every type of fan something to celebrate. There are rushing defencemen with great speed and flair like P.K. Subban. There are also cerebral defensman who seem to mesmerize opponents like Drew Doughty and Duncan Keith. There are also physically dominant defencemen like Alex Pietrangelo. With these players and others like young prospects Seth Jones in Nashville and Aaron Ekblad in Florida, the NHL is full of exciting young defencemen that will entertain fans for years to come.
Here are the top 25 NHL D-men of all time.
25 Tim Horton
24 Pierre Pilote
23 Shea Weber
22 Larry Murphy
21 Art Ross
20 Brad Park
19 Rob Blake
18 Red Kelly
17 Phil Housley
16 Borje Salming
15 Scott Stevens
14 Al MacInnis
13 Chris Pronger
12 Larry Robinson
11 Brian Leetch
It would not be a stretch to describe Leetch as a generational talent. Not many players controlled the game like he did. He was an offensive dynamo for the New York Rangers throughout the clutch and grab 1990's. He combined great vision and offensive instincts with a skating ability rarely seen. He was able to twist and turn and escape and elude forecheckers that left opposing teams befuddled. He was remarkably durable for a player not that big in stature and who controlled the puck for such a large percentage of the game.
10 Paul Coffey
A person who had never seen a hockey game in their life could instantly tell Paul Coffey was special. Coffey was possibly the greatest pure skater the game has ever seen. He could play an entire game at top speed without ever appearing to be using much energy to do so. He would glide down the ice with long fluid strides, passing every other player on the ice as if they were stuck in cement.
9 Denis Potvin
8 Eddie Shore
7 Zdeno Chara
He had a slow start to his NHL career just trying to find a place with a struggling New York Islanders team and become a regular in the lineup. He was so tall at 6-foot-9 that coaches, teammates and the entire league looked at him with curiosity. How could someone so big move around and keep up with the speed of the game?
6 Chris Chelios
There was nothing Chelios wouldn't do or couldn't do throughout his long and storied career. Chelios played his first game at the age of 21 for the Montreal Canadiens and didn't play his last NHL game until the age of 47 for the now defunct Atlanta Thrashers. Chelios was a multiple Stanley Cup winner, multiple Olympian and multiple Norris Trophy winner. He was tireless on and off the ice, never shying away from a post-game microphone.
5 Ray Bourque
4 Scott Niedermayer
Niedermayer was a winner. In junior hockey he won the Memorial Cup with the Kamloops Blazers, junior hockey's version of the Stanley Cup. He won a World Junior Championship and World Championship for Team Canada. He then graduated to Olympic glory winning two Gold Medals. He won multiple Stanley Cups in New Jersey and one in Anaheim. He captured the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP and Norris Trophy as the regular season's best defenceman.
3 Doug Harvey
2 Nicklas Lidstrom
His teammates called him, "The Perfect Human". He never seemed to say or do the wrong thing, treated everyone with respect and in turn earned the respect of everyone who saw him play or had the pleasure of meeting him. He was so subtle in his greatness that it took a little while for the hockey world to truly appreciate his play but after a glorious 20-year career he earned seven Norris Trophies, multiple Stanley Cups and an Olympic Gold Medal for the Swedish National Team.
1 Bobby Orr
Number Four.....Bobby Orr. In a short period of time and through more than a couple injury plagued seasons, Bobby Orr became a hockey player that no one had seen before or since. In the late 1960's and early 1970's when the Bruin's played, the game plan was get the puck to Bobby and let him win the game all on his own. He could kill penalties by just ragging the puck around the ice and playing keep away with the opposing team. He could skate, shoot and was as tough as they come. He played the game at a different pace and on a different plane than everyone else. He won eight straight Norris Trophies from 1967 to 1975. He won the Art Ross Trophy as the leading scorer in the regular season twice, a feat that no other defenseman has been able to duplicate. He was also the Hart Memorial Trophy winner as league MVP three consecutive years in a row from 1970-1972.
It is incredible to think how the greatest defenceman who ever played, accomplished so much in just 657 regular season games, many of which he was playing with a badly damaged knee. We can only imagine how much more awaited Orr if not for some devastating knee injuries that cut his career short.
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