Look at all the top scorers in the NHL among defensemen and you’ll notice something. Youth. Lots of youth.
A torch is being passed and those poolies who had a hunch about this in September are already seeing dividends. Detroit superstar Nicklas Lidstrom is no longer a contender to lead the rearguards in scoring. In fact, he won’t even be in the top 10. That would make it only the fifth time in the past 18 years he hasn’t finished on that list. He’s not the only one starting to fade – Sharks veteran Rob Blake’s resurgence a year ago won’t be repeated.
But the trend is not so much in the veterans slipping as it is the youngsters really stepping up. Chris Pronger (Philadelphia) isn’t slipping at all, in fact he’s as good as ever. Phoenix’s Ed Jovanovski is rebounding nicely and even the presently injured Sergei Gonchar is still hanging around the top 20. But now they are joined by 19-year-olds Michael Del Zotto (N.Y. Rangers) and Drew Doughty (Los Angeles), as well as 21-year-olds Erik Johnson (St. Louis) and Jason Demers (San Jose), and 25-year-olds Matt Carle (Philadelphia) and Jonathan Ericsson (Detroit), not to mention Pittsburgh’s Alex Goligoski, who, at 24, is playing his first full NHL campaign.
This latest group joins a strong crop that emerged last season – Mike Green (Washington), Shea Weber (Nashville), Kyle Quincey (Colorado) and Cam Barker (Chicago). And don’t forget Dion Phaneuf is still just 24 years old. In fact, the average age of the top-30 scoring defensemen is 27.7, with just 12 older than 30. In 2008-09 that average was 29.8, with 16 over the age of 30. Just four of this year’s top-15 scoring blueliners are in their 30s.
Every season there are several young players who slip in among the scoring leaders as several vets start to fade, but it looks as though we are entering a window of two or three years in which the change is a little more sudden. Here are some young defensemen who are poised to make this list in the coming years.
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh – already on the cusp.
Zach Bogosian, Atlanta – he’ll be there soon.
Braydon Coburn, Philadelphia – still only 24, though it seems like he’s been around forever.
Tyler Myers, Buffalo – three years away from decent fantasy points.
Matt Niskanen, Dallas – should be a solid 45-point rearguard.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, San Jose – we already got a taste last season.
Keith Yandle, Phoenix – in a couple of years he will shock you with his production.
Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay – eventually, he will be a top-5 scoring rearguard.
Jack Johnson, Los Angeles – only his fragility can hold him back.
Dmitry Kulikov, Florida – mature beyond his 19 years.
John Carlson, Washington – my favorite candidate to one day usurp Green as the top gun on the blueline.
Erik Karlsson, Ottawa – he’ll be an all-star defenseman for the Sens.
Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis – his offensive acumen is better than most.
Kevin Shattenkirk, Colorado – currently a point-per-game player in college.
Bobby Sanguinetti, N.Y. Rangers – should be on the team next year.
Jakub Kindl, Detroit – the transition will be slow, but eventually he’ll run Detroit’s power play.
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