top of page

NHL Position Group Rankings: Defense

With NHL players reporting to training camp in about a month, it's time we start gauging just how teams will stack up in the 2022-2023 season. This week, I'm taking you through the position groups - forwards, defensemen, and goalies - for all 32 NHL teams. I'm using the current PuckLuck projections to rank each group among their peers, from worst to first.

Yesterday we ranked the forward groups and today it's the defense's turn. We'll run through the notable additions to each team's backend, update on injuries, and of course list the projected pairings. It's important to note that these rankings are based off of the goal-differential value (GDV) that these players are projected to bring in all situations (even-strength, powerplay, and shorthanded). GDV, of course, includes both offensive and defensive impact.

Again, we'll begin with number 32:

32. Arizona Coyotes

Projected GDV: -32.77

Additions: [individual projected GDV in brackets]

  • Patrik Nemeth [-3]

  • Tory Stecher [-10]

  • Josh Brown [-26]

Shayne Gostisbehere proved to be a bit of a revelation last season, but this defense group was in shambles last season and three bottom-pair additions are not likely to compensate that. The big question mark, of course, is surrounding a potential Jakob Chychrun trade, which would remove a lot of offensive production from the backend.

Projected pairs:

Jakob Chychrun - Troy Stecher

Shayne Gostisbehere - Dysin Mayo

J.J. Moser - Josh Brown

31. Chicago Blackhawks

Projected GDV: -25.48


  • Jack Johnson [-4]

There's a lot to question in Chicago, especially since they did nothing to improve a lackluster d-corps besides adding an aging veteran in Johnson. Since he's just a role player at this point in his career, and there are question marks around the health of Connor Murphy with his concussion history, it may be a long season for the Blackhawks in their own zone.

Projected pairs:

Alex Vlasic - Seth Jones

Jake McCabe - Connor Murphy

Riley Stillman - Caleb Jones

30. Detroit Red Wings

Projected GDV: -25.28


  • Mark Pysyk [-10]

  • Olli Maatta [-12]

  • Ben Chiarot [-48]

Like they did with the forward group, the Red Wings added some prominent pieces to the blueline as well. The problem is this includes an overpaid and vastly overrated Chiarot, who is projected to get big minutes and not deliver what they'd might expect. Sophomore Moritz Seider is a stud piece to build around, but for some reason Filip Hronek is still being relied upon in important situations. If the Wings miss the playoffs, it will likely be the defense holding them back.

Projected pairs:

Ben Chiarot - Moritz Seider

Olli Maatta - Filip Hronek

Jordan Oesterle - Mark Pysyk

29. Buffalo Sabres

Projected GDV: -25.20


  • Kale Clague [-1]

  • Ilya Lyubushkin [-38]

Again, the Sabres didn't add much to their backend as they're looking for their young d-men to take a nice developmental leap. Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power are studs and project really well this coming season, but the uncertainty lies upon Mattias Samuelsson. If he can seize a top-four job and perform admirably, we may look back at this ranking scratching our heads next season.

Projected pairs:

Mattias Samuelsson - Rasmus Dahlin

Owen Power - Henri Jokiharju

Jacob Bryson - Ilya Lyubushkin

28. San Jose Sharks

Projected GDV: -23.24


  • Markus Nutivaara [2]

  • Matt Benning [-39]

Nutivaara and Benning are a couple nice adds to a decimated defense core after the departure of Brent Burns. Erik Karlsson, if he can stay healthy, will now be the focal point of the group. The Sharks will also look to Mario Ferraro and Ryan Merkley to help make up for the lost production.

Projected pairs:

Mario Ferraro - Erik Karlsson

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Matt Benning

Radim Simek - Ryan Merkley

27. Columbus Blue Jackets

Projected GDV: -21.82


  • Erik Gudbranson [-26]

The Gudbranson add is a head-scratcher, as I've basically been saying for the past 10 years for any team that acquires him. There's some upside here though, with Jake Bean and Adam Boqvist projecting well offensively along with a solid top pair of Zach Werenski and Andrew Peeke.

Projected pairs:

Zach Werenski - Andrew Peeke

Vladislav Gavrikov - Adam Boqvist

Jake Bean - Erik Gudbranson

26. Montreal Canadiens

Projected GDV: -20.65


  • Mike Matheson [-7]

Montreal's blueline will consist of some unusual names this season, but ridding themselves of some anchors and Jeff Petry coming off a bad season keeps them out of the cellar. Jordan Harris looked good in his limited stint, and Matheson had a really strong showing last season.

Projected pairs:

Mike Matheson - David Savard

Joel Edmundson - Justin Barron

Jordan Harris - Chris Wideman

25. Philadelphia Flyers

Projected GDV: -19.36


  • Tony DeAngelo [30]

  • Justin Braun [-28]

Braun returns in likely a more limited role this time, and DeAngelo should be a big upgrade to the powerplay and even-strength offense. Cam York projects to take a nice leap in development, but top-four minutes to Ivan Provorov and Rasmus Ristolainen will continue to hold this group back.

Projected pairs:

Ivan Provorov - Tony DeAngelo

Travis Sanheim - Rasmus Ristolainen

Cam York - Justin Braun

24. Anaheim Ducks

Projected GDV: -18.25


  • Colton White [2]

  • Olli Juolevi [0]

  • John Klingberg [-15]

The Ducks' defense has become very thin and top-heavy, but the bigger names are more overrated at this point in their respective careers. With a heavy right side of Klingberg, Jamie Drysdale, and Kevin Shattenkirk it should be interesting to see how the balance is distributed.

Projected pairs:

Cam Fowler - Jamie Drysdale

Urho Vaakanainen - John Klingberg

Josh Mahura - Kevin Shattenkirk

23. New Jersey Devils

Projected GDV: -14.05


  • Simon Nemec [1]

  • Brendan Smith [0]

  • John Marino [-13]

Some excitement is deservedly in order for this revamped Devils blueline. Top pick Simon Nemec has a good chance to crack the opening night lineup, and Marino was brought in to alleviate Damon Severson from some heavy minutes. Combine that with the strong defensive play of Jonas Siegenthaler and high shot rates from Ryan Graves and Dougie Hamilton, this group has a good shot at outperforming their current projection.

Projected pairs:

Ryan Graves - Dougie Hamilton

Jonas Siegenthaler - John Marino

Brendan Smith - Damon Severson

22. Seattle Kraken

Projected GDV: -11.97


  • Justin Schultz [34]

  • Michal Kempny [-2]

The Kraken defense is unimpressive as a whole, but a silver lining of adding a strong powerplay pointman in Schultz should really help the top unit. Carson Soucy is coming off a surprisingly solid season, but the lack of top-end talent at the position hurts this group overall.

Projected pairs:

Jamie Oleksiak - Adam Larsson

Vince Dunn - Justin Schultz

Carson Soucy - William Borgen

21. Dallas Stars

Projected GDV: -11.70


  • Will Butcher [-1]

  • Colin Miller [-9]

I'm not sure the best method of replacing John Klingberg is by added two bottom-pair players from the Buffalo Sabres, but alas here we are. The Stars still have reliable pivots in Esa Lindell and Ryan Suter, and the blueline will now run through Miro Heiskanen, who seems up to the task.

Projected pairs:

Esa Lindell - Miro Heiskanen

Ryan Suter - Colin Miller

Joel Hanley - Jani Hakanpaa

20. New York Islanders

Projected GDV: -10.83


  • Alex Romanov [-29]

With Zdeno Chara out the door, Romanov was brought in to pair with budding star Noah Dobson. There will big an NHL role for either Robin Salo or (the other) Sebastian Aho, so we'll see who can lock up the full-time spot.

Projected pairs:

Adam Pelech - Ryan Pulock

Alex Romanov - Noah Dobson

Sebastian Aho - Scott Mayfield

19. Ottawa Senators

Projected GDV: -9.01


  • None

While there's currently no additions to the defense for the Senators, it's not from lack of trying. Reports of attempts being made to acquire Jakob Chychrun are surfacing, so it's possible this group will not look the same come season's beginning.

Projected pairs:

Thomas Chabot - Artem Zub

Jake Sanderson - Travis Hamonic

Erik Brannstrom - Nikita Zaitsev

18. Minnesota WIld

Projected GDV: -8.90


  • None

The Wild tuned up their blueline last trade deadline, and having an NHL-ready prospect in Calen Addison waiting in the wings. This group could use an uptick in offense from Matt Dumba, but until then Jared Spurgeon will continue as the powerplay quarterback.

Projected pairs:

Jonas Brodin - Matt Dumba

Jacob Middleton - Jared Spurgeon

Alex Goligoski - Jon Merrill

17. Vancouver Canucks

Projected GDV: -4.65


  • Christian Wolanin [2]

Until Tyler Myers and Luke Schenn are no longer in the top-four, the Canucks backend will never be top half of the league quality. The good news is despite this they still are 17th in our rankings, led by Quinn Hughes and a resurgent Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

Projected pairs:

Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Tyler Myers

Quinn Hughes - Luke Schenn

Kyle Burroughs - Travis Dermott

16. Nashville Predators

Projected GDV: -4.25


  • Ryan McDonagh [-11]

The Predators were aggressive in trading for McDonagh in the offseason, and he'll likely pair with Roman Josi to allow him to turn loose even more. The rest of the group outside of Mattias Ekholm is just meh, so that leaves them stuck here in middle.

Projected pairs:

Ryan McDonagh - Roman Josi

Mattias Ekholm - Alex Carrier

Jeremy Lauzon - Dante Fabbro

15. Edmonton Oilers

Projected GDV: -3.63


  • None

The Oilers lost Duncan Keith to retirement, which likely leaves a full-time role to Slater Koekkoek. The real development here is the rumors of Evan Bouchard taking over the top powerplay from Tyson Barrie, which would take away most of Barrie's value. Between Bouchard, Barrie, and Darnell Nurse, Edmonton really can't go wrong with whoever they trot out there.

Projected pairs:

Darnell Nurse - Cody Ceci

Slater Koekkoek - Evan Bouchard

Brett Kulak - Tyson Barrie

14. St. Louis Blues

Projected GDV: -1.02


  • None

It's hard to argue with St. Louis keeping their defense from last season all together, but the part to debate is giving Nick Leddy top-pair minutes. Those minutes with Colton Parayko are probably better served to Marco Scandella or Niko Mikkola, but the Torey Krug - Justin Faulk pairing is as solid as it gets.

Projected pairs:

Nick Leddy - Colton Parayko

Torey Krug - Justin Faulk

Marco Scandella - Robert Bortuzzo

13. Florida Panthers

Projected GDV: -0.95


  • Michael Del Zotto [0]

  • Marc Staal [-43]

Mackenzie Weegar will be tough to replace, but whoever pairs with Aaron Ekblad should be fine as long as they can move the puck to either him or the forwards. As long as Marc Staal is in a limited role, the Panthers backend should be able to do enough to defer to the forwards for plenty of wins.

Projected pairs:

Marc Staal - Aaron Ekblad

Gustav Forsling - Radko Gudas

Lucas Carlsson - Brandon Montour

12. Carolina Hurricanes

Projected GDV: 2.79


  • Brent Burns [7]

  • William Lagesson [-2]

  • Dylan Coghlan [-3]

Carolina needed a replacement for Tony DeAngelo's offense, and they not only found it with Burns but also likely improved their defensive play too. Dylan Coghlan played well in Vegas and should push Ethan Bear and William Lagesson for playing time.

Projected pairs:

Jaccob Slavin - Brent Burns

Brady Skjei - Brett Pesce

Dylan Coghlan - Ethan Bear

11. New York Rangers

Projected GDV: 4.33


  • None

The Rangers did not have to tinker with their blueline, with Ryan Lindgren, Adam Fox, K'Andre Miller, and newly appointed captain Jacob Trouba solidified in the top-four. Promising youngsters Braden Schneider, Zac Jones, and Nils Lundkvist will compete for bottom-pair minutes, as all had strong showings last season.

Projected pairs:

Ryan Lindgren - Adam Fox

K'Andre Miller - Jacob Trouba

Zac Jones - Braden Schneider

10. Los Angeles Kings

Projected GDV: 4.37


  • None

The defense in LA were decimated by injuries last season, yet their callups were able to step up and perform admirably. Return Drew Doughty, Mikey Anderson, Sean Walker, and Alex Edler to full health, and this group all-of-a-sudden is impressively deep.

Projected pairs:

Mikey Anderson - Drew Doughty

Alex Edler - Matt Roy

Tobias Bjornfot - Sean Walker

9. Calgary Flames

Projected GDV: 4.55


  • Nicolas Meloche [-2]

  • Mackenzie Weegar [-10]

The defense really came together nicely last season for the Flames under Coach Sutter's system. It will be interesting to see where Weegar slots in, since Oliver Kylington was revitalized alongside Chris Tanev.

Projected pairs:

Noah Hanifin - Rasmus Andersson

Mackenzie Weegar - Chris Tanev

Oliver Kylington - Nikita Zadorov

8. Toronto Maple Leafs

Projected GDV: 4.93


  • Victor Mete [-2]

Rasmus Sandin remains a restricted free agent, and, after a really strong first full NHL season, his contract status will affect the shape the Leafs' defense. The biggest question is who will pair with Morgan Rielly this season, with Sandin, Timothy Liljegren, and Justin Holl as the top candidates.

Projected pairs:

Morgan Rielly - Timothy Liljegren

Jake Muzzin - T.J. Brodie

Mark Giordano - Justin Holl

7. Washington Capitals

Projected GDV: 5.16


  • Erik Gustafsson [1]

  • Gabriel Carlsson [-1]

The core of the Capitals defense returns, with the offensive-minded Erik Gustafsson replacing a similar styled defenseman in Justin Schultz. Dmitry Orlov is coming off perhaps his best season, and John Carlson remains one of the league's top skilled pointmen.

Projected pairs:

Martin Fehervary - John Carlson

Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen

Erik Gustafsson - Trevor van Riemsdyk

6. Boston Bruins

Projected GDV: 5.23


  • None

The trade deadline of Hampus Lindholm last season will prove extra-valuable this coming season since Charlie McAvoy will miss a couple months or so recovering from a shoulder procedure. Matt Grzelcyk and Mike Reilly might also miss some time, but when this group is together in full they are right up there with the league's best.

Projected pairs:

Derek Forbort - Hampus Lindholm

Jakub Zboril - Brandon Carlo

Jack Ahcan - Connor Clifton

5. Winnipeg Jets

Projected GDV: 5.24


  • Kyle Capobianco [-1]

The minutes leader on the Jet's blueline has been Josh Morrissey for awhile now, but last season was his first dominant year in the NHL. This may have been aided by Nate Schmidt coming over from the Canucks, which slotted the rest of the group into preferred and comfortable roles.

Projected pairs:

Josh Morrissey - Nate Schmidt

Brenden Dillon - Neal Pionk

Logan Stanley - Dylan Demelo

4. Pittsburgh Penguins

Projected GDV: 5.27


  • Jan Rutta [0]

  • Ty Smith [-13]

  • Jeff Petry [-19]

Pittsburgh's additions on defense really help the depth of the team in all situations. Petry should quarterback the 2nd powerplay unit and provide plenty of offensive spark. Rutta is solid up and down the lineup, and Smith has potential to grow into a nice offensive player.

Projected pairs:

Brian Dumoulin - Kris Letang

Marcus Pettersson - Jeff Petry

Ty Smith - Jan Rutta

3. Vegas Golden Knights

Projected GDV: 8.60


  • None

Vegas returns essentially the same group on defense, but, when healthy, it's a pretty stacked one. Regardless of who's running the powerplay, Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore have top-end offensive awareness. Pair that with the solid d-zone play of Brayden McNabb and Zach Whitecloud and the versatility of Alec Martinez, and you have a top three d-core in the NHL.

Projected pairs:

Alec Martinez - Alex Pietrangelo

Brayden McNabb - Shea Theodore

Nicolas Hague - Zach Whitecloud

2. Tampa Bay Lightning

Projected GDV: 9.01


  • Philippe Myers [-1]

  • Haydn Fleury [-5]

  • Ian Cole [-12]

The lightning said goodbye to stalwart Ryan McDonagh, but had Mikhail Sergachev ready and pushing for a bigger role. The rest of his duties will have to be filled by newcomers Cole, Myers, and Fleury, who all have shown flashes of capability in limited capacities.

Projected pairs:

Victor Hedman - Philippe Myers

Mikhail Sergachev - Erik Cernak

Ian Cole - Cal Foote

1. Colorado Avalanche

Projected GDV: 17.95


  • Brad Hunt [-3]

Top forwards? Check. Top defensemen? Double check. I don't think there's any questioning this one, as the Avalanche returned almost all of their Stanley Cup winning defense. Jakc Johnson was the only departure, but Samuel Girard returns from injury to upgrade the left side.

Projected pairs:

Devon Toews - Cale Makar

Bowen Byram - Josh Manson

Samuel Girard - Erik Johnson


[Part One] NHL Position Group Rankings: Forwards

67 views0 comments
bottom of page