The Top 5 NHL defensemen of 2022

      In a position that has been rapidly changing over the years, which defenseman dominated the most in 2022?

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      With the holiday season in full swing, and 2023 quickly approaching, it’s time to take a look back at the year that was, and see who the best players of the calendar year were. We witnessed some incredible performances over the course of the second half of the 2021-22 regular season, the 2022 playoffs, and the 2022-23 regular season so far, but only the best of the best will make these lists.

      Today, we’ll be looking at defensemen. We live in quite the era for the position, as long are the days where a fast-skating, puck-moving defenseman is viewed as a defensive liability. Instead, many come with defensive prowess that is better than any stay-at-home defender, although we still have some smart defensive defensemen in the league that do more than just push and shove. We only have room for five, so most of these will be the best at both.

      Those who’ve read my work know how much I like to use statistics to base my lists off. While that’s still the case here, it’s hard to do a full list solely off stats because I’ve yet to find a website that combines regular season and playoff stats over the course of a certain date range, so I had to put a little bit of personal opinion into it as well.

      I’m sure this will go well and we’ll all have a great time.

      Honourable Mentions

      Victor Hedman – It’s hard not to have a top defensemen list without Victor Hedman on it, considering he’s been one of the best at the position over the last 5-10 years, especially as he helped the Lightning to their third straight Stanley Cup Final. But, this is over the course of the whole of 2022, and a third of that time frame has seen Hedman struggle mightily taking on the top minutes for Tampa in the absence of Ryan McDonagh, with just 48.81% of the 5v5 expected goals. I won’t hold it against his entire career, but it does kick him out of the top five.

      Moritz Seider – Seider is the new kid on the block, shining bright in his rookie season in Detroit on route to taking the Calder Trophy for the 2022 season. Not only was he productive with 50 points in 82 games, but he also held his own defensively, especially while playing top pair minutes on a horrible Red Wings team with Danny Dekeyser as his partner. He doesn’t crack this list because of his sophomore struggles this season, but considering that his partner this year is Ben Chiarot, I’m going to cut him a lot of slack and still give him an honourable mention.

      Aaron Ekblad – While injuries haven’t done Ekblad any favours, when he’s been in the lineup he’s one of the most productive defenders in the league, and is one of the best at driving play and defending in his own zone. He still got some Norris consideration for his performance in 2022, and even with the hit the Panthers blueline took in the offseason, Ekblad has still been a top defender in the league while playing with Gustav Forsling (who is also still a solid defender, but he’s no MacKenzie Weegar).

      5. Roman Josi

      Regular Season: 20G-73A-93P-82GP, 49.41% 5v5 xGF%

      Playoffs: 1G-1A-2P-4GP, 37.84% 5v5 xGF%

      Points aren’t everything, especially for defensemen, but there was something special about watching Josi’s 2021-22 season, setting a new Predators franchise record for points in a single season as a defenseman, and almost hit the 100-point mark while missing two games. He hasn’t been quite as dynamic this season, but he’s still putting up the points, and even became the Nashville’s all-time leading scorer in points just a few days ago.

      That said, defense is an important part of the position, and he doesn’t quite hold up to the rest of his peers in that regard. It’s what lost him the Norris trophy this season even though he had more first place votes, and it’s what saw him get outclassed in his four playoff games against the man he lost that Norris to, Cale Makar. He holds his own on a Predators blueline that seems to be losing a big piece every season.

      4. Erik Karlsson

      Regular Season: 15G-45A-60P-59GP, 49.14% 5v5 xGF%

      Playoffs: N/A

      One of the biggest treats so far in 2022-23 has been the resurgence of Erik Karlsson. In his prime days with the Ottawa Senators, he was playing like a modern-age Bobby Orr, carrying the Sens to places they had no business being in, and we’ve been seeing something like that so far this season. He sits seventh among all players in points so far this year, and has also allowed the Sharks to not be total garbage when he’s on the ice.

      While his dominance was mostly in late 2022, and this list covers the whole year, his 2021-22 season didn’t get enough attention either. Part of that was his injuries, as well as playing behind Brent Burns, but we already started to see this return to form in the early stages of 2022, and now that it’s his blueline in San Jose, he’s putting on a show, and it earns him a spot on this list. Call it a thirst for nostalgia, but I’m going to enjoy this while I can.

      3. Charlie McAvoy

      Regular Season: 8G-50A-58P-73GP, 62.36% 5v5 xGF%

      Playoffs: 0G-5A-5P-6GP, 64.04% 5v5 xGF%

      McAvoy might be the most underrated defenseman in the league. While he’s certainly recognized as one of the better defensemen, I don’t think anyone besides those who follow him recognize just how good McAvoy has been. Part of that is because he doesn’t put up insane point totals, and his injuries have meant that his point totals seem even smaller if you don’t dive into it further.

      However, you can’t deny his defensive play. Playing with Bergeron helps, but consistently exceeding 60 percent expected goals all year, even in the playoffs against a strong Carolina Hurricanes team that eventually bested the Bruins. He’s a big part of the Bruins’ dominance this season as well, and his absence early in the year was also why many wrote off the Bruins.

      2. Adam Fox

      Regular Season: 13G-65A-78P-81GP, 53.8% 5v5 xGF%

      Playoffs: 5G-18A-23P-20GP, 43.45% 5v5 xGF%

      I talked yesterday about how Igor Shesterkin was a big part of the Rangers’ success in the 2021-22 season, but Fox also played a huge role in that. While his possession numbers don’t look crazy on the surface, the fact that he was above 50% on a Rangers team that was one of the worst possession teams in 2021-22 is something on the level of the aforementioned Erik Karlsson’s performances with the Ottawa Senators, especially in the postseason.

      The Rangers have significantly improved in 2022-23, so Fox has played even better, but unfortunately, it’s gone under the radar because their record hasn’t been quite as good due to the regression from last year. If the Rangers’ current hot streak is any sign of a return to normalcy for them, I’d imagine Fox will get Norris consideration for the third season in a row, and maybe even secure the second of his young career.

      1. Cale Makar

      Regular Season: 22G-67A-89P-86GP, 57.23% 5v5 xGF%

      Playoffs: 8G-21A-29P-20GP, 62.39% 5v5 xGF%

      I mean, who else was it going to be? Not only was Makar the best defenseman of the year, but you could make the case that he’s the player of the year with what he did, especially in the first half. He was one of the top-scoring defensemen in the league, second just to Josi. He was one of the top defensemen at driving play on route to winning his first Norris trophy, and he reached another level in the playoffs to secure the Avs a Stanley Cup, and earning himself the Conn Smythe trophy in the process.

      The start to 2022-23 hasn’t been quite the same level, but you can attribute that to the injuries the Avs have had to deal with, as well as them likely taking their foot off the gas a bit in the regular season now that they’re “proven winners”.

      However, you don’t even need stats to describe how good Makar is, you need to watch him. He has this dynamic to his game that’s on the level of Connor McDavid, with all eyes on him the second he grabs the puck to see what he does. We’ve always known he was good, but after 2022, he’s not only the best defenseman in the league, but he’s put himself in the “best player in the league” conversation with McDavid, Auston Matthews, and teammate Nathan MacKinnon.

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