Preseason rankings can be difficult, especially for defensemen. A lot of projection goes into this, and player roles are a huge part in determining if the overall defensive unit is going to be toward the top or bottom of such a list. Generally, what fans will see in the NHL is that the teams with better defensive cores are generally playoff contenders. Strong defensive play generally correlates in improved goaltending and, thus, more wins.
Let’s take a look at the projected defensive pairings for each Central Division team heading into the 2022-23 season. Things can change from now until the beginning of the regular season, but as of now this is what each team should look like come puck drop on opening night.
8. Chicago Blackhawks
|Alex Vlasic||Seth Jones|
|Jack Johnson||Connor Murphy|
|Riley Stillman||Caleb Jones|
Missing veteran Jake McCabe due to cervical spine surgery is what bumped the Chicago Blackhawks into the eight spot on this list. A top pairing of McCabe and Seth Jones is respectable, but with McCabe expected to miss some time, rookie Alex Vlasic seems to be the next man up to fill in. Beyond Seth Jones, the Blackhawks don’t offer much help from the blue line. With this organization in full-on tanking mode, being a colander defensively is only going to help their chances in the NHL Draft Lottery next year.
7. Arizona Coyotes
|Jakob Chychrun||Troy Stecher|
|Shayne Gostisbehere||Dysin Mayo|
|Patrick Nemeth||Josh Brown|
Jakob Chychrun and Shayne Gostisbehere highlight an otherwise poor defense for the Arizona Coyotes heading into 2022-23. Chychrun has been the subject of many trade rumors over the past year, and with the Coyotes preparing for another down year in the rebuild, they’d be wise to listen to offers for him and veterans Shayne Gostisbehere and Patrick Nemeth.
Chychrun is the brightest star for this defensive core and would easily slide into many other teams’ top four. As long as he’s healthy, he’s going to be an attractive piece come the trade deadline. He’s currently doing his part in lobbying his way out of Arizona.
6. Winnipeg Jets
|Brenden Dillon||Neal Pionk|
|Josh Morrissey||Nate Schmidt|
|Logan Stanley||Dylan DeMelo|
The Winnipeg Jets’ defensive corps was a tough one to rank. On one hand, they’re stable both offensively and defensively. Neal Pionk (three goals, 34 points), Josh Morrissey (12 goals, 37 points), and Nate Schmidt (four goals, 32 points) lead this unit’s offense while Brenden Dillon, Logan Stanley, and Dylan DeMelo are all sound defenders. Their biggest issue lies within the shots on goal they give up, as Connor Hellebuyck is routinely among the league leaders in shots faced. This is a middle of the road unit, but could rise up the ranks quickly if they allow fewer total shots.
5. Dallas Stars
|Ryan Suter||Miro Heiskanen|
|Esa Lindell||Nils Lundkvist|
|Thomas Harley||Jani Hakanpaa|
The loss of John Klingberg this offseason is what knocks the Dallas Stars down a spot. The good news for the Stars is that they have young star Miro Heiskanen to build around. His linemate, Ryan Suter, is still a quality defender, even though he is in the twilight of his career. Behind them, they’ve got a lot of names in play, meaning there isn’t much stability yet. The newly-acquired Nils Lundkvist is going to get an opportunity to play every night and has an intriguing upside. Losing Klingberg could rock the boat, but if they can stabilize, this is a good defense.
4. St. Louis Blues
|Torey Krug||Justin Faulk|
|Nick Leddy||Colton Parayko|
|Scott Perunovich||Robert Bortuzzo|
While not overly great, the St. Louis Blues’ defense might be a tad underrated. The addition of Nick Leddy last season helped stabilize this unit and allowed Colton Parayko to play a more defensive-minded style. Justin Faulk was the true leader of this unit last season (16 goals, 47 points) and is one of the more overlooked blueliners in the league.
With Krug, Leddy, and possibly Perunovich on the left side, this unit should be able to produce on offense but could get exposed on the rush. This corps is sneaky and could be higher on this list as well once the season gets underway.
3. Minnesota Wild
|Jonas Brodin||Matt Dumba|
|Jacob Middleton||Jared Spurgeon|
|Alex Goligoski||Calen Addison|
The defense of the Minnesota Wild has three players who are equally good on offense and defense: Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, and captain Jared Spurgeon. Behind them, Jacob Middleton and Alex Goligoski are sound defenders who bring physicality. Calen Addison is looking to establish himself as an everyday player in the NHL. Unsurprisingly, this is a top-tier defense.
2. Nashville Predators
|Roman Josi||Dante Fabbro|
|Ryan McDonagh||Mattias Ekholm|
|Jeremy Lauzon||Alexandre Carrier|
Led by Norris Trophy runner-up Roman Josi, the Nashville Predators truly have one of the best groups of defensemen in hockey. Josi can do it all (23 goals, 96 points), while Dante Fabbro and Mattias Ekholm are great offensive defenders in their own right. Adding Ryan McDonagh to the mix made too much sense and seems like a perfect fit. The blue line in Nashville is strong yet again.
1. Colorado Avalanche
|Devon Toews||Cale Makar|
|Samuel Girard||Josh Manson|
|Bowen Byram||Erik Johnson|
No surprise here, the Colorado Avalanche boast the best defense in the Central Division. Cale Makar is the best defender in hockey, evidenced by his winning of the Norris Trophy in 2021-22 (28 goals, 86 points). His linemate Devon Toews led all defensemen in plus/minus at plus-52, forming a top-tier pairing.
Samuel Girard and Josh Manson round out their top four, giving them elite scoring potential to go with solid defense. Bowen Byram is a future top-two player and veteran Erik Johnson is a great and reliable defender. This is the best defense in the NHL and should claim that spot again for 2022-23.
Recapping the Central Division Defensemen Rankings by Team
- Colorado Avalanche
- Nashville Predators
- Minnesota Wild
- St. Louis Blues
- Dallas Stars
- Winnipeg Jets
- Arizona Coyotes
- Chicago Blackhawks
What are your thoughts on this list? Did I rank a team too high or too low? Let me know below in the comments!
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Marcus Ashpaugh is a husband, father, coach, and a huge sports fan. He has had a few of his own websites in the past where he published pieces about both the Kansas City Royals and the St. Louis Blues.