The NHL has seen a wave of young defensemen that have impacted the game in recent years. The skill and speed from the position are changing how the position is played and what defensemen will look like in the future. Many of the skaters that will play a major role in the upcoming season are 23-years-old or younger and are must-watch defensemen for any fan of the game.
Adam Fox won the Norris Trophy last season as the best all-around defenseman in the NHL. He was one of the best defensemen on the defensive end of the ice, with 4.1 defensive point shares and 102 blocked shots but made his mark with an exceptional season on the offensive end of the ice, scoring five goals and adding 42 assists, with many of the assists coming from turnovers in the neutral zone that led directly to odd-man rushes for the New York Rangers.
This season, the 23-year-old Fox will lead the Rangers defensive unit which has plenty of young talented defensemen, including 23-year-old Ryan Lindgren and 21-year-old K’Andre Miller. However, Fox is going to play a pivotal role in the team’s success throughout the ice and hopes to lead the Rangers to the playoffs for the first time since the 2016-17 NHL season.
Last season, the Boston Bruins placed their confidence in the defensive unit in 23-year-old Charlie McAvoy as the front office moved on from veterans Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug. McAvoy not only stepped up for the Bruins as their number one defenseman but emerged as one of the league’s best blue line skaters, especially in the neutral zone and defensive zone with the ability to create turnovers into scoring chances. The 4.7 defensive point shares were tied for second-most in the NHL last season with Devon Toews, as Darnell Nurse was the only defenseman with more. In addition, the 23-year-old defenseman also added 80 blocked shots and made a significant impact from the point with five goals and 25 assists.
McAvoy has already been making an impact in the NHL for years, helping turn the Bruins into one of the best teams in the league, including helping lead the team to a Stanley Cup Final in 2019. Entering the prime of his career, he looks to be even better this season and more exciting to watch as a result, continuing to lead the Bruins defense. The young defenseman looks to make a case for the Norris Trophy, and most importantly, help the team win the Stanley Cup.
Cale Makar has been one of the most impactful defensemen in the game since joining the Colorado Avalanche in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, turning the team into a perennial Cup contender every season. At 22-years-old Makar might already be the best scoring defenseman in the NHL, scoring eight goals and 36 assists last season and 20 goals and 74 assists in his young career as the young defenseman will often play the point for one of the best offenses in the NHL. In addition to the offensive play, the speed skating from the 22-year-old defenseman allows him to be an impact player at every level of the ice and every facet of the game.
Being on the same defense as former Norris Trophy and Conn Smythe-winning defensemen Victor Hedman, it’s easy to forget about 22-year-old Mikhail Sergachev. However, the Tampa Bay Lightning posses one of the best defenses in the NHL, largely because of the play from Sergachev, who is emerging as one of the best defensive defensemen in the league, with last season being the best of his young career, playing in all 56-regular season games and adding 3.0 defensive points shares along with 73 blocked shots.
The 2021 Stanley Cup run for the Lightning allowed hockey fans to truly see Serchachev’s impact on the defensive unit and how he eliminated opposing offenses from creating effective shots on the net and opportunities in the center of the ice. He stood out as one of the best defensemen on the unit at eliminating cross-ice passes, which the Hurricanes particularly tried to execute, and creating turnovers along the boards once the opposing forwards were out of position. Hedman might remain the best scoring defenseman on the team but in the upcoming season, the 23-year-old defenseman might become the best pure defenseman on the roster.
Miro Heiskanen is only 21-years-old but has already made a big impact in the NHL as an integral defenseman for the Dallas Stars Stanley Cup Final run in 2020. Last season wasn’t his best defensively with 2.6 defensive point shares, 52 blocked shots but he scored eight goals and 19 assists for a Stars team that struggled for the majority of the year, both of which were the sixth most on the roster. With the teams expected to improve this season, the 21-year-old defenseman looks to be front and center of the success of the defensive unit and might also emerge as the leader with Jamie Oleksiak being selected by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft.
Other Young Defensemen To Watch
Vancouver Canucks Quinn Hughes and Arizona Coyotes Jakob Chychrun are two of the best scoring defensemen in the game with Hughes scoring three goals and 38 assists while Chychrun scoring 18 goals and 23 assists last season. However, both young defensemen have yet to make their mark on the defensive end of the ice and oftentimes are liabilities to their teams defensively as a result. Ultimately, the league is seeing a shift in the defensive position to a younger and faster group, turning the game as a whole into a faster and more exciting version of hockey.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink has written for multiple sports blogs and platforms covering the NHL, NFL, MLB, and college sports. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.