The Vancouver Canucks’ Top Three Defensemen of All-Time

This is my third in a series of posts about Vancouver Canucks history. Previously, I have written posts about the three best Canucks forwards and about the three best Canucks goalies. In this post, I will weigh in on who I believe were the three best Canucks defensemen of all time.

Number One: Matthias Ohlund

I have no doubt that Matthias Ohlund was the best defenseman the Canucks have ever had. Interestingly, he was great from the first game he played in a Vancouver uniform. He could do it all. He was an offensive threat, and he could consistently blanket the opponent’s best player.

Adding a twist to one of my mother’s old sayings, if the phrase “steady defenseman” were in the dictionary, Ohlund’s picture would be beside it. He was the poster player for on-ice consistency. He was also a workhorse, regularly playing more than 20 minutes per game.

Mattias Ohlund Vancouver Canucks
Mattias Ohlund, Vancouver Canucks, Dec. 11, 2003 (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

Ohlund was picked by the Canucks in the first-round (the 13th overall pick) of the 1994 Draft. He played in Sweden for two seasons but joined the Canucks at the beginning of the 1997-98 season. He was good enough that he finished second in voting for the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie.

In total, Ohlund played 11 seasons with the team. Ohlund ranks third in the history of Canucks defensemen with 770 games played. He’s second to only Alex Edler with 93 goals, and second to Edler in total points for defensemen with 325.

Related: Biggest Canucks’ Trade Deadline Moves of the Decade

Sadly, Ohlund suffered a serious eye injury early in his NHL career. It was the first of many injuries he had which certainly curtailed his career totals. He was a well-regarded leader and played a mentorship role for younger Canucks’ players – not the least of which is current Canucks defenseman Edler, who, ironically, broke Ohlund’s career marks.

Number Two: Ed Jovanovski

Ed Jovanovski came to the Canucks as the main player returning when Pavel Bure was traded to the Florida Panthers on Jan. 17, 1999. He became a top-two defenseman immediately and really didn’t slow down during his seven seasons with the team. Jovanovski contributed to the team by being an exceptional offensive defenseman. At 6-feet-3 and 221 pounds, he was a physically imposing force.

When he was on his game, Jovanovski was amazing. In fact, he might have been the most skilled defenseman who’s ever played on the Canucks’ blue line. His size, toughness, and presence were a wall other teams often could not penetrate. Offensively, Jovanovski scored just under 50 points for three years in a row.

That said, Jovanovski’s game wasn’t perfect. During the last years with the Canucks, he often played injured. As well, and this is true of all top-two defensemen who play night-after-night against the opponent’s best forwards, he could make mistakes that cost the team.

Although he played seven seasons in Vancouver, Jovanovski eventually became a free agent and went to the Phoenix Coyotes where he played five seasons before returning to the Panthers to finish his career.

Number Three: Tie Between Alex Edler and Kevin Bieksa

When it came to choosing the third best Canucks defenseman of all time, I debated between Edler and Kevin Bieksa. I simply couldn’t choose between the two. Both were strong players for the Canucks, and both became valuable Vancouver community members because they both gave back to the city in which they played. They were two of the good guys, both on and off the ice.

Alex Edler

I sometimes don’t think Canucks fans realize how good a defenseman Alex Edler is. He’s one of those guys who does his job so well that he sort of disappears during the game. He’s there, but you often don’t notice him.

Edler is calm and unassuming on the ice and off. Every once in a while, he makes a mistake or looks bad. However, as I noted with Jovanovski, when you play against every team’s top players, mistakes hurt you. However, as Edler has gained experience, those errors are less frequent. He’s become a solid, top-two defenseman, and the Canucks are fortunate to have him.

Alexander Edler Vancouver Canucks
Alexander Edler, Vancouver Canucks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As the story goes, former Canucks forward, and later scout, Thomas Gradin uncovered Edler at 18 years old playing in a low-level, semi-pro beer league in northern Sweden. From that humble start, Edler’s eventual choice during the third round of the 2004 NHL draft was one of the best picks in Canucks history.

Related: NHL’s Top 5 Playmakers of the Decade

Now 33 years old, Edler has played 13 seasons for the Canucks. Last season, he set several marks for franchise defensemen. He leads all Canucks defensemen in games played with 841. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in goals with 94, second in assists with 274, and first in points with 368, among defensemen.

He’ll also make a good mentor for Quinn Hughes like Ohlund did for him.

Kevin Bieksa

Kevin Bieksa
Kevin Bieksa (Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE)

Unlike Edler, who almost immediately jumped into the Canucks lineup, Bieksa spent almost 10 seasons in the minors before he played his first game with the Canucks. However, he soon made a huge impact on the team. He was a top-two defenseman who played both ends of the ice and wasn’t afraid to mix it up physically if the situation called for it.

He was a fifth-round draft pick by the Canucks who simply persevered until he made it. He brought that same determination to the ice, where his leadership helped the Canucks win five straight Northwest Divisions between 2009-2013. During his time with the Canucks, Bieksa played 597 games, scoring 56 goals and 185 assists for 241 points.

Eventually, Bieksa was traded to the Anaheim Ducks for a second-round draft choice in the 2015 Draft. (For those who care, that pick turned out to be Guillaume Brisebois, who played eight games with the Canucks last season).

Where’s Rookie Quinn Hughes on This List?

When Quinn Hughes was drafted seventh overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Canucks’ fans believed he would be a good defenseman. However, few would have predicted his rookie-season success. In his first NHL regular season he scored 53 points in 68 games, which led the NHL in scoring for a rookie defensemen. It’s clear he’s offensively-gifted and has already become a key piece of the Canucks’ defense.

Quinn Hughes Vancouver Canucks
Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

That said, the Canucks’ defensemen I named as the best all-time had much longer careers with the team. Should Hughes have a long career with the team, he has a chance of eventually landing on this list. Watching this young defenseman evolve should be one of the joys of being a Canucks fan for the near future. The team seems to be trending upward, and Hughes is surely one of the reasons.