Defensemen, in general, are probably one of the most underrated parts of the sport of hockey. They don’t always have to put up points, but it’s a bonus when they do. Their job is to help their goaltender crush dreams, to put it plainly. They have to keep the puck out of the net when forwards want to do the exact opposite. They’re the players that grind the most and have to play the parts of the game that not everyone thinks is the prettiest. As the NHL says in one of their recent commercials, they “make ‘dirty work’ a work of art.” While everyone is familiar with guys like Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban, today we would like to highlight some of the unsung defensive heroes in the league. In order to do this, we used stats from Natural Stat Trick as well as basic point totals. They’ve been ranked from those who get the most recognition, to those who get the least.
5. Trevor van Riemsdyk
A former Chicago Blackhawk and 2015 Stanley Cup Champion, the hype surrounding Trevor van Riemsdyk has slowed down over the years, though he, as a player, definitely has not. The younger van Riemsdyk brother doesn’t make his mark using scoring. In fact, if someone were to just look at his point totals, they would probably think that he wasn’t a great player. In 174 career NHL games, all of them being with the Blackhawks besides 16 so far this season, he has just 33 points (eight goals and 25 assists). But one look at his Corsi-For Percentage (CF%) will change even the most stubborn of minds.
In all but two games so far this season, van Riemsdyk’s CF% has been above 50, which is amazing. In fact, it hasn’t dropped below 30 and has only been below 44.83 in one game. This month, his lowest has been 52%, which is still a great number. The biggest advantage that comes with the blue-liner is his age. Trevor van Riemsdyk is just 26 years old, which can mean only one thing: that the best is yet to come.
4. Keith Yandle
Most teams would trade away the world and more for a player with the range of talent that Keith Yandle has. He can definitely put up points when he needs to, with 41 (five goals and 36 assists with Florida Panthers in 2016-2017) and 47 (five goals and 42 assists with New York Rangers in 2015-2016) points in the past two seasons, respectively. He also has a huge amount of grit. Yandle is currently riding an iron-man streak, having played all 82 games for the past two seasons. He has also played all 20 games so far this season, putting him on pace for another long campaign. Over these 20 games, Yandle has 11 points (three goals and eight assists) already.
In addition to his regular season numbers, Yandle has shown that he can hold his own in the postseason. In 51 career playoff games, he has 31 points (six goals and 25 assists). To top it off, this defenseman’s advanced stats are impressive as well, with a 70.97 CF% right off the bat in his first game this year. He has only dropped below 50% in nine games so far this season. One of the reasons why Yandle is often overlooked is due to the fact that his forte is in assists rather than goals. But under contract until the 2022-2023 season, this 31-year-old has shown that he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
3. Tyson Barrie
Unfortunately, Tyson Barrie has been a product of the “good player on a bad team” epidemic. The Colorado Avalanche were simply the worst team in the NHL last season. They went 6-0-0 in a promising preseason run before going 22-56-4 in the regular season. They recorded just 48 points. However, they were able to find a bright spot in the young Tyson Barrie. He has, though very quietly, been one of the defensemen with the most points over the past few seasons. During the 2014-2015 season, he reached a career high of 53 points, coming in the form of 12 goals and 41 assists. Next season, he finished out 2015-2016 with 49 points (13 goals and 36 assists) in two fewer games than the prior season. Last year, he played four fewer games than the season before and came just 11 points short of that year’s total number of points. He notched seven goals and 31 assists for a total of 38 points in 74 games.
This is a great point total for someone on a team struggling so badly. His success has carried over into this season. The blue-liner already has 16 points (two goals and 14 assists) in just 18 games. The advanced stats support it too; his CF% has only dropped below 40% three times so far this season, and his high thus far is 66.67%. This 26-year-old is definitely on his way to making a name for himself in the National Hockey League. As long as his team improves (which they seem to be on their way to doing already) he will hopefully get the recognition that he deserves sooner rather than later.
2. T.J. Brodie
To be honest, I didn’t know who T.J. Brodie was until someone suggested him for this article to me on Twitter (shoutout to @FatherSergachev!) a little while before I wrote it. After a look through his highlights and statistics, I knew he had to be included here.
Though a little bit streaky, he doesn’t get nearly the amount of credit that he deserves. The 27-year-old is off to a hot start so far this season, with 14 points (two goals and 12 assists) in just 19 games. He played all 82 games last season and collected 36 points (six goals and 30 assists) along the way. His CF% can be a little up-and-down, but Brodie has already passed 50% in eight out of 19 games played so far this season. If he got a little bit of help from the team surrounding him, his success could definitely become more consistent. T.J. Brodie could be on his way to becoming a big, or at least recognizable, name in the NHL.
1. Thomas Hickey
I already got it out of the way that I had no idea who T.J. Brodie was before writing this article. So, humor me… how many of you actually know who Thomas Hickey is? I’ll be honest, I was completely unaware of his existence until going to a few Islander games last year. He immediately stood out to me as one of the defensemen showing the most effort and trying the hardest out of the whole team. Hickey is one of those players whose point totals definitely do not do him justice. Someone who ignores statistics other than goals/assists or thinks the “eye test” is more reliable than anything else simply can’t recognize his skill.
So I’d like to ask you all to take a step back from your respective biases for a second and just consider this. A CF% that is considered “good” is 50% or above. In Hickey’s first game of the season, he came out of the gate at 62.50%. His number has only been below 40% four times and below 50% seven times so far this season. The kicker? He has only played 16 out of the Islanders’ 20 games. He is often benched in favor of players Dennis Seidenberg, whose CF% has only reached 60% once, his highest so far this season. If Hickey can show this much promise in just a few games, this 28-year-old could really elevate the play of the New York Islanders as a team if he is granted a regular roster spot. Hopefully, some league-wide recognition will come along with it.
Do you agree with our picks? Who do you think the most underrated defensemen in the NHL are? Tweet us your reactions: @PuckItUpBlog.
Want a refresher on the stat mentioned in this article (Corsi-For Percentage, or CF%)? Click here.