The NHL’s Best non-Elite Defensemen in 2021

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Defensive Defencemen – Colton Parayko

Few human beings are as big as Colton Parayko but can move with such deceptive ease. The only other one in the NHL who immediately comes to mind is Tyler Myers.

With Pietrangelo’s departure, Parayko’s time to shine is 2021. But with Torey Krug’s addition, it’s likely he will continue to get a break from the PP. Parayko averaged just 0:46 per night.

  • TOI: 100%
  • TOI vs. elite comp: 98%
  • Pts: 37%
  • Corsi Diff: 27%
  • (+/-): 58%
  • Blocks: 57%
  • Hits: 45%

Overall Score: 60%

First of all, Parayko got a tough assignment last year. He was among the league’s leaders in TOI (adjusted for missed games) and TOI vs. elite comp.

Although he is an excellent puck transporter, Parayko’s offensive production reflects the fact he only gets 0:46 a night on the Power Play. Eight goals actually isn’t that bad for an even-strength defenseman.

Parayko also plays a tough, physical game (pic related), which likely contributed to the injury.

What hurt Parayko’s score the most was his Corsi. The team was better when he wasn’t on the ice. That may have had something to do with Pietrangelo bringing the average up.

Now, it’s important to note that Pietrangelo wasn’t sheltering Parayko in St. Louis last year. It was the other way around, and I made that point when I ranked Pietrangelo at number nine on my list of top ten #1 D. Pietrangelo may have gotten a high Corsi, but he should have because he played so few minutes against elite comp. That was Parayko’s job.

In fact, it is hard to fathom St. Louis leaning any harder on Parayko in 2021 than they did in 2020. I’d be worried for the Blues if that was the case.

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Defensive Defensemen – Jaccob Slavin

Jaccob Slavin shouldered heavy responsibility after their #1 D Dougie Hamilton (number four on my list) went down. In fact, Slavin finished with more even more Norris votes than Hamilton. Last year, Slavin was 5th in Norris voting while Hamilton was seventh.

  • TOI: 95%
  • TOI vs. elite comp: 99%
  • Pts: 49%
  • Corsi Diff: 56%
  • (+/-):100%
  • Blocks: 54%
  • Hits: 21%

Overall Score: 68%

The Carolina Hurricanes were a strong team at even strength, and Slavin was one of the reasons. The team was marginally better when he was on the ice. And he got tough minutes against elite comp, and he got a lot of minutes.

Of course, limited PP duty probably helped. Slavin only averaged 0:54 per night.

One curious exception is Slavin’s hits, which suggest he’s not an overly physical player in his end. But his overall score was 68 percent, which is a very high score.

Now, I’m not going to suggest that Jaccob Slavin is as good as Victor Hedman (who also scored 68 percent, good for second in the top-ten). But a high score seems to agree with Slavin’s Norris treatment.

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Defensive Defensemen – Darnell Nurse

There’s a controversial narrative in Edmonton that Darnell Nurse somehow didn’t rise to the occasion last year.

The controversy about Nurse relates to offense. I don’t define him as a #1 D because he doesn’t spend much time on the PP – he averaged just 1:03 per game. Nurse still posts a healthy amount of offense, but as I stated in an earlier article, I contended that his point shots weren’t leading to much offensive opportunity.

That being said, I don’t dispute that Nurse is a key player for the Oilers. He’s a big, intimidating, physical (and durable) puck transporter. He wins battles in his own end, moves up and down the ice well, and likes to activate on offense. That’s a rare and valuable skill set, even if his point shots are less effective. And he plays big-time minutes for the Oilers. On other teams, he’d be more insulated. So I want to put his value into perspective here.

  • TOI: 101%
  • TOI vs. elite comp: 94%
  • Pts: 43%
  • Corsi Diff: 58%
  • (+/-): 38%
  • Blocks: 68%
  • Hits: 80%

Overall Score: 69%

You will note that Nurse scored 101 percent for Time on Ice. What that means is he was on the ice more than the highest player I tested when assembling the top-ten. By the way, that player was Drew Doughty.

Nurse was among the league leaders in TOI and in TOI vs. elite comp. So does it come as any surprise that his (+/-) suffered? With the injuries to Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson, Nurse and (rookie sensation) Ethan Bear literally carried the blue line on their shoulders last year.

In other words, Nurse got a slightly less difficult assignment than Parayko yet still managed to make his team tangibly better when he was on the ice. And he didn’t take any nights off.

And like Parayko, it was a gritty assignment. In fact, it was even grittier – Nurse was among the league leaders in hits and blocked shots.

He might not have gotten the Norris love that Jaccob Slavin did, but his overall score was higher. And this causes me to think that regardless of whether my methodology holds up, Nurse’s impact is highly underappreciated by many fans.

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Defensive Defensemen – Alex Edler

In prior years, Edler probably was a legit #1 D in Vancouver, but his lack of Power Play time has hurt his contention this year (1:11 on the PP). Still, though, I was surprised to learn that he had such an excellent overall score.

  • TOI: 89%
  • TOI vs. elite comp: 85%
  • Pts: 52%
  • Corsi Diff: 52%
  • (+/-): 67%
  • Blocks: 95%
  • Hits: 60%

Overall Score: 71%

Perhaps Edler shows what a legit #1 D can really do when they get a night off from the PP.

However, Edler seems to have gotten even more of a break. His TOI was low, and his competition wasn’t overly elite. On the other hand, his blocks were off the chart, and both his hits and plus/minus were very strong.

Given his age and injury problems in recent years, I believe Edler is frequently overlooked. In reality, he was highly effective last year, even if his minutes were somewhat favorable and his sample size small.

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Defensive Defensemen – Charlie McAvoy

With Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug leaving in the offseason, Charlie McAvoy may need to become Boston’s #1 D. But based on his performance last year; the Bruins organization might think he’s ready.

  • TOI: 97%
  • TOI vs. elite comp: 105%
  • Pts: 44%
  • Corsi Diff: 59%
  • (+/-): 88%
  • Blocks: 67%
  • Hits: 65%

Overall Score: 75%

McAvoy’s point production wasn’t exceptional. Perhaps if he gets more opportunity on the PP, that will change. He averaged just 1:20 last year. But other than that, he was very strong in every other category.

And 75 percent is about as good as it gets on this list. Roman Josi topped the top ten #1 D list with an overall score of 74 percent. Once again, that isn’t to say that McAvoy is better than Josi. But that does show how exceptional McAvoy’s year was. And at just 23, there is room for improvement.

I think McAvoy’s overall score also reflects the opinions of Norris voters. He finished tenth in that race.

On the flip side, there are the Defensemen who spend most of their time on the Power Play and almost no time on the Penalty Kill. And in fact, the four players I am going to look at next spent virtually no time on the PK at all.

As with the Defensive Defensemen, comparisons with the top ten #1 D should be avoided since the criteria is different. Spending no time at all on the PK makes a Defenseman’s overall job easier.