NHL History: 30 best players in the 21st century (Updated 2023)

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Erik Karlsson
Erik Karlsson: (Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports) /

30 best NHL players of the 21st century: 5. Erik Karlsson

Erik Karlsson’s placement as one of the best defensemen of all time doesn’t have the standing that it did before his trade to the San Jose Sharks, but it’s impossible to deny just how good he was just a couple of years ago.

Karlsson’s ability to skate out of trouble is equal to that of just about every forward short of Connor McDavid. His skating might be the best we’ve ever seen out of a defenseman. His vision mixed with his skating ability has been the catalyst for thousands of breakouts during his career. His offensive ability was second to none, and it vaulted him into the discussion for the best of his generation.

Now, injuries have put him way down the list, but his time with the Ottawa Senators made him undoubtedly the best defenseman in the league. He’s a two-time Norris Trophy winner and twice he finished second in voting. He led the league in assists in 2015-16, and he constantly finds himself in the top ten in Hart Trophy voting despite defensemen getting little to no love for the award.

Karlsson had such an impact on the ice because of the ridiculous amount of time he was playing. He regularly plays between 24 and 28 minutes per game. Even now after some unfortunate lower-body injuries, he’s able to carry the load with more than 24 minutes for the Sharks. With the Senators, he could play 30 minutes in big games. Whether looking at traditional stats or advanced stats, Karlsson was dominant. He had point shared north of double digits five times throughout his career.

He has two runs to the conference finals where he put up close to a point per game, but he’s missing that one true run to the Stanley Cup. He’s only 30 years old, so it’s too early to give up on that dream. However, seeing defensemen starting to hit a wall at 30 (seen Subban, P.K.), there are some worries about his future. Witnessing what he’s done to this point is undeniable. He was the best defenseman of the 2010s.