As we lead up to the beginning of the 2023–24 season, we’ll be breaking the depth charts at key positions for every NHL team to rank them from first to best. Next in our series, we move to the defence corps for every team.
Any true contender is built from the back out and without a solid well-balanced group on defence, a team will struggle to keep up come playoff time.
#1 Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes are absolutely loaded on the back end. Arguably the league’s top group already, they went out and added Orlov and DeAngelo for good measure. Slavin leads the group as the best defensive defenceman in the world and a top 10 player in his position.
Burns isn’t what he once was, but alongside Slavin, he’s revived his career and is still a top-pairing defenceman. Add in some incredible depth in Pesce and Orlov, both of whom would be top pairing guys on most teams and the Hurricanes have depth no other team can match.
#2 Colorado Avalanche
When healthy, Makar is the best defenceman in the world and a true franchise talent. Toews meanwhile is among the best two-way defenders in the world and together they form the best top pairing in the league.
22-year-old Byram has the makings of a top pairing defenceman if he can stay healthy and finally break out. Even if he doesn’t he’s still a solid second pairing option. Manson and Girard provide solid depth behind the Avs’ top three options and create a strong group from top to bottom.
#3 Boston Bruins
It’s fair to say McAvoy doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a locked-in top-five defenceman in the NHL. His two-way play is nearly unmatched across the league. Along with Grzelcyk who is a great player in his own right the duo have combined to form one of the best pairings in the NHL.
Lindholm has dialled his game up a notch since coming to Boston and is a luxury on the second pairing. Add in a strong defensive defender in Carlo and that’s a rock-solid top four. The bottom-pairing is a little dicey but you can do much worse.
#4 Calgary Flames
The Flames don’t possess a truly elite number-one defenceman, but what they do have is arguably the deepest group in the league top to bottom. Weegar saw his point totals drop last season but remained an elite defender and would be a number-one defender on most teams. Andersson meanwhile is coming off back-to-back 50-point pace seasons and is a dependable top pairing defender.
Hanifin is a perfect complementary piece in the top-four who can rack up minutes and on some teams is a top pairing guy. When healthy Tanev is one of the best defensive defencemen in the NHL and like Hanifin would be considered a top pairing guy on a lot of teams.
Add in Zadorov who is an incredibly solid fourth or fifth guy and the Flames really have no weaknesses outside of their sixth and final spot with Kylington out long term.
#5 Vegas Golden Knights
The defending champs have one of the most well-rounded groups in the league on the backend. The veteran duo of Martinez and Pietrangelo continues to chug along with Pietrangelo still playing like a number one defenceman at 33.
Theodore and McNabb form perhaps the best second pairing in the league combining Theodore’s high-end offence and McNabb’s defensive prowess. Their third pairing is also solid all around. This is a championship group.
#6 New York Rangers
Fox leads this deep group as a franchise talent and is probably the second-best defencemen in the world behind Makar. Lindgren who is a strong defender has been a perfect fit alongside Fox. Having Miller who is a young top-four defenceman on the rise and the hard-hitting veteran Trouba on your second pairing is a luxury a lot of teams don’t have.
Gustafsson continues to bounce around the league but is still an offensively gifted defenceman and a great fit on a third pairing with prospect Schneider.
#7 Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins completely revamped their blueline this offseason. We all know about Karlsson’s defensive shortcomings but 100 points as a defencemen is unheard of and he will be a force on the Penguins’ top power play unit. Pairing him with the defensively strong Pettersson should be a great pairing.
The Penguins also added Graves who is a solid second-pairing defenceman and an upgrade for them. Add in Letang who is still an offensive threat and a good third-pairing defenceman and the Penguins have one of the best groups in the league.
#8 New Jersey Devils
Hamilton had a breakout 2022–23 season with 74 points and is probably still underrated as an elite number one. His pairing with Siegenthaler was one of the best in the league last season. Marino is also severely underrated as one of the best defensive defencemen in the NHL.
The big wild card is Hughes who is a budding superstar and should immediately make an impact on the team’s second pairing in his rookie season. Adding veteran Miller stabilizes the third pairing and gives the Devils real solid depth.
#9 Los Angeles Kings
Doughty isn’t what he once was but he’s found a second life and is still a decent number one defenceman. Past him, there are no true stars but real solid depth from top to bottom. Anderson and Roy aren’t big names but both posted top-four results last year.
Newcomer Gavrikov fit in perfectly and is a perfect fit on the second pair. Lastly, Clarke has the makings of a future top-pairing defender but for now, he should provide a nice offensive punch as he gets used to the NHL.
#10 Buffalo Sabres
This is a group on the rise that is already among the best in the league. That’s what happens when you have two number-one picks on your blueline. Dahlin finally broke out last year and looked like the franchise talent he was drafted as.
Power meanwhile is still just 20 years old but already looked like a top-four defenceman last year in his rookie season and should only continue to get better. Add in the underrated defensive defencemen Samuelsson and some solid veterans and this is a great group with tons of room to grow.
#11 Tampa Bay Lightning
This ranking is all about the top three names on the depth chart. Not many teams can match the trio the Lightning have. Hedman is still one of the defencemen in the league but his miles are quickly catching up to him. The good news is Tampa Bay has Sergachev waiting in the wings to take over the number one spot after a career year with 64 points.
Cernak is as defensively strong as they come and a perfect fit beside Sergachev. The problem is the depth gets thin really fast after those three which keeps the Lightning out of the top 10.
#12 Edmonton Oilers
What has always been a weakness for the Oilers has now become one of their strengths due to the arrival of Ekholm and Bouchard. Ekholm was the picture-perfect add for the Oilers and is the true number one they’ve needed for so long. Then you’ve got rising star Bouchard who is bound to explode offensively this year alongside Ekholm.
Nurse may be extremely overpaid but he’s still a top-four defenceman. Ceci and Kulak are nothing special but they both provide depth as solid complementary pieces to round out the blueline.
#13 New York Islanders
This is a well-rounded group even if it’s pretty dull. Pelech remains an elite defensive defenceman and solid number one who makes a great pairing with Pulock. Dobson meanwhile has back-to-back 50-point pace seasons and is already a top-four defender at 23.
Then you’ve got Aho who had a great first full season last year along with Romanov who when on his game can be a really solid depth guy. Lastly, Mayfield deserves a call-out as a strong bottom-pairing defender. Overall this is a deep group top to bottom.
#14 Ottawa Senators
The addition of Chychrun last year was an important move for the Senators to take their group to the next level. Chychrun may not be a true number one but he’s a real solid second or third option. Sanderson is a blue-chip prospect who looked great in his rookie season. His progression to a true number one would be big for the Senators.
Chabot has been on the cusp of being a number one but his defensive game is lacking still. The depth isn’t too shabby either as Zub is an underrated defensive defender and Brannstrom finally showed some of his pre-draft potential last year.
#15 Minnesota Wild
This is a solid group that carries depth from top to bottom even if there isn’t a ton of elite talent. Spurgeon is a number one defencemen due to his strong underlying numbers even if he doesn’t get the recognition. Brodin is more than fine as a number-two due to his strong defensive impact.
Addison had a down 2022–23 season but still carries some nice potential and with a bounceback is fine on the second pair. Wild card here is Faber and how he adjusts to full-time NHL action. If he can stay afloat it provides the Wild with even more depth alongside a sturdy veteran in Goligoski.
#16 Toronto Maple Leafs
The depth is there but there’s no real number one to speak of which is a tad concerning. Rielly is the best of the bunch but his defensive lapses hold him back from being a true number one.
Brodie is an elite defensive defenceman and is a great number-two or number-three. McCabe is a solid second-pairing guy who should pair nicely with the offence-only Klingberg. If Liljegren can take a step this year that’d take this group higher.
#17 Dallas Stars
Heiskanen’s rise as a top-10 defenceman in the NHL is huge for the Stars who lack any other true stars in their blueline group. Suter has really lost a step in recent years but is at least still a decent complimentary piece in the top four. Lindell meanwhile is a nice underrated defensive defender on the bottom pairing.
The Stars’ hope in rising in these rankings lies in Harley who has the potential to become a locked-in solid top-four defender if he can continue to improve.
#18 Florida Panthers
The Panthers really need Ekblad and Montour back from injury. Montour came out of nowhere last year to go from a good second-pairing defenceman to one of the highest-scoring defenders in the league. The question is was it a fluke?
Ekblad really struggled last year away from Weegar as he looked more like a number two or three than a number one. Forsling will be the Panthers’ number one to start the year and while that’s likely out of his depth, he’s a real solid top-four defenceman. Past the top three, there’s not much here.
#19 Nashville Predators
Josi is absolutely carrying this group because the drop-off after him is massive. The 33-year-old remains an elite number one even if his offence dropped a bit from his historic 96-point season. Past that, there’s not much to write home about.
McDonagh is an okay second-pairing option at this point but not much more. Barrie as always is good offensively and dreadful defensively. Fabbro has some nice upside at least.
#20 Seattle Kraken
Vince Dunn’s ascension to number one defender last year with 66 points is big for a Seattle group that is lacking high-end talent. Larsson and Oleksiak are two highly dependable veteran defensive defencemen and are good pieces to complement Dunn.
Borgren and Dumoulin are decent options to have for the bottom of the rotation but there’s not much upside at all there.
#21 Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings revamped their blueline and while it’s certainly better there are still some weak points. Seider’s step back last year really hurt as he’s the only player with number-one upside. Walman was outstanding last season and the hope is he can form a solid top-pairing duo with Seider.
The second pairing of Chiarot and Petry is less than ideal. Petry can still play but alongside an anchor like Chiarot, his positive impact will likely be limited. The third pairing looks solid though as both Gostisbehere and Holl are perfectly suited for third pairing roles.
#22 Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets made a point to improve their blueline this offseason and while they did, they still have one of the weaker groups in the NHL. Werenski is the only bonafide top-pairing guy and can be a true number one when healthy. The new guys in Severson and Provorov provide solid depth in the top four but neither are major needle movers.
If Boqvist can finally take a step it would go a long way to move the Blue Jackets up a couple of spots.
#23 Vancouver Canucks
There’s Hughes and Hronek and then it gets thin real fast. Hughes looked like a bonafide number one last year after fixing his defensive issues and is one of the best offensive defencemen in the NHL. Hronek broke out in 2022–23 and is a solid top-four option.
Past those two it gets rough. Cole and Soucy are both solid veterans but neither have really played higher than in a third pairing role so there’s some major risk for the Canucks there.
#24 Winnipeg Jets
Morrissey’s breakout as a number one defenceman last year is a godsend for the Jets who are really lacking in the top-four defencemen department. They really need him to repeat that this year and show it wasn’t a fluke. DeMelo, Dillion and Schmidt are all solid veterans but would be better suited as complimentary pieces versus top four options.
If Pionk can bounce back to his 2020–21 it would go a long way to improving their group but until then it’s not great.
#25 Washington Capitals
Carlson remains one of the best offensive defenceman in the NHL but after him, there’s a big drop off in terms of high-end talent. Sandin looked great in his short stint last year but we’ll need to see him perform at that level longer before we can consider him a bonafide top pairing defender.
Jensen and TVR are both solid and provide the Capitals with some nice depth but they aren’t needle movers. Fehervary is an exciting talent but has a ways to go until he’s a proven top-four option.
#26 St. Louis Blues
The Blues top four takes a massive amount of cap space but doesn’t come close to living up to that cap hit. All four of Parayko, Leddy, Krug and Faulk have positives in their game but are massively overpaid and past their primes. This group will only continue to get worse.
Perunovich is the only player with real upside but not enough to save the Blues in these rankings.
#27 Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes added some solid top-four pieces to their blueline this offseason to give them a respectable group. Unfortunately, it’s still one of the league’s weakest as they lack any true top pairing defenders.
Dumba and Durzi are good additions who bring some much-needed experience to their blueline but both are second-pairing guys at best. Moser and Valimaki bring some nice upside but again both are second or third pairing players on most teams.
#28 Anaheim Ducks
There’s a ton of upside in this group with Drysdale and Zellweger both having top pairing potential but for now this is one of the weakest bluelines in the league. Fowler remains a solid defenceman but is nowhere close to a number one at this point in his career.
Gudas is a good veteran add who can stabilize the Ducks’ second pairing while the young guys get ready for bigger roles.
#29 Montreal Canadiens
Take a look at this group and you can understand why the Canadiens reached for Reinbacher at the draft this summer. The Habs lack any true top-pairing defenders and are pretty short on top-four defenders too. Guhle looked solid in his first season and with another step would provide the Habs a big boost in their top four.
Matheson looked great in his first year as a Hab and for now, is out of his depth as a number-one. Harris and Xhekaj are solid young pieces but likely top out as second-pairing defencemen.
#30 Philadelphia Flyers
Sanheim’s collapse last season took the Flyers group from bad to worse. They desperately need him to bounce back in 2023–24 and look like a top-four defender again. York offers some intriguing upside but is still a year or two away from being a bonafide top-four option.
Past those two it gets very rough and very quickly. There’s a long way to go in Philadelphia.
#31 Chicago Blackhawks
This very much looks like the defence corps of a team that just drafted first overall. Jones is massively overpaid but can at least still operate as a solid top-four defenceman. He desperately needs more talent around him though. Korchinski is the main piece here as the blue-chip prospect has sky-high potential but is still very raw and has no pro experience.
#32 San Jose Sharks
Is this one of the worst defence groups of the salary cap era? There isn’t much of anything to like here as the Sharks’ blueline is filled with washed-up veterans or middling NHLers. This is a group built to win the first overall pick.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire