Because of the presence of Erik Karlsson, the Ottawa Senators are going to have a very good top defensive duo compared to other teams in the league.
Marc Methot isn’t going to provide a lot of offensive explosiveness, but he plays a steady stay-at-home game on the defensive end.
When looking at other teams in the Atlantic Division, the Senators definitely have one of the better top duos among the teams.
The Florida Panthers have Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle as their top duo. Ekblad was the 1st overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, and he’s already showing tremendous promise.
Ekblad is only 20 years old. In two full seasons in the NHL, he registered 39 points in his rookie season and 36 points in his sophomore campaign.
He has great size, skating ability, and offensive instincts. He’s only going to get better as he gets more seasoned.
His partner Yandle is also an asset. Yandle was traded from the Rangers this offseason before he could hit free agency.
When healthy, Yandle is dependable to produce at least 40 points. He’s a bit undersized, but is speedy and a nice puck handler.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman as their top duo. Hedman stands at towering 6’6’’, and has fantastic mobility for a guy his size.
He excels at both ends of the ice. He’s a great passer and can also operate as a shutdown blueliner. The former 2nd overall pick in 2009 had 47 points last season.
Stralman is on the opposite end of the size spectrum compared to his partner, standing at just 5’11’’.
While his size limits the type of physicality he can play with, he has good shooting ability and is a solid puck-moving defenseman.
Since going to the Lightning, Stralman’s offensive production has increased. He has three seasons of more than 34 points in his career, and two of them have come in the last two seasons.
The Detroit Red Wings are going to have Danny DeKeyser and Mike Green as their first pair on defense. DeKeyser is a good passer, and scored a career high 8 goals last season.
However, his assist totals dropped from 29 in 2014-2015 to 12 in 2015-2016, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can rebound this season.
Green is no longer the 31 goal scorer he was in Washington in 2008-2009, but he still provides solid production.
His shooting skills are well documented, and as an offensive-oriented defenseman he does a great job of facilitating.
The Boston Bruins are going to probably pair the lefty Zdeno Chara with righty Kevan Miller on that top duo, although who ultimately gets that right spot next to Chara is still somewhat unclear.
Chara is 39 years old, but still has a canon of a slap shot, and is one of the hardest hitters around. The physicality he plays with at 6’9’’ 250 LBS has always made him one of the most intimidating shutdown defenseman in the league.
Miller provides a physical presence, but isn’t a great skater. The offensive production hasn’t really been there from him.
The Montreal Canadiens are probably going to deploy lefty Nathan Beaulieu as the partner for righty Shea Weber.
The Canadiens traded P.K. Subban for Weber in a swap with the Nashville Predators this offseason. Both guys are two of the best defenseman in hockey.
When healthy, Weber is more than capable of scoring at least 20 goals and dishing out more than 30 assists. At 6’4’’ and 236 LBS, Weber can dominate opposing players. He’s a great all-around defenseman.
Beaulieu had the best season of his young career last year, scoring 19 points in 64 games. That was an improvement on his 9 point output in the same number of games in 2014-2015.
He has good mobility, and it’ll be interesting to see if he makes strides playing alongside Weber this next season.
The Sabres are probably going to have a top duo consisting of Dmitry Kulikov and Rasmus Ristolainen next season, although Ristolainen comes with an asterisk as of now.
Kulikov is speedy and has nice shooting ability as an offensive-oriented defenseman. The former 14th overall pick in the 2009 NHL Draft still needs some work on the defensive end, though.
Ristolainen more than doubled his career high in points last season, finishing with 41. Ristolainen is currently a restricted free agent, though, and isn’t expected to re-sign before the World Cup of Hockey.
However, assuming that a contract can eventually get worked out, Ristolainen brings a lot of talent to the Sabres.
His defense is still raw, but the offensive game has materialized for the 8th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.
He’s a good skater and owns a great shot. Buffalo would certainly be put at a tremendous disadvantage if he’s not out on the ice by the time the regular season starts.
The Maple Leafs look like they’re going to have a top duo consisting of Morgan Rielly and Matt Hunwick .
Rielly is an extremely promising young defenseman. His point totals have improved every season he has been in the NHL, and scored a career high 36 points last season.
He’s only 22 years old, he’s a great skater and facilitator on the offensive end, and seems to be on an upward trajectory, although it’s fair to point out that his defense isn’t as strong as his offense.
The Hunwick and Rielly pairing is interesting because they’re both lefties, and Rielly is forced to play on his off-side.
Rielly was mostly paired with Hunwick last season. At 5’11’’ and 190 LBS, Hunwick doesn’t have great size for the position.
He’s swift on the ice and is a good puck-mover, but isn’t going to put up many points on offense. He only scored 10 points in 60 games last season.
If I had to rank these duos, I’d probably go Ottawa, Florida, Tampa Bay, Montreal, Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Toronto.
Karlsson is arguably the best defenseman in the entire league, and unquestionably so on offense. His presence alone makes that top duo for the Senators hard to argue against.
Methot does a lot of the little things that allow Karlsson to operate as freely as he does, and the nice balance he provides the partnership is invaluable.
In Florida, Ekblad looks like a future star, and Yandle has been a steady point producer in this league for nearly a decade.
In Tampa Bay, Hedman is a behemoth just two seasons removed from a 55 point season. Stralman is becoming a steady 30 point producer alongside him.
In Montreal, Weber is one of the best defenseman in all of hockey. Subban was a tough piece to give up, but Weber brings an impressive all-around game.
Beaulieu is still young, but hasn’t shown the offensive output necessary to rank this duo higher up on the list, despite Weber consistently hovering in that 45-55 point range.
Boston would presumably be higher with an imposing force like Chara included, but Miller doesn’t inspire the type of confidence a top line defenseman should.
With Buffalo, it’s assuming that the contract dispute with Ristolainen gets resolved, because he looks poised to elevate his game even further next season.
Kulikov is a great skater, but is also inconsistent, and hasn’t matched his offensive production he flashed 6-7 years ago.
With Toronto, Rielly looks like he could be one of the upcoming star defensemen in this league, but Hunwick probably shouldn’t be on that top pairing.
All of these teams have at least one defenseman that really grabs your attention in terms of talent or production. Whether they have multiple guys on that top line is really the distinguishing factor.
Methot is solid defensively, but doesn’t have the statistical production of a typical top-line defenseman. However, he pairs extremely well with Karlsson, who is the best offensive defenseman in the league by a fairly wide margin.
Karlsson lead the league in assists last season, becoming the first defenseman to do so since Bobby Orr in 1973-1974.
Had Karlsson not scored a single goal last season, he still would have ranked 4th among defenseman in points.
He also became the first defenseman since Paul Coffey in 1985-1986 to finish in the top 5 in the NHL in points.
The level Karlsson is at right now is historic, and that distinction gives the Senators the right to claim the top defensive duo in that first pairing in the Atlantic division.