Where do top pairing defensemen come from?
I was “in conversation” with some Oiler fans last night…pretty much all of whom are counting on Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse to soon be a cheap source of high level defensive acumen while the team spends all its resources on the top 6 forwards it has received via the draft.
That may happen but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Let’s take a look at the best defensemen in the WC and how they got to the NHL.
Anaheim: Hampus Lindholm – Drafted 6th overall in 2012. Spent part of 1 season in the AHL and made an immediate impact in the NHL at the age of 20. (6G 30P +29)
Arizona: Oliver Ekman – Larsson – Drafted 6th overall in 2009. Made an immediate impact in the NHL immediately after being drafted.
Calgary: Here is your outlier. Mark Giordano was never drafted but instead spent 4 seasons bouncing between the Flames, the AHL and Russia before finding his game.
Chicago: Duncan Keith – Another crooked development path as Keith was drafted in the 2nd round in 1983 and spent 2 full seasons in the AHL before becoming an NHL regular. (this was before the salary cap era which pushes teams to have more cheap youngsters on their rosters.)
Colorado: – Erik Johnson – Drafted 1st overall in 2006 and played in the NHL as an 18 year old.
Dallas: Alex Goligoski -Picked in the 2nd round in 2004 but made his NHL debut as an 18 year old.
Los Angeles Kings: Drew Doughty – Picked 2nd overall in 2008 and made an immediate impact in the NHL as an 18 year old.
Minnesota: Ryan Suter – Picked 6th overall in 2003 (again pre-cap) and spent 1 season in the AHL but made an impact in the NHL as a 20 year old
Nashville: Shea Weber – Picked in the 2nd round (OMG) in the generational 2003 draft. That was the draft that also produced Suter, Burns, Coburn, Phaneuf, Seabrook, Stuart, Klein and Carle who were all taken before Weber. Weber spent part of 1 season in the AHL but was already a beast at 21 year of age.
San Jose: Brent Burns – Drafted 20th overall in 2003 and spent 1 season in the AHL.
St. Louis: Alex Pietrangelo – Drafted 4th overall in 2008. Spent another year in junior but was an impact player as a 20 year old.
Vancouver: Alex Edler – Drafted in the 3rd round in 2008. Spent part of 1 season in the AHL but was an NHL regular at the age of 21.
Winnipeg: Tyler Myers – Drafted 12th overall in 2008. Won rookie of the year in the NHL and then struggled. With noting the Jets also have Jacob Trouba who was selected 9th overall in 2012 and spent one year in NCAA hockey before making an impact in the NHL at the age of 21.
So, that brings us to Klefbom and Nurse.
Klefbom was 19th overall in 2011 and despite showing some promise in 60 games this season at the age of 21. One would think, if he’s going to emerge as a top pairing D, we should see evidence of that next season. If that doesn’t happen, I would think he career trajectory would most likely to be compared to that of Alex Edler who I believe might be the weakest #1D on this list.
Nurse was elected 7th overall in the 2013 draft and is spending another season in junior hockey and may need a season in the AHL before becoming an NHL regular. As you can see from the above, that would be very unusual for a player with his draft pedigree considering most of the players on this list were impact players at the age of 20-21.
Obviously, every player has a different development path that is affected by all sorts of factors but it is also pretty clear that elite defenders emerge very early,
And, almost without exception, you cannot win a Stanley Cup without one.