Many consider the NHL the best hockey league in the world. It features many of the best hockey players to lace up skates.
If you play in the NHL, each and every night you are bound to face some tough matchups.
However, certain teams have that one particular player that no one wants to face. The one defender who can dominate physically and seems almost impossible to beat one-on-one.
Below is a list of five of the toughest defenders to play against in the league right now.
Brent Burns – San Jose Sharks
Brent Burns is coming off a spectacular season with the San Jose Sharks. He scored a career high of 29 goals and 76 points in 82 games, meanwhile capturing the 2017 Norris Trophy.
At 6’5″ and 230lbs, he has the size to physically dominate players every time he is on the ice.
Although he is not overly aggressive, Burns occasionally catches people by surprise with some devastating open ice hits.
He is incredibly mobile for such a big defenseman and can cover a lot of ice with his big strides. Apart from that, Burns has superb stick-checking abilities and often knocks the puck off opponent’s sticks with ease.
“Burnzie” averaged over 28 shifts per game last year, which included 24:50 of ice time. He also managed to accumulate 25 points on the powerplay, and over 140 block shots, making him one of the most well-rounded defensemen in the NHL.
As an added bonus, number 88 can also play forward at this level. In that sense, he very much knows how an offensive player thinks, and can better anticipate plays than most NHL defenders.
Dustin Byfuglien – Winnipeg Jets
Dustin Byfuglien might be the most physically dominant hockey player in the NHL right now. In fact, the league probably hasn’t seen anyone like him since Eric Lindros.
The Winnipeg Jets’ defenseman is arguably the most intimidating open ice hitter in the game today.
At 6’5″, 265lbs, there aren’t many players with the size to match and almost anyone who runs into Byfuglien will get the worst of it.
Byfuglien skates well for a man his size and is very sound defensively. He was second amongst NHL defenders in total takeaways last year, finishing only behind Jaccob Slavin of the Carolina Hurricanes. Byfuglien also averaged the most ice-time amongst any defenseman in the NHL last season, at 27:26 minutes per game.
Number 33 has 1673 hits in his NHL career and has averaged 205.5 hits in his past four seasons with the Winnipeg Jets.
Every year he seems to add to his collection of highlight-reel-hits but overall “Big Buff” is not a dirty player by any means. It’s just that he is so much bigger and stronger than everyone else; he can sometimes unintentionally injure the players he runs into.
If you watch closely, you can see that the Minnesota native actually eases up on many of his hits so that he doesn’t hurt his opponents as severely.
Needless to say, whenever you play Winnipeg it is a good idea to keep your head up otherwise, Byfuglien might knock you out into next week.
Shea Weber – Montreal Canadiens
Shea Weber is a big well-rounded defenseman who plays with a bit of a mean streak.
Although he is not as big or mobile as Byfuglien and Burns, the Canadian is one of the more dominant one-on-one defenders in the NHL today.
At 6’4″, 232lbs, he is very big man and rarely loses one-on-one battles in the defensive zone. Weber is often seen overpowering his opponents with pure strength and the ability to deliver the puck out of safety with a crisp breakout pass.
In his past four NHL seasons, he averaged 161 hits and over 25 minutes of ice-time. Weber has scored at least 15 goals or more in those seasons and is a major threat from the point on the powerplay with a career total of 80 power play goals.
Weber is not a fun player to defend against either, as he owns one of the deadliest slap shots in the NHL. The Montreal Canadiens’ blue-liner has won multiple “hardest shot competitions” in previous NHL All-Star games.
Weber once recorded a shot going at 108.5 mph at the skills competition finishing only behind Zdeno Chara for the all-time record. His shot has also has broken shin pads, glasses, bones and went through nets.
Overall, the former Nashville Predators captain is a physical threat on both ends of the ice, which simply makes him one of the toughest defensemen to face in the NHL.
Victor Hedman – Tampa Bay Lightning
Victor Hedman has gradually become one of the best shutdown defenders in the NHL.
Out of everyone on this list, Hedman is probably the best skater and most skilled all-around player.
The Tampa Bay Lightning blueliner is listed at 6’6″ and 223lbs and can skate like the wind, making him one of the most gifted players in the NHL.
Hedman has superb shutdown ability, can block shots (averaging 132 blocks in his past two seasons), and isn’t afraid to finish the body either, amassing 93 hits in 79 games last season.
The part of his game that makes him so difficult to play against is his wonderful defensive positioning and stick-checking abilities. He always seems to be well positioned, which enables him to conserve energy and log big minutes every game.
The Swede averaged almost 25 minutes of ice time last year, most out of any player on the Bolts’ roster. He had a career year in 2016/17, scoring 72 points in 79 games and looks to be a perennial Norris Trophy candidate for the next several years.
Zdeno Chara – Boston Bruins
Although Zdeno Chara is 40-years-old, he is still one of the toughest players to face in the NHL today.
The most obvious place to start is his height; standing at a towering 6’9″ Chara holds the record as the tallest player in the NHL. With skates on, he is closer to seven feet and towers over most NHL players.
Height aside, the Bruins’ captain is 250lbs and knows how to use his size to his advantage.
He is a not great skater but makes up for it with his excellent reach and physical ability. The five-time All-Star does an excellent job of containing his opponents and taking them off the puck physically.
Another thing that makes “the Big Z” so frustrating to play against is his ability to block shots with his big frame. Chara blocked 144 shots last season and averaged 1.9 blocks per game. All in all, it can be rather frustrating for an offensive player to see his shot attempts unable to hit the net.
On top of all this, Chara’s intimidating presence has also played a huge role in helping the Bruins protect their star players. Whether opposing teams admit or not, whenever the Slovak is on the ice, they are probably less likely to take liberties on Boston’s skilled players.
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