When teams draft defensemen, they don't do so to fill current needs - they are drafting for the future, and only with superstar-caliber players, the near future.
Defensemen generally take a long time to develop, so offensive defensemen are at a premium. Almost every team in the NHL needs one. This draft has 12-15 solid defensemen, and here's who we see to be the top 10.
1. Seth Jones - 6-4/205
Jones was tied for the longest wingspan at this year’s combine at 81 inches, which is helpful in his line of work. He’s hard to beat one on one, and only a few have been able to. He skates very well and can improve there. Has a pro shot already, especially when he steps up to take it. Jones makes a solid first pass out of the zone, and he has toughness. He flew all night from his game with Portland to Buffalo, and still never lost his legs in the All-American prospects game. He makes opposing players change their route to the net, and players get out of his way when he shoots - plus, he’s a right-handed shot (and that's always in demand). Jones, an American, is a great athlete like his dad Popeye, who had a respectable NBA career. This Winterhawks star could be the first-overall pick in the draft.
2. Ryan Pulock – 6-0/211
This Brandon Wheat Kings star has a slapper that’s over 100 MPH and is the hardest in the draft. He’s a great puck distributor who is deadly on the power play. He skates very well, he’s very strong and plays the corners using his body when necessary. He jumps into the play well. He has terrific stick and puck skills. He can log a ton of minutes, and when he plays with more talented players, he will thrive at the pro level.
3. Rasmus Ristolainen - 6-4/207
This Finn moves the puck well, very well. He plays strong in his own end. He can be a bit of a fire starter from the backend of the ice, a trait that can’t be taught. He moves the puck like a pro on the power play. He is playing against professionals and is improving all the time.
4. Darnell Nurse - 6-5/192
This growing defender skates well. He’s very physical, and he’ll fight to get to the puck as well as defend his Soo teammates. He has strong acceleration, instincts and drive to the net at times. He’s an offensive defenseman with toughness. He has scoring ability, but that’s not the best part of his game. He's a strong defender who needs to work on shutting down faster players. His dad, Richard, was a CFL wide receiver and his uncle is former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. Bloodlines are important.
5. Robert Hagg - 6-2/204
He might be the most overlooked offensive defenseman of the bunch. This Swede is a smooth skater and he goes down low to score when necessary. You can’t be a bad skater with a bigger sheet of ice. He straddles the line well, like an NHLer, and he has a pro shot already. He is a strong power play performer. He uses his size and can be physical.
6. Nikita Zadorov – 6-5/221
This Russian gets the puck out of the zone with safe passes. He has a lot of toughness and he might get stronger. He’s a good enough skater to line up a hit. I’m not sure his offense will translate at the next level, but that’s not why teams want him. He is good defensively, but not exceptional. He will be a shutdown guy if he makes it to the next level. He has excellent mobility and terrific hockey sense. Has a reach of 80.50 inches to boot. He should be on the top pairing for London next year.
7. Ian McCoshen – 6-2/207
He starred for Waterloo in the USHL making excellent first passes. He’s a solid all-around passer, and everybody likes his hockey sense. His solid zone coverage is his most valuable trait. He’s an excellent skater in both ends and he’ll get a lot of playing time at Boston College next year.
8. Chris Bigras - 6-1/189
This Owen Sound rearguard is a solid skating, two-way defenseman. He has a lot of versatility and can play a few different roles. His passing is very solid. He can be a strong safety valve if he needs to play that role. He has a high ceiling.
9. Mirco Mueller - 6-4/185
He was the VO2 test winner at the combine, which is impressive. He’s a solid puck mover who makes an excellent first pass. He has impressed the Silvertips' fans and he’s been climbing the charts all season. He keeps his head up while heading down the ice and he’s very disciplined. He has a frame and offensive game that can be built up over time.
10. Steven Santini – 6-2/207
This native New Yorker is headed to Boston College next year. He knows how to get and keep his position. With his strength and positioning, he moves players to the outside. The active stick is a key component to his game. He will stick up for teammates. He’s a very good skater and can move the puck out of danger very well. There’s not much offense in his game so far, but he does posses a fast, accurate wrist shot.