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January 17, 2013
NHL Preview
Top 10 Projected Defensemen

by Robert Vollman and ESPN Insider

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Every season, we use the cold, dispassionate eye of the VUKOTA projection system to predict who will be the league's top defensemen. Even with the retirement of the legendary Nicklas Lidstrom, a Swede still finished on top.

Here are the top 10 projected defensemen for the 2013 NHL season, along with their predicted goals versus threshold mark for the 48-game campaign:

1. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators: 9.5 GVT

It was an interesting offseason for Karlsson, having signed a seven-year extension with the Senators the day before winning the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman -- the third-youngest winner ever, and the second Swede. After getting married later in the summer, Karlsson left to tear up the Finnish league, where he was recently suspended for sliding his stick at an official. Karlsson's offensive contributions are well established, having outscored every other defenseman by at least 25 points last season, but he has unfortunately picked up an unfair reputation for being poor defensively despite faring just fine against top opponents with only Filip Kuba (now in Florida) at his side.

2. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues: 8.3 GVT

A classic complete defenseman that was strangely overlooked in the Norris race, Pietrangelo ranked behind only Phoenix's Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Chicago's Brent Seabrook in our "do-it-all index" (which measures 10 different areas of contribution, including scoring, hitting, blocking shots, drawing penalties, and so on). Up from seventh place last season, there is perhaps an injury risk stemming from al the offer sheets that will likely come his way if St. Louis doesn't extend this RFA by season's end. Paper cuts can be nasty.

3. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets: 7.8 GVT

One of the victims of Chicago's salary cap crisis after its 2010 Stanley Cup victory, Byfuglien was the Blackhawks' loss but also Winnipeg's gain, as he enjoyed his second consecutive 53-point season with the Jets. A hard, physical defenseman, Big Buff is an offensive force who is not afraid of the tough matchups and could potentially find himself back on top of this list with some improved conditioning.

4. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators: 7.4 GVT

An Olympic gold medalist, Weber set a new record by agreeing to a $110 million, 14-year contact with the Flyers, which included a $68 million bonus. Fortunately for Predators fans, Nashville matched the offer for their captain, who was runner-up for the Norris Trophy two years ago and ranked second on this list last season. Unfortunately, he'll be skating without his blue-line partner, Ryan Suter, who signed with the Minnesota Wild.

5. Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues: 7.1 GVT

Acquired from Colorado in the Erik Johnson deal, Shattenkirk, who turns 24 this month, is an offensive-minded gem and could quickly advance up this list with improved discipline and defensive play. Coming off back-to-back 43-point seasons, Shattenkirk had six points in 12 games in the Finnish league, and like teammate Pietrangelo, will also be an RFA at season's end.

6. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins: 7.0 GVT

An offensive phenom with 42 points in 51 games last year, Letang had just signed a deal in the KHL mere days before the lockout came to an end. The 25-year-old Letang, who was once known for unfortunate lapses in defense and discipline, has greatly rounded out his game over the past couple of seasons.

7. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins: 7.0 GVT

The 6-foot-9 Slovakian, best known for the league's hardest slap shot, for winning the Norris Trophy in 2009 and for introducing us to the word "stanchion," is as complete a player as a defenseman can get. Chara has been staying in shape in the KHL by repeatedly laying out his good friend Miroslav Satan, so you can only guess what he'll do to his enemies. Now 35 years old, Chara is signed until he's 40.

8. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings: 6.4 GVT

A 2012 Stanley Cup winner and 2010 Olympic gold medalist, Doughty's point totals may have been slightly down since his monster 59-point effort in 2009-10, but that was partly due to an early concussion and having been focused primarily on developing an elite defensive game by new Kings coach Darryl Sutter. When trying to select this year's Norris threats, remember that Doughty is only 23 years old, and had an amazing 16 points and a plus-11 this past postseason.

9. Alexander Edler, Vancouver Canucks: 6.3 GVT

Edler won the lineup lottery in Vancouver last season, inheriting Christian Ehrhoff's nice assignment of playing in the offensive zone with Henrik and Daniel Sedin, leading to a career-high 49 points. A legitimate offensive catalyst in his own right, Edler has unfortunately been struggling with a back injury, which may place a lot of the more physical and defensive responsibilities on his new partner, Jason Garrison (formerly of Florida). Edler becomes a UFA at season's end.

10. Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks: 6.3 GVT

The underrated star defenseman, who was eighth on our list last year, came within just two points of earning his fourth straight 50-point season, and his seventh in the past nine. Having shown few signs of slowing down with age -- Boyle turned 36 this past July -- the 2010 Olympic gold medalist and 2004 Stanley Cup champion remains one of the league's top two-way defensemen.

A version of this story originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Robert by clicking here or click here to see Robert's other articles.

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