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Karlsson, Hamilton, Del Zotto, Hedman, Bogosian, Hamonic: Great D-Men Born in the 1990s

Almost since the beginning of the game itself, media experts, casual observers, even scouts and coaches have claimed that becoming a good National Hockey League defenseman is the most difficult thing any hockey player can accomplish.

“It takes years,” they say. “You just don’t become a good defenseman overnight.”

“Years” used to mean five or six seasons, at least.

Drew Doughty

Drew Doughty

Then along came Drew Doughty. Not since the arrival of Bobby Orr had a young defenseman taken the NHL by storm the way Doughty did. That’s not, in any way, to compare Doughty to Orr. No one can be compared to Orr.

However, when Doughty arrived from the Guelph Storm and Team Canada’s Juniors as an 18-year-old in 2008-09, he stepped right in, played 25 minutes a game and became a first-class NHL defenseman immediately.

Tyler Myers, Buffalo Sabres

Tyler Myers, Buffalo Sabres

Since then, players such as Alex Pietrangelo, Tyler Myers, P.K. Subban, Raphael Diaz, Victor Hedman and Dougie Hamilton have stepped right in and played. And played well, too.

The advent of the great, young defenseman isn’t necessarily a new thing, but never before have as many players 23 or younger emerged so quickly on the scene and becoming such terrific players in the process.

Today, we’re going to take a close look at the 12 best defensemen in the NHL who were born in 1990 or later. There are significantly more good, young defensemen in the NHL than there are goaltenders and there are even more important young defensemen in the NHL than there are important forwards.

Let’s take a close look:

The 12 Top Defensemen in the NHL born in 1990 or later:

Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators

Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators

1. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators: The 2011-12 Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s best defenseman, Karlsson was recently injured on a play that appeared to be a clear attempt to seriously injure as Matt Cooke lifted his skate and jabbed it hard into Karlsson’s ankle, slicing his Achilles and putting him out for the season. It was an horrendously reckless play on Cooke’s part (unless it was, indeed, done on purpose) and it put the NHL’s best defenseman on the sidelines for the remainder of the year. At the time, the 6-foot, 175-pounder from Landsbro, Sweden had six goals and 10 points in 14 games after leading the NHL in scoring last year with 19 goals and 78 points. He’s a great player (born May 31, 1990) who should bounce back and be great again next season.

2. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues: The 6-foot-3, 205-pound righthanded shot from King City, Ont., was the fourth overall pick in the 2008 NHL entry draft. Born Jan. 18, 1990, Pietrangelo didn’t really burst onto the scene. He played a couple of years with Canada’s national junior team and then became a regular in St. Louis in 2010-11. He has 12 points in 14 games this season while averaging 28 minutes of ice time per game.

3. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning: The more you watch him play, the more you’re impressed with the way he goes about his business. Born on Dec. 18, 1990, he’s 6-foot-6, 235 pounds and is simply a stud on the point. He was the No. 1 pick by the Lightning (second overall) in 2009 out of Orskoldsvik, Sweden, and he’s been a star since the day he arrived. This year’s he’s averaging 25:30 per game and has four points and eight points in Tampa’s first 14 games. He can skate, hit, move the puck and has a huge shot. If the Lightning ever starts winning on a regular basis, he’ll be a Norris Trophy candidate.

Zach Bogosian, Winnipeg Jets

Zach Bogosian, Winnipeg Jets

4. Zach Bogosian, Winnipeg Jets: Back in the Jets lineup last Friday night after missing the early part of the lockout-shortened season due to wrist surgery last spring, Bogo (born: July 15, 1990) stepped right in and played 25 minutes and 38 seconds against Pittsburgh. He was one of the best players on the ice. The third overall pick in 2008, Bogosian is big, strong and can really move the puck quickly. From Massena, N.Y., he played junior in Peterborough and is developing into one of the best stay-at-home D-men in the NHL.

Dougie Hamilton, Boston Bruins

Dougie Hamilton, Boston Bruins

5. Dougie Hamilton, Boston Bruins: It’s all in the genes. Dougie Hamilton’s mom is Lynn Polson, a member of Canada’s national women’s basketball team that played in the 1984 Olympics. His dad, Doug Hamilton, was a rower in the same Olympic Games. Born on Jan. 17, 1993, Dougie is 6-foot-5, 200 pounds and he’s been placed alongside Zdeno Chara on the Bruins defense and stepped right in like a veteran. The ninth overall draft pick in 2011, he’s big, strong, tough and yet, he does not have even a minor penalty in the first 12 games of his rookie season. He’s going to be one of the best players in the NHL.

MIchael Del Zotto, New York Rangers

MIchael Del Zotto, New York Rangers

6. Michael Del Zotto, New York Rangers: From Souffville, Ont., Del Zotto was born June 24, 1990 and was the 20th overall pick by the Rangers in 2008. Just 6-foot, 190-pounds, he has such tremendous skill that he’s become the leader on a very good Rangers team. He has two goals and four assists this season after stepping right in as a regular in 2009-10. One scout said, “He’s just a solid, honest player who will have a long, productive career.” It doesn’t get any better than that.

7. Slava Voynov, Los Angeles Kings: Born Jan. 15, 1990 in Chelyabinsk, Russia, Voynov averages 25 minutes a game and was sensational in last season’s run to the Stanley Cup. Just 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, he’s a strong skater with a good shot and an ability to clear the puck quickly. He’s become one of the great second-round picks in Kings history, but then again, he played 61 games in the AHL when he was 18.

8. Justin Schultz, Edmonton Oilers: Like Hamilton, he’s another NHL rookie. Schultz is from Kelowna, but spent three seasons with the University of Wisconsin Badgers. He has four goals and seven points in his first 14 NHL games. Born on July 6, 1990, he was selected in the second round of the 2008 NHL entry draft by the Oilers. At 6-foot-2, 186 pounds, he’s tall and quick and skates very well. He also has a big shot and can play the power play if necessary.

Nick Leddy Chicago Blackhawks

Nick Leddy Chicago Blackhawks

9. Nick Leddy, Chicago Blackhawks: From Eden Prairie, Minn., he was the first round selection (16th overall) of the Hawks in 2009. Born on March21, 1991, he played one year at the University of Minnesota and then exploded into the NHL last year. He’s 6-foot, 190 pounds and he’s a big reason why the Hawks have started the season with a record-setting mark of 12-0-3. He had 37 points last year and has six already this season. He’s going to be an 18-25-minute-a-game player for a long time in Chicago.

10. Tyler Myers, Buffalo Sabres: Born in Texas, he grew up in Calgary and was a member of Canada’s national junior team and world championship team. A 6-foot-8, 230-pound monster on D, Myers is one of the best young defensemen in the game. Born on Feb. 1, 1990, he was taken 12th overall in the 2008 entry draft out of Kelowna and he’s stepped right in. He plays about 21 minutes a game and can score if called upon. He’s a fixture on the Sabres defense.

11. Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes: From St. Paul, Minn., Faulk stepped into the Hurricanes lineup in 2010-11 and hasn’t looked back. He plays 23-25 minutes a game and has six points in 12 games this season. Born on March 20, 1992, he’s a 6-foot-, 215-pound former South St. Paul High School star. He was taken in the second round of the 2010 NHL entry draft and he’s become one of the great second-round picks in the game today. He’s quick, can make plays, clears his zone and skates very well. He’s an outstanding product of the U.S. Development Team system.

Travis Hamonic scores.

Travis Hamonic scores.

12. Travis Hamonic, New York Islanders: Now in his third full season with the Isles, Hamonic has come a long way from his days growing up in tiny St. Malo, Man. Hamonic was a second-round draft pick of the Islanders out of the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors, he was born on Aug. 16, 1990, and has improved with every season — with every shift — in the NHL. He’s 6-foot-1, 206 pounds, can skate well, move the puck and is fearless. He’ll scrap if he has to and he’ll play 25 minutes a night. He’s one of the players the Islanders are using to build their team of the future.  

Honorable Mention: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix Coyotes; Tyson Barrie, Colorado Avalanche; Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators; TJ Brodie, Calgary Flames; Simon Depres, Pittsburgh Penguins; Brenden Dillon, Dallas Stars; Luca Sbisa, Anaheim Ducks; Brian Lashoff, Detroit Red Wings; Roman Josi, Nashville Predators; Adam Larsson, New Jersey Devils; Jonas Brodin, Minnesota Wild; Dmitry Orlov and John Carlson, Washington Capitals.

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