February 22, 2024

Best NHL defensemen of 2024: Rankings by players and execs

The NHL is in a golden era for defensemen.

There are legacy stars who have Norris Trophy wins and continue to be the backbones of their contending teams. There are ascendent young players ready to outshine those elders. And then there’s Cale Makar, who is earning comparisons to Bobby Orr from legends like Wayne Gretzky. He’s basically his own category at this point.

Even with that deep pool of talent, the very best D-men are clearly defined, according to one NHL executive.

“There’s no doubt in my mind about the top five. The order will change from one year to the next, but that’s the top five,” the exec said.

Welcome to the first results from the 2024 NHL Positional Rankings, a unique way to determine the best of the best. Some surveys ask players for their rankings. Others poll executives. The NHL Positional Rankings combine both opinions into one definitive set that blends on-ice savvy with boardroom thinking.

Here’s how it worked: Surveys were conducted over the past month. Respondents were asked to rank their current top 10 players at center, winger, defenseman and goaltender based on a predetermined list of the top 30-40 players at each position. Players ranked on each ballot were given a numerical score — No. 1 earned 10 points, No. 2 got 9 points and so on.

Ten NHL players were surveyed — four from the Eastern Conference, six from the Western Conference. They range from NHL award nominees to veteran role players. To balance that perspective, we surveyed 10 people from the hockey operations departments of NHL teams — six from the East, four from the West — including two coaches and three general managers.

Combined, their insights led to rankings that go behind fan conjecture and media narratives to reveal the best of the best according to those inside the NHL.

Stats are collected from sites such as Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference and Evolving Hockey.