The Minnesota Wild have a solid group of defensemen led at the top by Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin.
Both were a huge part in getting the Wild to the Stanley Cup playoffs last season. Both racked up big minutes and both give the Wild hopes of having a dominant shutdown duo for many years to come.
The depth behind them is a mixed bag of results.
The most intriguing defenseman on the Wild roster is Mathew Dumba. He is still eligible to play juniors, but could force his way into the lineup for the full season. He has so much skill, but the question is whether or not he can control his game and let it come. He has a tendency to try to do too much.
Newcomer Keith Ballard struggled the last few seasons for the Vancouver Canucks after starring for the Florida Panthers. He is looking for a fresh start and playing at home (Baudette native and former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher) could be just the thing he needs.
The team also has Marco Scandella, Clayton Stoner, Jared Spurgeon and Nate Prosser returning from last season.
The Wild currently has all eight defensemen on their roster and most likely needs to find a way to clear up space through a trade or waivers.
Here is how the Wild’s best defenseman, Ryan Suter, stacks up with the other No. 1 defenders in the Central Division.
No. 1 – Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild
The Wild spent a lot of money to get the best free agent defenseman in July 2012. He got off to a slow start to his Wild career. But, he used calm, smart, positional style to become one of the best defensemen in the NHL last season.
Pros: He has a very good all-around game. He possesses a heavy shot, accurate passing and sound defensive positioning. He can log a lot of minutes.
Cons: He is not a physical defenseman and can be beat with power moves by forwards.
No. 2 – Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
He is one of the anchors on the best defensive unit in the NHL. He was a big part of the Blackhawks’ two Stanley Cup championships in the last four years.
Pros: He is a strong skater that can play a lot of minutes. He plays a very good two-way game with offensive skills and defensive responsibility. He has a very high hockey-IQ.
Cons: He is not a physical defenseman and is undersized against NHL power forwards.
No. 3 – Shea Weber, Nashville Predators
He, like Ryan Suter, got off to a slow start, but turned it around and had a very good season. During their time together, Suter’s success was believed to be because of Weber. Weber’s presence on the ice can be intimidating for opposing forwards.
Pros: He is a big, physical shutdown defenseman. He is very good in one-on-one battles. He has a big shot and can log a lot of minutes.
Cons: He is not consistent in his defensive positioning. He has a tendency to run around looking for the big hit. He plays too physically which leads to bad penalties.
No. 4 – Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues
Pietrangelo is quietly becoming one of the better defensemen in the league. He is emerging as a shutdown first pairing defenseman for Ken Hitchcock and the Blues.
Pros: He is a strong two-way defender with high offensive smarts. He is a physical and aggressive defenseman that can stop the play before it starts He has good poise, a quality shot and playmaking skills.
Cons: He is still developing his defensive game. He makes too many high-risk plays on defense. His physical style can lead to nagging injuries for a player his size.
No. 5 – Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets
The Jets have a quality group of defensemen, led by Byfuglien. The Roseau, Minn. native played both forward and defense for the Chicago Blackhawks, but may have found a permanent home on the blue line with the Jets. He may be the biggest player in the NHL at 6-foot-5 and 265-pounds.
Pros: He is a huge defenseman with good skating skills. He has a strong offensive game and heavy shot. He can log a lot of minutes and take over a game.
Cons: He does not have the first step quickness to stop speedy forwards trying to get the edge. He does not play consistently from game to game. He has a tendency to get caught up ice in the offensive zone and does not hustle back on defense.
No. 6 – Erik Johnson, Colorado Avalanche
Johnson, a former No. 1 overall draft choice, was as dominant as his skill set and size would suggest he could be while with the St. Louis Blues, the team that drafted him. He was traded to the Avalanche to help their struggling blue line. He has done that, but the group just isn’t deep enough to be a factor.
Pros: He is a huge defenseman with surprising skating ability. He has a hard shot and all-around hockey smarts. He also has a mean streak that can make him a shutdown defender.
Cons: He has a tendency to join the rush too early, which leaves him out of position. He also needs to improve his game-to-game consistency.
No. 7 – Alex Goligoski, Dallas Stars
Goligoski may not be an elite top pairing defenseman, but he provides the Stars with an offensive presence on the backend.
Pros: He has good offensive instincts, mobility and puck-moving skills.
Cons: He is an undersized, defenseman that could use more bulk on his frame. He also tends to turn the puck over when under pressure.