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How Does an NHL Team Acquire an Elite Defenceman?

It’s no secret that the Edmonton Oilers could use an elite defenceman. Maybe Oscar Klefbom or Darnell Nurse will eventually develop into an elite defenceman, but that’s a big maybe. Many Oiler fans would like Peter Chiarelli to acquire an elite defenceman before the 2016-17 season begins. But how likely is that?

Edit: Chiarelli was asked today about the difficulty of acquiring a number one defenceman. Here’s what he said:

It’s hard. Over the years, we’ve had discussions on how many true No. 1 D there are. Maybe there’s 12. There are 30 teams and only 12 true No. 1s. To think you’ll get one, it is tough.


Drafting an Elite Defenceman

I made a list of 21 NHL defencemen who would be considered by many to be elite. I’m sure most people reading this post won’t agree with every name on the list. There are probably a couple of players you’d like to subtract, and a couple of players you’d like to add.

Where have elite defencemen been selected in the last few NHL drafts? You can see below.

Drew Doughty – first round (#2)
Victor Hedman – first round (#2)
Alex Pietrangelo – first round (#4)
Oliver Ekman-Larsson – first round (#6)
Ryan Suter – first round (#7)
Ryan McDonagh – first round (#12)
Erik Karlsson – first round (#15)
Brent Burns – first round (#20)
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – second round (#35)
Roman Josi – second round (#38)
P. K. Subban – second round (#43)
Shea Weber – second round (#49)
Travis Hamonic – second round (#53)
Duncan Keith – second round (#54)
Zdeno Chara – third round (#56)
Kris Letang – third round (#62)
Jake Muzzin – fifth round (#141)
John Klingberg – fifth round (#151)
Dustin Byfuglien – eighth round (#245)
Mark Giordano – undrafted
Andy Greene – undrafted

As you can see, 13 of the 21 defencemen listed above were drafted outside of the first round. I think this tells us that drafting an elite defenceman isn’t as easy as it might seem. You’re almost as likely to draft an elite defenceman in the second round as in the first. However, you’re much more likely to draft a top-four defenceman in the first round.

I think the above list also gives Oiler fans hope that maybe one or more of the defenceman drafted in the later rounds (e.g., Brandon Davidson, Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear, or Ziyat Paigin) could develop into very good defencemen.


Acquiring an Elite Defenceman Via a Trade

How easy is it to trade for an elite defenceman? Not very. Only three of the above elite defencemen were involved in a trade. Chara was traded in 2001 by the Islanders to the Sentators in the Alexei Yashin trade. But at that time, Chara hadn’t established himself as a top defenceman. Byfuglien was dealt in 2010 from the Blackhawks to the Thrashers, but he was actually playing forward at the time of the trade. Finally, Burns was traded in 2011 by the Wild to the Sharks. Like Big Buff, Burns has flip-flopped between playing defence and forward.

This is why it was such a big deal when it was learned that Hamonic (though many would argue he’s not elite) had requested a trade. It’s very rare for a player like that to become available via a trade. Subban and Hampus Lindholm (an emerging elite defenceman) are also rumoured to be trade bait, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Edit: Apparenty there is some truth to the Subban rumours:


Acquiring an Elite Defencemen Via Free Agency

Finally, what about free agency? Only two on my list of elite defencemen have been acquired as free agents: Chara and Suter. Weber signed an offer sheet with the Flyers, but the Predators matched the offer. Teams usually do everything they can to sign elite defencemen to extensions, preventing them from hitting the UFA market.

Conclusion: How does an NHL team acquire an elite defenceman? Usually by drafting that defenceman. This is why it might be a good idea for the Oilers to trade down in this year’s draft and select a player they’re convinced will become an elite defenceman. Based on what I’ve observed, I thought maybe the Oilers were thinking that Mikhail Sergachev could develop into an elite defenceman. However, the tweet below indicates that the Chiarelli doesn’t think that Sergachev will be the next Drew Doughty.

Unless Hamonic is still available via a trade, it’s unlikely that the Oilers will be able to acquire an elite defencemen this offseason. It’s much more likely that they’ll be able to add a second tier defenceman–a player like UFA Jason Demers, Tyson Barrie, or Kevin Shattenkirk. Edit: And if Subban–a bonafide number one defenceman–is available, you try like heck to get him.

4 thoughts on “How Does an NHL Team Acquire an Elite Defenceman?

  1. Really puts things in perspective.

    The players that have been traded or signed as UFAs or signed out of college or other leagues are definitely not of the same calibre. In order of ES TOI:

    8 – Kris Russell
    16 – Ron Hainsey
    17 – Zach Bogosian
    18 – Alex Goligoski
    20 – Matt Niskanen (close to elite)
    22 – Jay Bouwmeester (was still elite when traded to STL and many would argue he still is)
    23 – Nick Leddy
    24 – Francois Beauchemin
    26 – Michael Del Zotto
    28 – Nick Holden
    31 – Andy Greene
    35 – Jack Johnson
    36 – Marc Methot
    37 – Jared Spurgeon
    42 – Matt Hunwick
    43 – Paul Martin
    44 – Danny DeKeyser
    45 – Josh Gorges
    46 – Johnny Boychuk
    50 – Jake Muzzin
    56 – Tyler Myers


    1. I guess I kind of made a mistake with Jake Muzzin. He was drafted by the Penguins in the fifth round but went unsigned and then signed as a free agent with the Kings. You have Andy Greene on your list, but I have him in my elite list. I’m sure many would disagree with him being on the list.


      1. I missed that you had Greene on yours. I wasn’t actually saying any on my list were elite. I was just posting all the players in the top 6 ES TOI who were acquired by means other than the draft. I wouldn’t call many on my list elite. Bogosian has shown elite ‘flashes’ but he is not elite. Del Zotto was an interesting case. Early on, it looked like he was on his way to becoming an elite offensive D, but then he became a tire fire. He still has big flaws in his game, but he has bounced back. Jack Johnson, Tyler Myers, Zach Bogosian and Erik Johnson were interesting players and may provide some lessons about GMs willing to give up high picks in a trade. Often the team that has intimate in-depth knowledge on a player knows what they are giving up. both are decent D, but have not quite lived up to their draft position promise of eliteness. Is there a lesson there for the Seth Jones trade? We’ll find out. Johnny Boychuk was a decent pickup by Chiarelli in BOS but he should have held onto him, he became such an amazing pickup by Snow.


      2. Certainly you should be a bit cautious when a team wants to give up a young D with good pedigree. Interesting that Myers and Bogosian and also E. Johnson and Shattenkirk were involved in the same trades.


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