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The Metropolitan Division's Top 10 Defensemen: 2017-18

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Continuing our look at the Metropolitan Division's best with the top ten blueliners

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Last week we kicked off our annual look at the best the Metropolitan Division has to offer with the top ten goaltenders. This week? It's the guys directly in front of them: the defensemen.

Honorable mention: Ivan Provorov (PHI), Jaccob Slavin (CAR), Olli Maatta (PIT), Justin Schultz (PIT)

10. Nick Leddy (NYI)
Last year's rank: 6

Since arriving in Long Island three years ago, Leddy has been one of the team’s top offensive weapons, and has led all Islanders defensemen in scoring for three straight seasons. Not only has he produced close to 0.5 points per game over that span, but he’s also seen that offense tick up - culminating in a career-high 11 goals and 46 points in 2016-17. As for the other side of the puck, well... he’s got a bit of work to do in that department, although his numbers improved after Doug Weight replaced Jack Capuano behind the bench midseason (and Leddy joined forces with veteran Johnny Boychuk).

9. Seth Jones (CBJ)
Last year's rank: N/A

The 2015-16 season seemed to be something of a transitional year for Jones, who found himself traded midseason from Nashville to Columbus. Well... it looks like he’s settled in, as he took his first full season with the Jackets and ran with it. Entrusted with a heavy workload and tough matchups, Jones had a breakout season last year, almost doubling his previous career high in goals (8) and establishing himself, along with teenage defensive partner Zach Werenski, as a top-two defenseman for Columbus.

8. Zach Werenski (CBJ)
Last year's rank: N/A

Oh hey, speaking of Werenski... turns out he’s pretty good, too. The 19-year-old blueliner had the great misfortune of breaking into the League at the same time as Toronto phenom Auston Matthews (and a slew of other youngsters) - but he still made enough of a name for himself to be a finalist for the Calder Trophy last season, and finished in the top 15 in points among all defensemen, all while having an impressive even-strength CF% of 54.1%. Sadly he saw his first trip to the postseason cut short after taking a puck to the face in Game 3 against the Penguins, but now that his face has (hopefully) healed, expect him to be a very good for a very long time.

7. Dmitry Orlov (WSH)
Last year's rank: N/A

Orlov took a huge step forward with the Caps this year, going from a player no one seemed to trust to half of one of the League’s best defensive duo. He set a new career high in points, scored his first power-play goal, and skated big minutes while continuing to throw the body around as always. With a new contract under his belt and a blueline that might not be as strong this season, Orlov will likely be counted on to continue his evolution and play a bigger role for the Caps.

(For more on Orlov’s 2016-17, check out his Rink Wrap here.)

6. Kevin Shattenkirk (NYR)
Last year's rank: N/A

Just as he was one of the top names available at the trade deadline, Shattenkirk headed into the summer as one of the top free agents available... which led to the most anti-climactic offseason signing ever, as Shattenkirk opted to join his childhood team in Manhattan. He set a new career high in points and assists, and while he didn’t have quite the same goal-scoring touch with the Caps that he had with St. Louis (and struggled a bit in the playoffs), Shattenkirk still finished the season with an impressive 56 points - behind only Norris Trophy finalists Brent Burns, Victor Hedman and Erik Karlsson.

5. John Carlson (WSH)
Last year's rank: 2

Carlson’s 2016-17 season was something of an uneven one, with the Caps’ now-veteran blueliner struggling at times (and seeing his season cut short by injuries for the second-straight year). He finished the season with a sub-par 48.7 CF% at even strength, and a relCF% of -4.8 - second-lowest on the team behind only Karl Alzner. And yet with all of his struggles, he still finished the year with close to 40 points. Not bad for an “off” year.

(Want to read more about Carlson’s season? Right this way to his Rink Wrap.)

4. Justin Faulk (CAR)
Last year's rank: 5

It’s been said time and time again, but it bears repeating - if Faulk played in a so-called “traditional” hockey market, he’d be a huge star. As it is, he’s slowly gathering name recognition, checking in among the League’s top offensive blueliners and being named to the All-Star Game for each of the last three seasons. Injuries have kept him from a full 82-game slate the last two years - and a shot at topping his career-high 49 points - but his 17 goals tied Shea Weber and Erik Karlsson for the second-highest total among all defensemen last year.

3. Ryan McDonagh (NYR)
Last year's rank: 3

Aside from Henrik Lundqvist, there’s perhaps no one more important to the Rangers’ lineup than Ryan McDonagh. He once again led his team in ice time in all situations, taking on the tough competition night after night... all while paired with Dan Girardi, which should qualify him for sainthood. Last year he also set a new career high in assists, and came so close to tying his best point total, falling just one point short.

2. Matt Niskanen (WSH)
Last year's rank: 7

Two seasons ago, it was injuries to then-top pair John Carlson and Brooks Orpik that thrust Niskanen into a more prominent role on the Caps’ blueline. Last season what put him there was simply his play (and in particular, his performance alongside new defensive partner Dmitry Orlov). He led the Caps in even-strength CF%, narrowly edging out Orlov, and had his best offensive season since arriving in DC.

1. Kris Letang (PIT)
Last year's rank: 1

Despite yet another injury-shortened season - seriously, this guy cannot catch a break - Letang still somehow managed to score as many points in 41 games as most guys had all year. Aside from his offensive prowess, Letang has been tasked with managing big minutes on an increasingly young and injury-riddled Penguins blueline; he racked up over 25 minutes a night on average last year, seventh-highest in the League, including a whopping 3:40 on the power play alone. That his absence didn’t doom the Penguins this past spring is almost impossible to comprehend. He’s just too good and too important to that team... if he can stay healthy.