Next up in the Canucks Army countdown for the All-Time Best Players will be the defenders. Given Brian Burke’s emphasis on building from the crease outward, it should come as no surprise that the list is comprised mainly of players either acquired or drafted in the years he managed this franchise. It’s a fairly strong list. What it lacks in Hall of Fame talent is more than made up for with solid depth throughout – there’s no massive drop-off in talent here, to be sure.
And with that, let’s get this ball rolling! Here are the best ten defencemen in Vancouver Canucks history, as selected by the writers at Canucks Army.
10. Dennis Kearns
In the year 2015, size is still considered an immensely valuable trait for defenders. To not have it can undermine what would be otherwise successful careers. And to think, the climate has improved immensely in the last ten years just to get to this point. This makes the career of Dennis Kearns all the more impressive, given he was patrolling the blue line as a 5’8 defender in the 70’s for the Vancouver Canucks.
Using his plus ability to transition play and contribute in the offensive zone, Kearns built himself a solid career with the Canucks as a high-end offensive defender. He spent the entirety of his NHL career with Vancouver, playing for the Canucks between 1971-81.
9. Dan Hamhuis
A free agent addition in the off-season prior to the Canucks most recent Stanley Cup run, Dan Hamhuis has been the Canucks most reliable defender for the majority of his stay. Hamhuis is still playing on this deal, although he is in the final year and his future with the club remains murky. A testament to his commitment to this franchise, Hamhuis seems entirely disinterested in playing elsewhere.
Hamhuis isn’t the flashiest of players. A high-level hockey IQ and sound positioning have made Hamhuis’ game quiet, but highly effective during his stay with the Canucks. Never the most offensively inclined defender, Hamhuis has done well as a featured member of the Canucks first pair for much of his stay with the club.
8. Christian Ehrhoff
They say the light that burns twice as bright lasts half as long and I just can’t think of any better way to describe Christian Ehrhoff’s stay with the Canucks. Taking advantage of a bad salary cap crunch in San Jose, the Canucks acquired Ehrhoff for pennies on the dollar in the lead up to the 2009-10 season. Ehrhoff was one of the driving forces on the Canucks power play for some of its most successful seasons and was a great puck mover at even strength.
Ehrhoff amassed a gaudy 94 points in his two seasons with the Canucks, before leaving Vancouver in free agency for the Buffalo Sabres. The Canucks power play has never been the same…
7. Doug Lidster
Former Canucks blue-liner and current assistant coach, Lidster is what some might call a Canucks lifer. As a player, Lidster was with the Canucks for a decade, playing on their blue line between 1983-93. His counting stats would indicate that Lidster was an offensive defender, with his 63 point campaign in 86-87 being the most prolific of the bunch.
Ironically enough, Lidster was traded prior to the 93-94 season, to none other than the New York Rangers. By that point in his career he was contributing primarily as a depth defender, but still, he got the last laugh all the same.
6. Sami Salo
Few players are as universally liked and respected as Sami Salo. The Finnish defender was all-class during his stay as a Canuck and was revered as much for his qualities as a person as his skills on the blue line. Of course, one can’t help but imagine how much more his abilities as a player would be appreciated if he ever played an entire season.
From bizarre snake bite stories to blocking a shot with his, uhh, man-parts… there just aren’t many injuries that Salo hadn’t experienced as a Canuck. When healthy, Salo was an awesome two-way defender, with a blistering slap shot and the ability to contribute as a key cog in the Canucks power play.
5. Alexander Edler
Despite his calm, unassuming demeanour, there are very few defenders that inspire such polarizing opinions of their play as Alex Edler. Prone to the odd mental lapse and often looking painstakingly casual in the process, it’s taken this fanbase a long-time to come around on Edler. By large though, it’s becoming increasingly clear to this city that the patience has paid off with Edler and he’s developed into a solid top pair defender.
A third-round selection from the 2004 draft, Edler has been playing for the Canucks since the 06 season. He impressed early with his slap shot and quickly rounded into form as a solid top-four defender. It wasn’t until last season, though, that Edler reached his potential as a legitimate top pairing option.
4. Jyrki Lumme
In the context of great offensive defenders, Lumme isn’t just on the Canucks list. As a .63 point per game player in nearly 1000 games of NHL action, Lumme would crack the list for great defenders in nearly any organization.
Oddly enough, the Canucks acquired Lumme with the plans of turning him into a formidable stay-at-home force. They got way more than they bargained for with Lumme, whose ability to push play and create offense made him a force at both ends of the rink.
3. Ed Jovanovski
The centrepiece in the return on the Pavel Bure trade, Jovanovski joined the Canucks in 1999-00 season as part of a seven-player deal. He was immediately one of the Canucks better defenders, slotting into a first pairing role almost instantly. Jovanovski’s best trait was his ability to contribute offensively, but he was also stout from his own end and was a physically imposing force.
Jovanovski patrolled the Canucks blue line for about seven years, before eventually bolting for the Phoenix Coyotes in free agency.
2. Kevin Bieksa
Few players have meant as much to this franchise as Kevin Bieksa. As a player, he was a premier top pairing option for a sizeable chunk of time. Bieksa could contribute from both ends and wasn’t afraid to chip in physically or stick up for his teammates, either. Bieksa was also active within his community and a leader in the Canucks dressing room – an all-around good guy, to say the least.
Bieksa’s best work has been his contribution to MindCheck, an organization run by the Canucks which aims to raise money and awareness for mental illness.
1. Matthias Ohlund
There was very little debate about who would come in at first overall on this list. Frankly, I can’t imagine many people wouldn’t have Ohlund at the top of their list. As things currently stand, Ohlund is the franchise leader in goals and points for a defender and he was just as, if not more adept from his own end.
Ohlund came to the Canucks as a first-round pick, from the 1994 draft. His career got off to apeculiar starts, including an offer sheet style signing by the Maple Leafs and his first two games being played in Tokyo. Ohlund finished second in that season for Calder Trophy voting, as the league’s best rookie.
Over the course of his eleven years with the Canucks, Ohlund potted 93G 232A for 325 points. Ohlund was relatively durable over the course of his career and a very sound defensive player as well. Ohlund’s leadership was also renowned, as he played a mentor role for younger Canucks players, like Edler in particular.