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Central Focus

Lidstrom, Rafalski tops among division's elite defensemen

Tuesday, 09.16.2008 / 12:52 PM / Features
By Dan Rosen
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Central Focus
With Nicklas Lidstrom leading the way and Brian Campbell now in the mix, the Central Division boasts some of the hardest-working defensemen in the League.

Nicklas Lidstrom's strong play at both ends of the ice ensures that he'll be among the leaders in ice time for every Red Wings' game. Lidstrom highlights
If you blink, don't fret. Nicklas Lidstrom will probably still be on the ice.

If you leave the room for a minute, don't worry. You probably only missed one of the roughly 30 shifts the Red Wings captain will play in that game.

It seems that Lidstrom is always on the ice for the Red Wings, an honor bestowed on him by coach Mike Babcock for his near flawless execution in all phases of the game.

While Lidstrom is on a level of his own in most cases, there are other defensemen in the Central Division who execute so well that their coaches struggle to pull them off the ice. Brian Campbell is on that list now, joining some of the best in the game.

Here are the five Central Division defensemen who logged the most ice time last season:

1. Nicklas Lidstrom, Red Wings: Lidstrom is the NHL's version of “Mr. Perfect” because you rarely see the guy make a mistake, and that's quite remarkable considering how many minutes he plays.

Just take a sampling of the last five years for example. Lidstrom has been among the League's top four in ice time per game, and in four of those years, has finished among in the top five in scoring among defensemen.

He was fourth in the NHL with 26:43 of ice time per game last season. It was his lowest number in five years, but he still led the League's defensemen with 70 points. He was third in minutes per game from 2005-07 after being first the previous two seasons.

2. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks: Very few players in the NHL have progressed the way Keith has since his rookie season three years ago. He hit his high note -- at least, so far -- last season by playing 25:33 per game, registering 32 points and playing to a plus-30 rating. He also led the NHL with 4:33 of shorthanded ice time per game.

His ice time was high as a rookie in 2005-06 (23:25 per game), but he had only 21 points and was a minus-11. He was better as a sophomore when he averaged 23:35 per game with 31 points and an even rating, but Keith set the bar even higher last season.

3. Brian Campbell, Chicago Blackhawks: It'll be interesting to see who takes first among the Blackhawks for ice time per game, because you just know that Campbell is going to contest Keith. Campbell averaged 25:06 per game last season when he split time with Buffalo and San Jose.

If they play on the power play together -- a definite possibility -- both could see their ice time stay the same. However, Keith played nearly two minutes more per game in shorthanded situations than Campbell last season.

He has been one of the most productive defenseman in the game over the last three seasons with 154 points, a plus-22 rating and only 71 penalty minutes, which is certainly another reason he gets so much ice time.

4. Eric Brewer, St. Louis Blues: Brewer has always been one of the League's leaders in ice time per game, and save for 2005-06, when he was limited to 32 games because of season ending shoulder surgery, he has always been one of the most dependable blueliners as well.

Brewer led the Blues last season with 24:37 of ice time per game while contributing 22 points. The average ice time per game was his highest since he averaged 24:55 with Edmonton in 2002-03.

He's the captain now, so his role is hardly diminished, but Brewer may have some competition for ice time per game with super sophomore Erik Johnson, who figures to demand more time on the penalty-kill than the 15 seconds per game he got last year.

5. Brian Rafalski, Red Wings: When you partner up with Lidstrom on the blue line, you just have to be ready for massive minutes. Rafalski is certainly no stranger to that. In fact, if you can believe it, his ice time per game actually went down last season to 24:04 in 73 games.

Rafalski was the leader in ice time for the New Jersey Devils the previous two seasons, averaging 25:30 per game and 47 points per season, including 55 in 2006-07. He put up 55 points last season, but played to a plus-27 after being a plus-4 in 06-07.

That's what happens when you play with Lidstrom and forwards like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, the two leaders in ice time per game among the Central Division's forwards last season.


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