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Who is the best defenceman of this generation?


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Defence is an odd position in the VHL. Historically undermanned and underappreciated, and for a long time represented by just one award, the Sterling Labatte Trophy, it's a position which has often been dominated by one or two defencemen. Just a quick look through past Labatte winners, starting with Labatte himself, and we see multiple 3- or 4-time winners such as Tomas Jenskovic, Daniel Braxton, and of course 5-time winner Conner Low. Even as recently as the 50s, there were only a handful of defencemen in the conversation for the best in the league – Fabio Jokinen, Ay Ay Ron, and Mats Johnsson – fittingly the defencemen most recently inducted into the Hall of Fame (or likely soon to be, in AAR's case).


Now though, with more awards than ever, but also probably more elite defencemen than ever, tracking down the best defenceman in the league is quite difficult. Since the Labatte Trophy was reinstated in S63, giving defencemen 3 trophies to compete for, the 12 awards up for grabs have been spread between 8 players. So, who are the contenders to be the best of this generation? Let's have a look.


Maxim Kovalchuk

At the moment the only active defenceman with a clear route to the Hall of Fame – just don't fall off the pace. Kovalchuk definitely benefited from the high-scoring S62, announcing himself to the league with 117 points and a Valiq Trophy in his rookie season. To his credit, he didn't rest on his laurels and added more to his game, as evidenced by two Wylde Trophies and a Labatte since. His first season in Calgary was low on individual accolades, but statistically still a very healthy performance – above point-per-game and over 200 hits. The slow start made by the Wranglers in S67 is a concern but shouldn't discredit Kovalchuk's credentials unless it becomes a long-term problem; for the time being he is the gold standard on the blue line.


Ryan Kastelic

Although without an individual award to his name, Kastelic has quietly put up very consistent numbers through his 4 and a bit season so far. Not a massive physical presence before S67, a statement season is needed for the runaway leader in TPE among defencemen and it would be a shame if Kastelic was dragged down by the bizarre gradual decline which has affected Riga for a few seasons now. Defencemen like Kastelic have been known to make the leap into the Hall of Fame with one or two exceptional seasons prior to retirement – the likes of David Walcott and Matt Bentley come to mind.


Joseph McWolf

A natural talent at the start of his career, McWolf burst onto the scene on a young New York team and was crowned Labatte Trophy winner in his sophomore year in S64. After that things flatlined however, both for the Americans rebuild and McWolf personally and the move to Riga as part of New York's firesale might be the boost the hard-hitting Brit needs. On paper, McWolf and Kastelic is the best pairing in the league, but both need to take the next step in the second half of their careers if they are to overthrow Kovalchuk and fight off younger rivals.



Knowing his limitations in terms of work ethic, Tzuyu has unashamedly focused all his time on becoming the most dangerous offensive defenceman on VHL blue lines. It worked at its best when he won the Valiq in S65 and as the constant presence on a Toronto team exceeding expectations for five seasons now, Tzuyu certainly has carved a nice niche for himself in the league. Will it be enough to be considered the best in an era with lots of well-rounded rivals? Probably not, but a big offensive season or two between now and retirement will make Tzuyu hard to overlook in the HOF conversation.


Robert Malenko

Before Tzuyu, the playmaking defenceman niche was filled by Malenko and he remains the biggest challenger statistically to teammate Kovalchuk (the two previously combined to great effect in Seattle). There has however been a gradual decline since the 106-point season in S64 and the championship in S65 and with a more lax attitude to training, it's unlikely Malenko will end his career on a high and will probably go down as a solid but unspectacular defenceman.


Other candidates

Last season saw two unlikely award winners. Malmo rookie Basaraba Moose shared the Wylde Trophy with Samuel Gate, a player who finally hit his pre-draft potential and subsequently retired, while relative Titans veteran Dan Montgomery claimed a Valiq Trophy.


The Titans cup-winning team also featured the All-Star pairing of Jesse Wilson and Sidney Crosby. Both players have worked their way to the top of the league and have teased a breakthrough, with a point-per-game pace in S66 for both potentially the boost they need as they enter the second half of their careers.


It might not be too late for Shawn Glade, on paper a top 5 defenceman in the league, but certainly we'll be seeing a new wave of challengers soon – the likes of Ryan Sullivan Jr, Smitty Werbenjagermanjensen and even younger S66 and S67 draftees.

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8 hours ago, Banackock said:



Final game from the blue line he gets 3 G, 2A 2 GP..  hint, hint other CGY players who are playing similarly mediocre 

I reckon that’s now Kovalchuk, Smirnov, Forsberg and maybe even Federov who would have got into the HOF if you weren’t GM.

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4 minutes ago, Victor said:

I reckon that’s now Kovalchuk, Smirnov, Forsberg and maybe even Federov who would have got into the HOF if you weren’t GM.

Yeah. All 3 have been good. Though, Kovalchuk still has a chance depending on how his forward span goes, no? Especially if he collects some hardware or top 10 stats.


The team has always come first. Kovalchuk might be my first player I think ever that may be forced to retire and not done so by choice. I am excited to experience just being a player one day. :) 

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18 hours ago, Victor said:

Cleared the path to domination for you ❤️ 


I mean yeah, I feel like McWolf probably as best well rounded D of generation and Tzuyu as best offensive is like...a lock now due to those position switches. I get that the position switches could of been more, team need, but man...like the D pool just looked like it was getting shored up and now it seems we only have a few names to top it out again for several generations.


This probably bodes well for Sully Jr though who has looked lost in the shuffle. Something tells me next season when he may have a chance at leading a squad himself that could change matters. :P 

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Damn, I think Glade legitimately had a shot as the best two way dman of this generation, but my production tailed off hardcore once i left riga. at least im an honorable mention and maybe still have a shot


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