Erik Johnson Is Not a True No. 1 Defenseman


Erik Johnson has been the Colorado Avalanche’s top defenseman for a while now. Unfortunately, he is not a true No. 1 like Duncan Keith, Victor Hedman or Shea Weber, though.

There is no clear-cut definition for a true No. 1 defender. It is hard to say if there are teams with more than one “true No. 1”, but it is safe to assume that not every team has even one — the Colorado Avalanche included. Then again, isn’t every teams’ top D-man one?

So how do we define a true No. 1 defenseman? There are many ways one could go about this, and one of those is the following.

"A true No. 1 defender belongs to the NHL’s elite. He is one of the best defensemen offensively, as well as defensively. That is visible when watching him play and can also be supported by statistics. Furthermore, a true No. 1 defenseman plays a very important role for his team, which shows in a lot of ice time in all situations."

As mentioned above, Chicago’s Duncan Keith, Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman and Nashville’s Shea Weber fit that definition. However, Colorado’s Erik Johnson does not. And here is why.

One of the points mentioned in my definition was offensive production. According to, Johnson recorded .93 points per 60 minutes in 5-on-5 situations in the 2014-15 season. That has him ranked 59th among all NHL defensemen.

As a comparison, Hedman ranked 12th with 1.25 points per 60 minutes, Weber ranked 41st with exactly one point per 60 minutes. However, Johnson was actually better than Keith, who recorded 89 points per 60 minutes.

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Johnson really isn’t that far off, compared to Keith and Weber in this category. One could also argue that Johnson played on a team that had difficulties in scoring last season. However, the best D-man with at least 10 games played, is no other than Tyson Barrie.

Furthermore, Johnson’s production was actually better than in the 2013-14 campaign, which saw the Avalanche win the Central Division title. That season, Johnson only recorded .83 points per 60 minutes.

Another important stat is the iCorsi — all shots for, including blocked and missed shots, while the player is on the ice. In that category, Erik Johnson ranked 55th last season, with an iCorsi of 188. The highest-ranked D-man was Erik Karlsson, who had an iCorsi of 396. Shea Weber ranked seventh at 290, Duncan Keith was 18th at 251, and again, Johnson beat one of the trio — Victor Hedman, who ranked 67th, with an iCorsi of 175.

For comparison, in 2013-14, Johnson had an iCorsi of 217, which had him ranked 32nd among all defensemen. In that season, Keith ranked seventh at 281, Hedman was 11th at 261, Weber was 14th at 254. Everybody has ups and downs, but those three “true No. 1” D-men consistently end up at the top of the league.

Defensive ability itself is hard to fathom into stats.

The iCorsi stat is not all about offense. It does not simply resemble a respective player’s individual shot production. Instead, it includes all shots by the player’s teammates as well. A team must be in possession of the puck to shoot it, which is why the Corsi stat is also called a possession stat. Puck possession has a lot to do with defense as well.

When we look at Shea Weber, we see that he ranked 14th and seventh, respectively, in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. However, Weber is not exactly famous as a high-scoring offensive defenseman. He is famous for big hits and great defensive play, which then again leads to puck possession and offensive production — even if that part is done by other players on the team.

Defensive ability itself is hard to fathom into stats. There are defensive stats like hits and blocked shots, but the leaders in those categories generally aren’t the top D-men in the league.

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Playing defense is a lot about positioning, shutting down passing lanes, intercepting passes and so on. It’s about preventing the opponents from even getting into a position to shoot from, or from getting into a position where a hit is necessary. Defense is about a lot of things, including hits and blocked shots, but also a lot more.

This is where you can see a real difference between Erik Johnson and guys like Keith, Hedman, Weber and others. Johnson does have elite skating, a big shot and accurate passing, while playing with a mean streak defensively. However, he is not on the same level as the other mentioned players.

Erik Johnson is extremely important for the Avalanche.

That doesn’t mean he isn’t important for the Avalanche, though. Erik Johnson is one of the team’s leaders. He was an assistant captain for the team, and while he isn’t anymore, he still has a lot to say in the locker room.

Furthermore, Erik Johnson’s importance for the team shows in his ice time per game. In 2014-15, he was ranked 17th in ice time, at 24:25, according to Shea Weber ranked fifth at 26:22, Duncan Keith ranked seventh at 25:33 and Hedman ranked 43rd at 22:41.

According to my definition, Erik Johnson is not a true No. 1 defenseman. He is still a little ways away from the elite of the league, despite being one of the Avalanche’s most important players. The used comparables are obviously some of the very best in the game, but they were three of the few players that can without a doubt be called true No. 1 D-men.

Many teams have a 1A and 1B defenseman. In a perfect world, Erik Johnson would be the Avalanche’s No. 1B, as the partner to someone like Duncan Keith. Johnson is definitely a great No. 1 for the Avalanche, but the top teams in the league usually take that defensive game up another notch.

So, if Johnson doesn’t count, how many true No. 1 D-men are there? One could likely come up with many different numbers there.

What do you think about our No. 1? Where would he rank in the league? Let us know in the comments!

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