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The NHL's top 4 defense corps heading into 2017-18

Christopher Hanewinckel / USA Today Sports

In today's run-and-gun, fast-paced NHL, we sometimes forget that icing a formidable defensive unit is just as crucial as having a dynamic forward group.

Clubs across the league are always looking for the right mix on the back end. Combining defensive-minded players with others who like to jump up and get pucks on net is key to building a balanced unit.

And regardless of what strategy a team employs, touting an elite group of defensemen usually puts it in the mix for a Cup. This season will be no different.

Here's the NHL's top four defense corps heading into 2017-18, in no particular order:

Nashville Predators

Losing a player like Ryan Ellis until the new year is obviously a massive blow, but luckily for Preds fans, general manager David Poile has done an amazing job of stacking Nashville's blue line with studly defensemen.

Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, and Matthias Ekholm are three elite rearguards who stand to see the most increase in ice time during Ellis' absence, with newly acquired Alexei Emelin, Matt Irwin, and Yannick Weber rounding out the group.

Last season, the Predators allowed the 16th-fewest goals per game while their D-men combined to score 46. The unit's combination of skill, speed, and size makes Nashville a very difficult team to play against.

With perennial Norris Trophy threats in Josi and Subban anchoring the blue line, look for the Preds to be competing in May once again.

Calgary Flames

Funny how a new starting goalie and a top-four defenseman can catapult a team's defensive game from above-average to elite in a matter of days. Such was the case with the Flames following the additions of Travis Hamonic and Mike Smith this offseason.

Smith's built a reputation as one of the best puck-moving netminders in the game, which will pair nicely with the offensive-minded styles of T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton, as well as captain Mark Giordano and Michael Stone. While Calgary's back end is obviously talented offensively, it also gets the job done at the other end of the rink, where the unit limited opposing teams to the eighth-least shots on goal last season at 28.7 per game.

If the Flames can receive consistent goaltending from Smith and maintain a healthy blue line, few teams in the Western Conference will match up well against them.

Carolina Hurricanes

You read that right: The Carolina Hurricanes will ice one of most talented young corps in the league this coming season.

Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin, Brett Pesce, and Klas Dahlbeck are four returning defensemen who were taken in the first three rounds of the draft, while only Jaccob Slavin (fourth) was taken outside the top three. So, they have the collective pedigree to be elite.

Also, don't forget, this is the same group that allowed the fifth-least shots on goal per game last season. The only change in this year's group is the addition of two-time Stanley Cup winner Trevor van Riemsdyk, who will provide an element of experience and stability.

Yes, the group is young an inexperienced, but that doesn't change the fact that its offensive upside is seemingly limitless.

That potential might not be much on its own, but when you factor in Scott Darling's addition in goal, this crew should develop into one of the NHL's top D-cores.

Anaheim Ducks

Right off the jump, the Ducks will be in tough to replicate last season's defensive stinginess due to the serious injuries to Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen, as the pair are each coming off offseason surgeries.

While both are expected to return before Christmas, their early-season absences could obviously impact the overall effectiveness of Anaheim's defensive group.

However, the Ducks allowed the third-least total goals last campaign at an impressive 197, and still employ the services of Cam Fowler, Brandon Montour, and Josh Manson.

If Anaheim can get healthy, sooner than later, it will again have one of the most formidable defensively sounds corps in the entire league - a main reason the club is a perennial Cup threat.

(Photos courtesy: Action Images)

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