Fantasy Hockey: Defensemen Rankings
by GEORGE KURTZ
When it comes to drafting a defenseman, I tend to treat them like I would a wide receiver in a Fantasy Football draft. Sure, I would like a great one like Karlsson or Chara, but the position is so deep, I’m going to end up taking my forwards and starting goaltender well before I worry about my blue liners. I’m not saying in a 20-round draft I’m going to wait until Round 15. But I will wait to see where the value really starts to kick in and for me that is generally Round 8 or so. That is when I will want to see if maybe a Top 10 defender is still there. Maybe I don’t like any of the wings or centers that are available, so finding an anchor for my defense will start to take priority. I’m patient, though; if there is no one available that I like, then I will move on to load up on my forwards. I’m not going to reach for a position that I know I can find talent in later on. One other point about taking a d-man early; they get hurt more than any other position. They have to use their bodies to clear out the crease and we all can imagine the kind of damage a frozen rubber disk going 100 mph can do. Here are my Top 40 defensemen for 2013-14.
- Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators: Karlsson was more than likely the number one defender taken last season also and that decision came back to bite Fantasy owners in the rear, as he missed most of the season with a slight tear of his Achilles tendon. He’s 100 percent healthy going into this campaign and Fantasy owners should feel comfortable that he will remain so.
- Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins: Chara’s numbers actually took a slight dip last season, so you may want to drop him a couple of slots on this list, especially if you’re in a league in which defenders’ Fantasy points are all about what they contribute offensively and not hits, penalty minutes, or plus/minus. The Bruins have also said they plan on reducing his ice time in order to keep him fresh throughout the season.
- Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins had a pretty magnificent offseason, not because they made any significant additions, but because they were able to re-sign all of their important players. Letang was no less important than anyone else on that list. He’s the offensive leader of that defense and should be a priority for Fantasy owners. It’s no secret that he will rack up points playing on this team.
- Shea Weber, Nashville Predators: Weber is one of the best all around defensemen in the game today. Offensively, he has a shot that may only be rivaled by Chara and is an instant threat on the power play. Last season was his first without Ryan Suter. Weber took about a month to adjust, but once he did, he was as good as ever. Only problem with Weber is the team he plays on, there is not much offensive talent around him.
- P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens: What a season for Subban last year. First, he didn’t report to camp on time, as he had a short holdout due to some contract negotiations, then he goes out and wins the Norris Trophy. Subban has plenty of incentive to have yet another big season, as he will become a free agent after the season. Cha ching!
- Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks: You may be saying whoa, why is Burns so high up on this list? Well, he is for one reason and one reason only; he played left wing for the better part of the second half of last season. As of right now, it looks like he will begin this season on the LW as well. Not only that, but he is slotted to play on the second line with Logan Couture. If he were to remain there all season, 20 goals would not be out of the question. That’s fantastic for someone you can draft as a defenseman.
- Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks: Keith is still a top defenseman, but he is not the golden boy Fantasy owners may think he is. Sure, he had a season for the ages in 2009-10 with 14 goals and 69 points, but even that season came with just three power play goals. Since that season, Keith is only averaging about 40 points a season and hasn’t even approached those three PPGs.
- Justin Schultz, Edmonton Oilers: Schultz had a strong rookie season with eight goals, 17 assists, and four power play goals, but those numbers also came with a -17 plus/minus. The Oilers defense and goaltending is arguably better this year, but not by much. Schultz should improve on his consistency this year, as he had long stretches last season where he disappeared offensively, more experience should take care of that.
- Mike Green, Washington Capitals: Here is the question for Fantasy owners – is Green back to being the Fantasy All-Star he used to be? He scored more goals last season than in the prior two seasons combined, just about as many assists also. He still plays with Alexander Ovechkin. I’m of the mind that he gets back to his double-digit scoring ways, albeit with a negative plus/minus.
- Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks: Boyle was having his best season, goal scoring-wise, since the 2009-10 season, as he was on pace for 12 goals, a total he used to reach regularly. Now he is 37 years of age and could end up tiring over a long season. Still, with the offensive power the Sharks possess, it would be hard to pass up on him.
- Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens: Markov slipped pretty drastically in drafts last season, as he hadn’t been able to stay healthy for any length of time for years. Well, he managed to play in every game last year and Fantasy players were rewarded with 10 goals and 30 points. Those numbers could even be better this season with a full 82 game slate, but he will also be at greater risk for injury once again.
- Keith Yandle, Phoenix Coyotes: Over the past four seasons Yandle has averaged more than 11 goals a season. Fantasy owners tend to overlook Yandle because he plays for the offensively challenged Coyotes, but he more than holds his own. He is the exact type of player I like to target in Rounds 8-10 to anchor my defense.
- Alexander Edler, Vancouver Canucks: It’s really hard to know where to rank Edler and anyone else on Vancouver for that matter. As I’ve mentioned quite a few times in these columns, new coach John Tortorella’s system is defensively oriented. Will he give an offensively gifted defenseman like Edler the freedom to join the rush whenever he wants or will he have him tied to a tighter leash?
- Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets: Byfuglien used to play a mix of forward and defense but that seems to have changed for the worse for Fantasy owners; at least those who were hoping he would play some offense. Still, he’s good for double-digit goals and plays with another talented d-man in Tobias Enstrom.
- Jack Johnson, Columbus Blue Jackets: Johnson has always had talent but seemed unable to let said talent truly shine until he was traded out of Los Angeles to be the main man. You know playing for Columbus he will be on the ice a ton and play on every power play. His plus/minus will suffer playing for the Blue Jackets, but his offensive numbers could make up for that somewhat.
- Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues: AP would be much higher on this list, as he could be a Norris Trophy candidate if not for the fact that right now he is holding out. His leverage is limited, so one would think he will show up sooner rather than later, but we never know when egos might get involved, leading to missed time. Also, how many times have we seen a player who holds out get a lower extremity injury? Seems quite a bit as they just aren’t in game shape when they miss camp.
- Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings: Doughty is another player who most Fantasy owners believe should put up better numbers than he actually does. Since scoring 16 goals in 2009-10 seems to be a magic number for quite a few defenders, he hasn’t come all that close to those totals since. He was magical when the team won the Stanley Cup in 2010-11, and that led to owners once again hoping for the best last season. It’s just not happening.
- Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild: When Suter was paired with Weber in Nashville, they were the dynamic duo. His first season in Minnesota was an adjustment, as well it should be. Like Weber he was much better as the season moved along. His second season, first full one, should see that progress continue.
- Mark Streit, Philadelphia Flyers: Streit was the captain of the Islanders but when they couldn’t come to an agreement on a new contract, off to Philly he went. His Fantasy value doesn’t really change much. He will be the leader on the power play and score his share of goals, but he will have his issues in the defensive end, something the Flyers have grown accustomed to with their back liners.
- Lubomir Visnovsky, New York Islanders: Visnovsky is now the number one d-man on the power play, taking over for the departed Streit. With John Tavares and Matt Moulson, the Islanders can score, and with the shot Visnovsky possesses, 10-plus goals should be a given.
- Dion Phaneuf, Toronto Maple Leafs: The fact that I’m putting him at 21 just shows you how deep defense is.
- Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix Coyotes: Quite possibly the best unheard of defenseman in the game.
- Tobias Enstrom, Winnipeg Jets: If Ekman-Larsson isn’t the best unknown defender, than Enstrom is. The Jets seem to play quite a few wild high scoring games which would lead to plenty of opportunities for Enstrom to score points, of course it will also hurt his plus/minus.
- Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings: Kronwall isn’t quite Nicklas Lidstrom now is he but he’s not that bad either and with the offensive talent on this team, especially on the power play, hard to pass him up if he’s still hanging around.
- Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks: Seabrook had a career season last year, can he do it again or is he a one-year wonder?
- Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues: The Blues have an impressive stable of top blue liners with Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester and Shattenkirk.
- Christian Ehrhoff, Buffalo Sabres: Yeah that free agent contract he signed with Buffalo hasn’t worked out for him or the team.
- Brian Campbell, Florida Panthers: Campbell had a rebound season last year, can he do it again? He better, this team is starved for any kind of offense they can get.
- Dennis Wideman, Calgary Flames: Pretty consistent numbers by Wideman in back to back seasons, but this team has zero offensive talent, a lottery pick waiting to happen.
- Sergei Gonchar, Dallas Stars: The Senators may wish they had a redo here. They traded his rights to Dallas because they thought he didn’t want to play another season in the NHL, oops.
- Jay Bouwmeester, St. Louis Blues: Now the Blues may not be a powerhouse but they are the equivalent to the 1980s Islanders and Oilers compared to the Flames. Still, I do wonder if one of the Blues Top 3 defenders could be trade bait at some point if a need on offense arises.
- Paul Martin, Pittsburgh Penguins: Finally started to earn that big time free agent contract he signed a few years ago, until he got hurt anyway.
- Michael Del Zotto, New York Rangers: Will Del Zotto be even better offensively, now that he is playing for a coach that will loosen the reins a little bit on his defenders?
- Matthew Carle, Tampa Bay Lightning: You would think either Carle or Sammi Salo would have a solid offensive season playing behind Steven Stamkos, wouldn’t you?
- Tyler Myers, Buffalo Sabres: What happened to this guy? Looking at the upside here.
- Sheldon Souray, Anaheim Ducks: Would have Souray higher on this list if he could stay healthy for any length of time.
- Jonathan Ericsson, Detroit Red Wings: Would love to have Ericsson as my fourth d-man. He’s a solid player who lines up behind a team with quite a few talented forwards. You could do worse, much worse.
- Erik Johnson, Colorado Avalanche: Like Carle/Salo in Tampa, someone has to score from the blue line.
- Dan Hamhuis, Vancouver Canucks: Hamhuis is a defender who you can probably get late in your draft as he can easily fall through the cracks.
- Cam Fowler, Anaheim Ducks: Fowler has as high an upside as anyone else you get this late.
Feel free to follow me and ask any Fantasy related questions you like on twitter, @georgekurtz.
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