The second installment of this series will bring us through the top 20 defensemen. In case you missed it, here is the top-10. If you didn’t end up getting any in the top 10 in your draft, it’s important to get at least two players on this list. If you can only get one, make sure it’s someone in the 11-13 range since these three players all have tremendous upside plus a high floor. Once you get past 13, you’re looking at players who are safe but lack upside or high upside players who have a lower ceiling. To reiterate from last article, the categories that I am basing these rankings on are goals, assists, plus-minus, PIM (more is good), Special Teams Points and Shots on Goal. Let’s get to it!
11) Keith Yandle – This is still the third tier. This tier started at Dustin Byfuglien and goes until Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Yandle’s trade to the Blueshirts at the trade deadline last season has set him up to return to the position’s elite. The Coyotes have been horrible the last few seasons and Yandle has played big minutes for them. As a result, he’s posted +/- totals of -26, and -32 in Arizona the last two seasons. Going to New York will turn that around giving Yandle a big boost in value. Yandle also posted horrible shooting percentages the last two seasons (3.3% and 2.6%) which is largely unlucky meaning that his goal totals should get back into double digits. He’s one of the best power play quarterbacks in the NHL, puts up solid PIM and high shot volume. The only question mark is how many minutes Alain Vigneault plays Yandle. He’s poor defensively and may be better off getting easier offensive zone starts while Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal play the harder defensive minutes. If this happens, Yandle’s shot totals and PIM may take a slight hit. If Vigneault plays Yandle with McDonagh and gets big minutes, then Yandle could push back towards the top 5 defensemen he was 5 years ago. The floor is very high because he’s going to kill it on the power play and the ceiling is also very high. Targeting Yandle makes a ton of sense.
12) Roman Josi – Josi took a big step forward last season setting career highs in all six fantasy categories and was a key reason the Predators made the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. A repeat of last season is certainly in the cards but I don’t see much more room for growth, the main reason why he’s coming in at 11 and not higher. He posts a very low penalty minute total (26 last season was his career high), his 15 PPP and 18 STP are low for an elite defensemen because Shea Weber is the focal point on the power play and the Predators may reduce Josi’s minutes slightly due to the emergence of former 4th overall pick Seth Jones. Josi is still a fine pick in this spot; 15 goals and 40 assists are nothing to sneeze at and he’s missed only 10 games the last 3 years. His upside just doesn’t reach the players before him.
13) Oliver Ekman-Larsson – OEL has been one of the best young defensemen in the league for years defensively. Thankfully for fantasy purposes, his offense blossomed last season, posting an incredible 23 goals, most by any defenseman in the league, even more than Erik Karlsson. His shot total was an amazing 264, second behind Karlsson. He’s going to have an even bigger role for the Coyotes with Yandle gone so it’s reasonable for him to repeat these totals. That said, he has a couple issues that put him at the bottom of this tier for me. Most notably, the Coyotes were one of the worst teams in the league last season and it’s highly unlikely that changes. Plus-minus has huge variance from year to year but it’s a near certainty OEL is going to post a horrible +/-. With Yandle gone, their power play will probably take a hit which could potentially damage Ekman-Larsson’s point totals. Lastly, his assist totals are very poor having never posted a 30 assist season. That has the potential to change this year but it won’t reach an elite level without it hurting his shots total. In a dynasty league, OEL goes up much higher but for a one year league, he’s Shea Weber with less PIM and a much worse plus-minus.
14) Drew Doughty – This is a new tier. This tier goes from Doughty to Pietrangelo. Let’s call this tier “elite in real life, not so much in fantasy.” These guys all have very high floors but their ceilings are lower than the tier before them. Doughty is one of the best, if not the best defenseman in the league year in and year out. He plays an incredible amount of minutes (second in the league last year) letting him accumulate shots and penalty minutes at a quality rate. Doughty had his best season from a fantasy perspective in the last five years posting 46 points (7+39) but that simply shows how capped his potential is. The Kings depend on him defensively at such a level that it limits how much he can attack offensively (he hasn’t scored more than 11 goals the last 5 seasons). Don’t hesitate to take Doughty at this point as your #2 defenseman but don’t take him earlier because of the big name.
15) Duncan Keith – After a big 2013-14 season where he posted an amazing 55 assists, Keith’s regular season saw that total drop all the way down to 35 with a drop in shot rate despite scoring more goals. In the playoffs, Keith was absolutely incredible posting 21 points in 23 games on his way to winning the Conn Smythe trophy as the best player throughout the playoffs. Don’t expect anything close to that from Keith this season though. The Blackhawks don’t ride Keith in the regular season nearly as much as in the playoffs and his goal totals leave something to be desired. His penalty minute totals are also quite poor. He’s a great source of assists and one of the few players who can be counted on for a quality plus-minus. Don’t expect much more though.
16) Alex Pietrangelo – From a fantasy perspective, Keith and Pietrangelo are very similar. Take away Keith’s outlier season in 13-14, every year they settle in between 40-50 points with a quality shot rate, low PIM and below average STP. The reason I put Keith ahead is because Pietrangelo’s power play time may be decreasing even more this season. With Shattenkirk’s emergence in St. Louis, he has taken over the role as power play QB with the Blues. Their coach, Ken Hitchcock, uses Alex Steen on the point of the power play so Pietrangelo will be bumped down to the second unit. The Blues have plenty of talent on their PP2 but the decrease in minutes Pietrangelo faces dropping off the top unit could hurt his already low STP. Ideally, you pair him with a Letang or Yandle, someone who posts high special teams points so you can compensate for Pietrangelo’s shortcomings.
17) John Klingberg – This is a new tier. This tier goes from Klingberg to Hamilton. This tier can be called “You want upside? Here’s your upside!” The next four guys are all incredibly young and surrounded by tons of other young talent on their team. Klingberg seemingly came out of nowhere last year to become a waiver wire darling, posting 40 points (11+29) in 65 games. Klingberg has so many things going for him that this time next year, he could easily be a lock for the top 10 fantasy defensemen rankings next offseason. The Stars have assembled an incredible forward group and will have one of the deadliest power plays in the league quarterbacked by Klingberg. Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Patrick Sharp, Jason Spezza and Klingberg? Expect his power play point totals to at least double from the 12 he posted last season. The addition of Johnny Oduya should allow Klingberg more freedom to roam offensively than he already had. I wouldn’t be shocked at all if Klingberg posted over 60 points. There’s only one thing holding him back and that is his shot total. He only had 98 shots on goal last season in 65 games which is a shot rate that would always prevent him from reaching elite fantasy status. If he could get that total to even 2 shots per game, certainly in the realm of possibility, the sky is the limit.
18) Tyson Barrie – Despite the Avalanche taking a significant step back last season going from first to worst in their division, Barrie was their biggest bright spot posting 53 points (12+41). While they still have all three of their previous top 3 picks locked up (Landeskog, MacKinnon and Duchene), the rest of the Avs roster is either very old e.g. Jarome Iginla or full of question marks e.g. Mikhail Grigorenko. It may hurt Barrie at even strength but it could be a blessing on the power play if Patrick Roy decides to play his top unit for the majority of the full 2 minutes on the power play. Barrie’s shot rate is below average but is trending in the right direction leaving hope for optimism. The reason he slides behind Klingberg is Barrie’s lack of penalty minutes (the 26 he had last year was a career high).
19) Aaron Ekblad – After being the first overall pick in 2014, Ekblad stepped right into the league as an 18 year old and proved that he belonged. 39 points as a rookie is nothing to slouch at, let alone from a defenseman. Another team loaded with young talent, the Panthers have a decent chance at making only their second playoff appearance in the last 15 years this season with Ekblad leading their back-end. I expect a marginal bump across all categories for Ekblad while his true breakout happens in a few seasons. He should be a strong #2 defenseman this season and worthy of a top 5 ranking in dynasty leagues.
20) Dougie Hamilton – As a Sabres fan, I was thrilled that Boston decided to trade Hamilton to Calgary. 22 year old number 1 defenseman don’t go on trees yet Hamilton was shipped for three draft picks Boston can only dream come close to what Hamilton already is. Hamilton has steadily progressed every season he’s been in the league and from a fantasy perspective, this trade will be a big boost for Hamilton. He’s going from a Boston team on the decline to a Calgary team poised to step into the league’s elite this year. Hamilton’s assumed partner, Kris Russell, will let Hamilton have free reign to push offensively. Hamilton comes in behind the other guys in this tier only because the Flames might not use Hamilton on PP1 with Giordano and T.J. Brodie there. It’s not a big downside because Calgary balances out their power play minutes but enough to bump him down below Klingberg, Barrie and Ekblad.
That’ll wrap up the top 20. I’m going to be taking over Polka’s overall rankings now so I’ll be looking to get the top 50 overall wrapped up in the next few days. As always, feel free to comment below on all thoughts fantasy hockey and I’ll do my best to answer all questions. Take care everyone!