Hey guys! My first series of articles for Razzball will be on the Top 30 Defensemen in Fantasy Hockey this season. For years, my basic strategy was to get one top notch defensemen in my drafts and then wait until the later rounds to take high upside guys. Now, with more teams rolling their top pair for massive minutes, there are a plethora of defensemen worth taking in the middle rounds of your draft. This article will include my rankings of the top 10 defensemen specifically. It will be mentioned in the rankings but to be clear, there will be some movement depending on the scoring of your league. For years, the leagues that I have done include six offensive categories: goals, assists, plus-minus, penalty minutes (more is better), special teams points (power play plus shorthanded), and shots on goal. These categories seem to be the most popular settings (unless you separate the special teams points into two separate categories) so these rankings will reflect that. I will go into detail about each player’s strengths and how to evaluate them based on your league settings. Let’s get to it!
1) Erik Karlsson – This is the first tier. The tier is Karlsson to Karlsson. There isn’t too much to say about this one. The clear cut number one defensemen, Karlsson brings everything you want in a fantasy defensemen. He hits every fantasy category at an above average rate (even PIM) while a very good bet to lead them in points and SOG. The silky smooth Swede quarterbacks the Senators power play and has free roam offensively to attack at all times. With the Senators shocking the league last year making the playoffs due to the growth of their young core, it wouldn’t be a surprise for Karlsson to benefit from that growth even more this year. Karlsson should get back to where he was the full two seasons before 2014-15 (78 and 74 points) instead of the 66 from last year. Regardless, if you’re taking a defenseman early in your draft, it needs to be Karlsson.
2) P.K. Subban – This is the second tier. This tier goes from Subban to Letang. One of the most despised players in the league, Subban’s effectiveness on the ice can’t be denied. Despite his power play assists dropping from 19 each of the previous two seasons to 13, Subban’s even strength prowess allowed him to post a career high of 60 points last season. The scary thing is that there is still room for growth for P.K. despite being an incredibly safe pick. In the lockout shortened season in 2012-13, Subban had 26 power play points in only 42 games, a staggering amount that propelled him to the Norris Trophy. To be clear, this is an unsustainable amount over an 82 game season. That being said, if Montreal can improve its power play a few percentage points (they were 23rd in the league last year despite being a great team in the regular season), Subban can get 25-30 power play points pushing his overall total in the 65-70 range. The steep drop in shots on goal last year is a bit worrisome but he’s still a plus there taking over 2 shots per game as a defenseman. Add all of this with top notch PIM and you have a great #1 fantasy defenseman for your team.
3) Kris Letang – Letang is one of, if not the biggest wild cards in fantasy hockey this season. He missed 13 games last season, 45 in 13-14 and 13 out of 48 games in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. Despite missing the 13 games last season, Letang posted a new career high in points and was still the #3 overall defensemen on most player raters last year. It also came with finding his mean streak again, taking his most penalty minutes in 4 years and more than the previous three years combined. It’s an incredibly big if, but if Letang can stay healthy, he’s the only player with the upside to be better than Karlsson. The Pens power play should click on video game levels this year (Polka mentions this in his top 12 rankings here). Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Letang and Hornqvist / Kunitz? It’s an embarrassment of riches. Add in around 3 shots per game and a solid +/- (it’s generally hard to predict +/- but the top Pens should all do well there this year) and Letang has everything you want. If you want to take a gamble after the first few rounds, this is the player to do it on.
4) Dustin Byfuglien – This is the third tier. This tier goes from Big Buff to the 13th ranked defensemen (coming in a later post). In this range, you have a lot of freedom in who you want to target depending on two things: your roster before these picks and more importantly, your league settings. If you only care about points, then Big Buff needs to go down quite a bit. If you end up with say, Corey Perry and Jakub Voracek early, you won’t need the big PIM boost Byfuglien brings. If, like most leagues, you care about the main 5-6 categories and don’t get big PIM from your early picks, Big Buff is an excellent glue guy for your team. He racks up the penalty minutes, takes a ton of shots and is a staple on the first power play unit for the Jets. The Jets, who recently had the top rated prospect pool according to Hockey’s Future, already had a young core in place that propelled them into the second wild card spot in the Western playoffs this year. Add another year for that core to grow while adding more young talent (Nikolaj Ehlers at the forefront) and Buff’s point totals should push back towards the 55 from 2013-14 instead of the 45 from 14-15.
5) Mark Giordano – Based on the early rankings posted elsewhere, it looks like this could be the highest Giordano is ranked anywhere. Giordano was the leader for the Norris Trophy last season until a torn biceps tendon sidelined him for the rest of the season. Gio was on pace for a 64 point season while being above average in all categories across the board. Now blessed with a contract extension locking him up through age 38 with Calgary, the Flames captain has fully recovered from his injury and is primed to lead the young Calgary roster into the upper echelon in the West. Their young forwards, led by Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett, should only get better next year and with the addition of Dougie Hamilton to the blue line, the Flames have arguably the deepest core in the West. Flames coach Bob Hartley has a history of using two defensemen on his power play units so the addition of Hamilton shouldn’t hurt Giordano in the slightest. There is a bit of an injury risk but that’s already included in this rank with the ceiling he showed last season.
6) Kevin Shattenkirk – If you were only to look at point totals, Shattenkirk’s past two seasons look incredibly similar (10+35, 27 STP in 13/14 vs 8+36, 25 STP in 14/15). However, Shattenkirk was able to accomplish this last season in only 56 games versus the 81 two seasons ago due to an abdomen injury. The injury was a fluke more than anything; he had missed 2 total games the previous 3 seasons. Shattenkirk looked great after returning from the injury as well; he was one of the lone bright spots for the Blues in their quick playoff elimination against the Wild, scoring 8 points in 6 games. Just like Giordano, he was on pace for 64 points before the injury. I have Gio rated a spot higher because he should score more goals while Shattenkirk adds a few more assists. Based on age and room for more upside, I wouldn’t criticize you for taking Shatt Deuces ahead of Giordano.
7) Brent Burns – Burns was moved back to the blue line last year and rewarded the Sharks with a career year. In his age 29-30 season, he smashed his previous career high by 12 points scoring 60 total (17+43). Add in 65 PIM and 3 shots per game and you have the makings of a fantasy stud worthy of either the fourth or fifth spot depending on team need. So why the drop to #7? How can you not like a player whose look has chance this much over the years?
There are a lot of question marks for the Sharks roster outside of their top players and while Burns is certain to do well on the power play again, repeating his 36 points at even strength seems like a reach. He also plays a very heavy game conducive to injury; half of the time Burns plays close to every game and the time he misses a significant chunk of the season. That uncertainty drops him a few spots for me. Burns will do just fine as your #1 defensemen; just don’t reach for him.
8) John Carlson – This rank of Carlson is aggressive but one that could pay off in a big way. Firstly, since Carlson permanently made the Capitals roster, he hasn’t missed one game in five seasons. Carlson also made the big jump offensively last season that most expected, setting a new career high of 55 points (12+43). Lastly but most importantly, Carlson will have a spot on the Capitals first power play unit locked in, something he has never had before for a full season. For years, Carlson would only fill in for Mike Green in that role. Last year, Carlson overtook Green for that spot halfway through the season and with Green’s departure to Detroit, there’s nothing to worry about now. Washington was the #1 PP in the league last season and they always have a chance to be the best in the NHL. Getting to set up Ovechkin for 2 minutes? Massive win. Despite the career high in points, Carlson only had 16 PPP last season. Expect that to go up drastically and Carlson to set a new career high in points this season. The poor PIM total is the only thing keeping Carlson down this low for me.
9) Victor Hedman – The clear leader of the Bolts blueline, Hedman blossoming into a true #1 defenseman was among the main reasons Tampa made a run to the Stanley Cup finals last season. For fantasy purposes, he did fall off last year, missing 23 games and dropping from 55 to 38 points. So why the aggressive rank? Team and opportunity. The Lightning were the highest scoring team in the league last season and should contend for that title again this season. Hedman will also get the chance to quarterback the Lightning top power play unit with Stamkos, Palat, Kucherov and Tyler Johnson, which should be with Pittsburgh and Dallas among the league’s best. Hedman only had 14 power play points two seasons ago and 11 last season. This could enter into the 25-30 range with the talent there. Add in around 35 points at even strength (his 2013-14 total in 75 games) and you’re looking at someone who has a good chance to crack 60 points if he stays healthy.
10) Shea Weber – Weber is probably the first player on this list where is fantasy value is clearly less than his value in real life. Despite being top 4 in the Norris 4 of the past 5 seasons, Weber doesn’t quite approach that level in the fantasy world. That said, Weber is as steady as they come when it comes to fantasy hockey. You can write him down for 15+ goals, around 30 assists, a quality amount of PIM and an elite shot total. Weber’s health record is amazing, especially for a player who plays as physical as he does, missing no more than four games in any of the past seven seasons. I wouldn’t criticize you taking Weber a few spots higher if you wanted the consistency that Weber brings. He just lacks the total points upside that the players above him (and a few below him) have, especially since his partner (more on him soon!) has lessened the load for Weber the last couple years.
That’ll wrap up this article; I hope you guys enjoyed it! I will have my list of 11-20 coming out at some point in the near future. Please feel free to comment below with your take on my rankings or with any fantasy hockey questions you have in general. Enjoy Labor Day weekend!