We’re finally shifting gears after going through 100 forwards for this upcoming season. The focus now moves to the blue line, where we will start with the top 20 defensemen. There’s been a big improvement over the last few years giving us additional quality options to fill our roster. Let’s get right to it!
1) Brent Burns – Covered in the Top 20 overall here.
2) Victor Hedman – Hedman is part of tier one. That tier goes from Burns to Byfuglien. All of these guys are clear #1 fantasy defensemen in any format and have finished as the #1 overall defenseman in a season before. For Hedman, that season was the last one. Hedman was an absolute monster across the board, totaling 17+46 with a +32 rating, 54 PIM, 28 STP and 216 SOG. Hedman even has upside from there, as he dished 10 more assists in the previous season. You can make a pretty compelling case that Hedman should be ahead of Burns, but I go into detail why Burns is ahead of me in the post linked above. Regardless, Hedman was a monster last season and there’s no reason to expect any regression.
3) Erik Karlsson – I originally was going to have Karlsson at 5, then 4, and now I’ve settled on third. Karlsson finished with 9+53 in 71 games last season, and that’s despite his lowest shooting percentage in eight years and a big dropoff in PPA. He didn’t forget how to run a power play all of a sudden, so I expect that number to go back up. Obviously the big concern is a potential black hole in plus-minus. Ottawa goaltending had a .881 sv% when Karlsson was on the ice last season. Sure, the Senators goalies are bad, but that number will surely increase. There’s also a fairly good chance that Karlsson is traded which would immediately fix that issue. If a defenseman is going to have a point per game season, it’s Karlsson, and that upside with a tremendously high floor keeps him at 3.
4) P.K. Subban – Subban’s second season in Smashville saw him return to previous levels in Montreal after a struggle in 2016-17. Subban scored 16 goals, tallied 43 assists, was +18, had 82 PIM, and had quality shots and power play points. He’s a true six category stud on one of the best teams in the entire league. He’s very similar to Hedman, with the only reason Subban being below him is that the Predators don’t depend on Subban as much as the Lightning do with Hedman, especially on the power play. If you want to take Subban before Karlsson because he’s more well-rounded, I’m perfectly fine with that.
5) Dustin Byfuglien – Big Buff is his own animal for fantasy blueliners, posting solid point totals with massive penalty minutes. Big Buff did Big Buff things last season with 8+37 in 69 games with a +15 rating, 112 PIM, and almost three shots per game. He even shot the lowest shooting percentage of his career meaning there’s a good chance that he adds 5+ goals to his total if he plays 82 games. Byfuglien doesn’t have many years left as a truly elite fantasy defenseman, but I feel confident that he’ll be fine this year.
6) Shayne Gostisbehere – This tier goes from Gostisbehere to Jones. This tier can be called “I can easily be a #1 fantasy defenseman.” These next two guys get the vast majority of their value in assists (and STP), and they pile up so many of them that they’re easily a number one fantasy defenseman. The others are more well-rounded, but should end up providing around the same value. Gostisbehere had a huge season finishing with 13+52, including 33 STP. The shot rate also made a big jump forward to where it’s an asset instead of being neutral. I have Gostisbehere slightly behind the previous tier because of the low PIM and that his minutes are lower than the rest. If he was playing 25+ minutes, I’d feel confident about having him higher, but I think we see some slight regression in his point totals, at least at even strength. Last year is best case for Ghost Bear in my opinion, so I wouldn’t want to pay up for that price.
7) John Klingberg – Klingberg dished out a whopping 59 assists last season, but the encouraging thing to me was his shot rate took a massive jump forward right to 2.5 shots per game. If he shot his normal percentage, we’d be looking at a 70+ point season. Nothing from last season looks fluky, so if you end up short on assists after your first few picks, Klingberg is a great option to fill that void.
8) John Carlson – Carlson actually led defensemen in points last season with 68, smashing his previous career high. The PPP were elite, the shots were pushing three per game, everything looks great. Carlson had 28 PPA after he is normally in the 12-13 range, with 17 being his previous career high. Could he repeat the 28? It’s not impossible, but banking on it seems like a mistake. I’m not fully buying into the shot rate staying this high as well. You can certainly justify having Carlson ahead of Gostisbehere, but I’m a little pessimistic.
9) Dougie Hamilton – I assume this is controversial, but if anyone in this group is jumping into tier one, it’s Hamilton. I’ve long been a Hamilton believer, and perhaps we see the Carolina coaching staff give him the chance to prove he’s a #1. Hamilton finished with 17+27, a very low number of assists for a player this high. However, the shot rate jumped to elite status, the penalty minutes remained a big asset, and the power play numbers are bound to increase in Carolina. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Hamilton has a season similar to the one Subban just had, except with more shots. I want him on all of my teams again and may move him up my board to ensure that.
10) Kris Letang – I have no idea what to do with Letang. On one hand, he finally stayed healthy last season. On another, he finished with only 51 points. The PIM and shots remained at a quality level, so can the points go back up? 16 PPA seems very low for a guy who is on the first PP unit in Pittsburgh. Penguins goaltenders were also awful when he was on the ice so the plus-minus should fix itself. I see the path to Letang getting back into tier one, but I also can see him playing at last season’s level and missing more time. The increase in quality defensemen drags Letang lower than in the past because of that downside. He’s the ultimate wild card again.
11) Alex Pietrangelo – Like Hamilton, I want to own Pietrangelo everywhere and may need to move him up to do so. I suspect that I will have many more defensemen in my top 50 and 75 than in the past. Anyways, Pietrangelo was a big hit of mine last season as he flourished after Shattenkirk’s departure, finishing with 15+39. The good news is that there’s an easy path to improvement. To be blunt, the Blues power play sucked for the majority of last season, causing Pietrangelo to finish with only 13 PPP. Enter RoR who should do wonders for that first unit. It’s not a stretch to get Pietrangelo into the 60-65 point range with decent shots. The penalty minutes will be his only negative, but it’s not dreadful.
12) Roman Josi – Josi was his usual steady self last season, scoring 53 points with elite shots and a +24 rating. He’s one of the few players who we can bank on having a quality plus-minus at this point which is a plus. What keeps Josi a bit down is the lack of PIM and good but not great STP. He doesn’t have the power play role that most of these guys do, which caps his ceiling quite a bit. That said, he’s probably the safest player in this tier (or Pietrangelo).
13) Seth Jones – Jones had his big breakout in 2017-18 setting career highs in every category. Jones scored 16 goals, had 41 assists, and put on over three shots per game. I’m sure having him at the bottom of this tier will be controversial and prices me out of drafting him. This isn’t a knock on Jones at all. His even strength prowess is well-documented; we can lock him in for 30-35 even strength points. My worry is that the power play points end up dropping. The Blue Jackets found a lot of success with only one defenseman on the power play towards the end of last season. I think in an ideal world, Werenski gets back to his rookie year level and that’s him out there instead of Jones. If that’s the case, then Jones drops to around 50 points. Now, with his shots, that’s still a great asset, but not truly elite. If I see in preseason that Torts seems set on Jones getting all the PP1 minutes he can handle, then I will probably move him up a few spots.
14) Drew Doughty – Doughty starts a new tier. It goes until OEL. This tier is called “what year is it going to be?” These guys could be a #1 fantasy defenseman if things break right, or they could be a #2 or worse. I always tend to be the low guy on Doughty, and last season it punished me. Doughty finished with 10+50, a +23 rating, 54 PIM, and a solid shot rate. Doughty hadn’t topped 40 assists in eight seasons, let alone get to 50. This large jump happened at even strength, where the Kings shot 10% with Doughty on the ice, more than 2% higher than his norm. His point totals can go from the mid 40’s to the 60 we saw last season, but don’t expect a repeat. That said, he’s incredibly safe in that he hits all of the categories and has played every game in each of the last four seasons.
15) Torey Krug – Krug finally had some puck luck last season scoring 14 goals while adding 45 assists. The penalty minutes are average and we know we can expect a quality STP total. Krug is also getting massive offensive zone starts which is great for his fantasy outlook. What has me a bit worried about Krug is that the shot rate is no longer elite, and that eventually McAvoy is going to take his spot on the first power play unit. Krug will carry plenty of value regardless, but it would bring down his ceiling quite a bit. I feel much better about Krug being my #2 this season than my #1 just in case the shots don’t increase or he bounces back and forth between PP1 and PP2.
16) Mathew Dumba – There’s a chance we see Dumba jump into fantasy stardom, if not superstardom. Dumba scored 14 goals and 36 assists last season with a +15 rating, 41 PIM and over two shots per game. That jump in shot rate is extremely encouraging, and if there’s another similar jump this year, Dumba has stud written all over him. He finished with only 12 PPP last season, a number that will surely increase now that he’s running the top power play unit. It’s not a stretch to see Dumba put up something like 17+43 with a good plus-minus and penalty minutes to boot. He’s another guy I’ll be targeting.
17) Oliver Ekman-Larsson – In 2015-16, OEL was easily a #1 fantasy defenseman. Two seasons ago, he was dreadful. Last season, he was pretty poor, but he at least fixed his shot rate. That said, I am still a firm believer in his talent, and the Coyotes have suckered me again into thinking that they’re going to be respectable. The Galchenyuk trade gives them additional firepower (especially on the power play), and all of their young talent is a year older and experienced. OEL is entering his prime right now, so I think we see him get back in the low 50’s in points with quality numbers elsewhere and a plus-minus that doesn’t bury you.
18) Keith Yandle – This tier starts with Yandle and goes into the top 40 defensemen. I’m calling this tier “pick your poison.” You can go safe or you can gamble. You can target specific categories or go for someone that’s well-rounded. Either way, you can order these guys in a bunch of different ways and I’m not going to argue. Yandle was Klingberg-lite last season with 8+48 and average contributions elsewhere. Yandle has played every game for eight straight seasons and we know that the assist total is going to be huge. With how stacked the Panthers top six is, I feel good about Yandle’s chances of getting 50+ points again while being good enough in the other categories. AAGNOF!
19) Rasmus Ristolainen – Go ahead and call me a homer if you wish. For this season alone, I think Ristolainen is the biggest beneficiary to the improvements the Sabres have made to their roster. Risto finished with 6+35 in 73 games last season with quality PIM and shots. He’s been a strong power play player for three straight seasons and there’s no reason to expect that to change. Where Risto always fell behind was at even strength. Now, the Sabres should be much better there with Skinner and Sheary in the top six, along with the former Blues giving more depth in the bottom six. The addition of Dahlin should allow Risto to thrive in a better role, especially in the second half of the season once Dahlin settles into the league. All of these factors should fix Risto’s bad plus-minus. I’m also not worried about Dahlin cutting into Risto’s PP1 time this year, so I think he approaches 10+40 with good numbers elsewhere.
20) Tyson Barrie – Barrie was excellent last season, especially on the power play. He finished with 14+43, 30 of which were on the power play, and that was in only 68 games. The main issue is that he’s a dumpster fire defensively which continually causes him to have a poor plus-minus. If you’re in need of assists and power play points, Barrie is a great target, just be aware that the down side is fairly high. At this point, his floor is higher than what he did in 2016-17, but there’s a chance he becomes a drain on your team, especially in roto leagues.
That’s all for now guys. I’ll be back early next week (probably Tuesday) with defensemen 21-40. Be sure to check out Lackeydrinksonme’s rankings and Sven’s daily previews for some quality information and also differing opinions. As always, feel free to ask any questions, leave any comments, or make any suggestions below. Thanks for reading, take care!