We’re moving on to the top 40 defensemen (you can find a list of the top 20 here.) More than likely, these guys will all be holds all season, but there won’t be many past this list. This will be some upside in this list, but for the most part, it’ll be safe guys to fill out the middle of your blue line. Let’s get right to it!
21) Ryan Ellis – Ellis had one of the best half-seasons of all defensemen last season, scoring 9+23 in 44 games with a whopping +26 rating and 110 SOG. He’s been a plus player for five straight years, and given how the Predators dominate the puck when Ellis is on the ice, the question is whether he’ll be a plus or not, it’s how big of a plus. The shot rate jumping up to 2.5 per game is also great for a defenseman making him a lock for 10+ goals with upside for the 15-20 range with good luck. The downside is the PIM are low (although generally not as bad as last year) and the STP are capped until he gets a bigger power play role. Still, 45-50 points with a great +/- and quality shots is enough to make him a bottom end #2, and there’s huge upside if either Subban or Josi miss time.
22) Zach Werenski – Werenski’s sophomore season saw a regression from his Calder-finalist 2016-17, namely in the assist department, where he only tallied 21 assists. The good news is he shot the puck even more and managed to score 16 goals, only one off the NHL lead for blueliners. The bad news is that we know the penalty minutes are bad, and we don’t know what Werenski’s power play role is going to be. I mentioned in the Jones blurb in the top 20 that I believe that in an ideal world, Werenski plays the top power play unit. If that happens, we can be looking at 15+35 with quality shots and STP. If he doesn’t, then he’ll struggle to be a #3D in a 12 man league barring a big jump at even strength. Werenski is a clear gamble but one I’d be willing to make at this price.
23) Mikhail Sergachev – At first, I wanted to put Sergachev inside of the top 20. His rookie season was solid with 9+31, the penalty minutes are decent, and the plus-minus is a near-lock to be on Tampa Bay. The problem is that I’m not sure his minutes increase enough for a big jump in production, especially since he’s stuck on PP2 while Hedman mans the first unit. It’s clear as day that Sergachev should be playing with Hedman at even strength, but I still suspect Girardi gets a fair amount of shifts there because Hedman can carry him. Sergachev averaged just over 15 minutes per game last season, and I don’t think it jumps up into the 20’s (even though I think it should). The upside is through the roof, but the team situation looks to be capping it for now. The good thing is that Sergachev received over 70% of starts in the offensive zone, one of the highest in the league and great for offensive production.
24) Ivan Provorov – Provorov had a very strong sophomore season, tying for the league lead in goals from a defenseman with 17. The assists only stayed at 24, a number that’s far too low for a player in this range. My hope is that the second power play unit for Philly is much improved, given that they’ve improved the top end talent on the roster. Two of JVR, Simmonds and Patrick will almost certainly be out there with Konecny, which is much better for Provorov. I think we see Provorov reach double digits, and potentially push 27 minutes per game this season as the Flyers blue line remains incredibly thin. The floor is fairly high, but there is some nice upside here as well.
25) Kevin Shattenkirk – Shattenkirk’s first season in New York was a disaster, finishing with 5+18 in 46 games with barely over two shots per game and a -14 rating. We’ve seen Shattenkirk’s upside before, and it’s possible that he receives a career high in minutes for this rebuilding Rangers team. That’s not all good news though because Shattenkirk is brutal defensively and could open up the chance for a bad plus-minus. Still, there’s 50+ point upside with strong PIM and great STP, and that can only go so far down on the list. He’s not a bad gamble to take, especially in head to head where plus-minus isn’t as big of a factor.
26) Aaron Ekblad – While Ekblad’s shot rate fell drastically down to below 2.5 per game, he managed to score a career high 16 goals. My guess is that we see the shot rate jump back up a bit, but the shooting percentage drops back down to keep him around 15 goals. Like Provorov, the improvements on the roster (Hoffman, Borgstrom) should improve PP2 in Florida. You’re taking a hit in assists to other #3 defensemen, but you’re getting big PIM and shots with the goals to boot. There’s always a chance Ekblad puts it together this year at age 22 and has a monster season, but it seems unlikely barring a Yandle injury. Still, he’s a great #3 depending on what your team needs are.
27) Jake Muzzin – The most yawnstipating of defenseman, Muzzin is damn near average in every category. It’s not exciting, but somebody that doesn’t hurt you in any category and could help you a lot (mostly in +/- and PIM) has plenty of value, especially for you roto guys. It won’t be exciting, but Muzzin should be just fine.
28) Morgan Rielly – Start the AAGNOF list! These next three guys can move up five spots if you really need assists during your draft. Rielly is the most well-rounded of this group because his shot rate is inching towards 2.5 per game now and the power play production is repeatable given his role on Toronto. I think we could see the first plus season of Rielly’s career as well, as he’s coming off the best possession season of his career. He could be an 8-10 goal guy if things break right, but don’t count on much besides the assists.
29) Ryan Suter – Suter actually tied a career high with 51 points last season, although his shots are trending in the wrong direction. He also gives decent penalty minutes as well. The problem is that the Wild could limit his minutes a bit in his age 34 season, and that could happen by sliding him down to PP2 while Dumba runs the first unit. If that happens, we could see a 9+31 like two seasons, which isn’t great. That’s still a fine floor though, and I can’t really see him dropping much below the 40 point threshold.
30) Jake Gardiner – Gardiner is basically Suter with even less shots. The bad news is that Gardiner could get squeezed if Toronto decides to stack their top power play unit. The good news is that Gardiner is less dependent on PP stats than the previous two, so it’s not impossible that Gardiner pushes 50 assists again. I don’t love him by any means, but that goes to show you how far defensemen drop off once you get down into #3 range.
31) Charlie McAvoy – Boy does defensemen drop off quick. There’s a very good chance I take 3+ top defensemen this year just to avoid the cesspool at the bottom. I think there is a drop off from the AAGNOF down the list, and I’ll take McAvoy first from the rest. The rookie scored 7+25 in 63 games with a +20 rating and 53 PIM. All of that is solid or better. 77 SOG in 63 games? Not so much. I’m banking on a big jump there in year two, along with more PP time. I feel strong that he’ll become a top 15 fantasy defensemen eventually, but I think we’re still a year or two away. I won’t rule out the possibility of a breakout this year though.
32) Jacob Trouba – After appearing on the verge of a breakout, Trouba struggled last season, scoring only 24 points in 55 games. The shots are pushing elite for a defenseman, and the penalty minutes are there, so it’s a matter of getting the points up. Part of the problem was Trouba shot only 2.1% which will surely increase. Again, it will all come down to how much he produces on the power play. There’s no reason why he should push into double digits on the power play, and at that point, he becomes a neutral or plus asset across the board. You’re taking some injury risk, but there is multi-category upside with Trouba.
33) Mark Giordano – I’m not a big fan of Giordano this year, but this goes to show you how thin defensemen is. Gio scored 38 points last season, although that came with great PIM and SOG. The hope is that we see some power play improvement, because he won’t be as good as even strength without Hamilton on his right side. That said, Peters has the history of being a strong possession coach, and Giordano is the big favorite to run PP1 now, so his safety across the board is enough here.
34) Colin Miller – Unlike most of his teammates, Miller’s numbers don’t scream regression. His ten goals are repeatable with his deadly shot, the penalty minutes were in line with his time with Boston, and the boost in shot rate comes as players progress. He also gets a small boost for the first twenty games with Schmidt suspended. Miller doesn’t have a lot of upside, but he’s a great fit in roto leagues for being steady across the board. There’s less of a history of Miller producing, which is the only thing keeping him below Giordano and even Muzzin for that matter.
35) Rasmus Dahlin – I am assuming this is going to price me out on Dahlin, and that’s okay. Don’t get me wrong, he’s the best defenseman prospect I’ve ever seen, and will surely be a superstar down the line. The problem is that it usually takes time for players to develop on the blue line, even the special prospects. I don’t think we see him on PP1 to start the season, and he’ll probably be eased in on the second pair. There’s a chance we see a strong second half making Dahlin a nice buy low candidate, but I think we are a season or two away before we see Dahlin blossom. I’d rank him even lower, but again, defensemen is a cesspool.
36) Ryan Pulock – I assume I’m the high guy on Pulock and that you won’t have to draft him anywhere near this high. His shot rate was borderline elite in his rookie season, and I think we see him push three per game this season. Pulock didn’t get PP1 time last season, but early indications are that he’s going to this year with Trotz at the helm. He was one of the best possession players on the team so a bad plus-minus should be avoided, and all of the projection systems love his underlying numbers. You guys know I am a stats nerd at heart, so I’m going to support them by supporting Pulock.
37) Darnell Nurse – I’m extremely encouraged by Nurse’s jumps last season. The shots took a big jump up and the penalty minutes are great. Now, all indications are that Nurse will get PP2 time which can get him towards 40 points. I’ll gamble on that upside at this point.
38) Hampus Lindholm – I want to rank Lindholm even higher because for my money, he’s one of the best ten defensemen in the NHL. He’s a lock for a top end plus-minus and solid PIM. The goals are borderline elite for defensemen as well, especially if he can repeat last season’s 13. The problem is he’ll never be on PP1 and the shots are below two per game. Lindholm is a nice fit in the right team build, so let that decide whether he’s of use to you.
39) Shea Theodore – First we have the big PIM and shot guy, then the big plus-minus and goals guy, now we have the assist and PP guy. Theodore played around a 40 point pace last season despite being jerked in and out of the lineup at the beginning of the season. He’s a lock to run the top power play unit, and despite the unit’s success last season, Theodore has additional point upside there. The minutes should be high to start the season with Schmidt suspended as well. The PIM are poor but everything else should be decent enough.
40) Michael Matheson – Like Nurse, I’m projecting that Matheson will get PP2 time this year. I mentioned in the Ekblad blurb that PP2 in Florida should be much improved, giving Matheson a chance to push 40 points. The PIM are strong and the shots were above average in year two so we could use another jump this year. There’s a chance Matheson drops far down the list if his PP time looks in jeopardy, but I’m putting him here for now for the potential 10+30 with decent numbers elsewhere, a very nice roto line.
That’s all for now guys. I’ll be back on Friday starting my list of goaltenders, probably a top 20. As always, please leave any comments, questions, or suggestions below. Thanks for reading, take care!