We’re moving out from the crease to the blue liners in my rankings. Today, I’ll be going through the top 20 defensemen with the Top 40 coming out later in the week. Let’s get right to it!
1) Cale Makar – Covered in the Top 20 overall here.
2) Dougie Hamilton – The top defenseman last season by a fairly wide margin, Hamilton moved from Carolina to New Jersey. It’s a little worrisome, but I still expect big things from Dougie. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hamilton ends up getting more minutes than he did while he was in Carolina. Also, the Devils acquired Ryan Graves from Colorado to presumably play with Hamilton. He’s not as good as Slavin, but Graves is the exact type of partner that should help Hamilton thrive. A lot of his value will depend on how the young players on the Devils develop, namely on the power play. Regardless, I’m expecting a ton of points with elite shots and penalty minutes. The floor is a little lower in New Jersey, although it’s still a very high floor because he hits all of the categories, but the ceiling is the same.
3)Victor Hedman – Hedman is the start of the second tier that goes until Josi. You can quibble with the order of this group and I’m not going to argue with you. Hedman is as safe as they come on the blue line which puts him at the top of this tier. He’s been a top ten fantasy defensemen for the past five seasons, with four of those seasons in the top five. Hedman has shown no signs of slowing down and Tampa should remain an elite team, albeit slightly worse than the past two seasons when they’ve won the Cup. We know what we’re getting from him and that’s an elite stat line across the board.
4) Shea Theodore – Theodore took the leap that I expected when I ranked him extremely aggressively last season with 42 points in 53 games with just over three shots per game. He’s a lock for an elite plus-minus on the Golden Knights and there’s no reason to expect anything different than a repeat from last season. Theodore should be entering the prime of his career right now and while he doesn’t take many penalties, he should crush the other five categories.
5) Adam Fox – Fox’s rise was astronomical last season winning the Norris in his sophomore campaign. He was a dominant possession player who received PP1 time that massively inflated his assist totals. I’m expecting a little regression there, but I also think his shot rate takes a jump forward in year three. If somebody in this tier is going to disappoint, my money would be on Fox because the PIM and shots are bad, but we saw how high the ceiling is last season.
6) Aaron Ekblad – Alright, let’s get bold. Ekblad was incredible last season playing at a Norris level before an injury ended his season. Sure, he’s unlikely to shoot 11% again, but Ekblad is a huge plus in every category. We’re looking at three shots per game, strong PIM, elite goals from a defenseman, and plenty of PPP, especially with Yandle gone, who cut into Ebklad’s top unit PP time in the first month of last season. I’m all in on Florida this season and Ekblad is a big reason why. I doubt you’ll have to take him this high but I want Ekblad on every team this year.
7) John Carlson – Washington’s power play took a big step back last season which explains most of the dropoff in Carlson’s production. Look, he wasn’t going to play at a 90 point pace once again and Carlson wasn’t far off his previous two seasons. However, he had 10+ fewer assists on the power play than the previous three seasons. Do you think Washington’s power play bounces back? Do you like Washington’s team in general this year? It’s a tough call, but I expect Carlson to be just fine, just more of a middling #1 than right at the top.
8) Roman Josi – Josi went from over 3.5 shots per game to just below 3 last season. My hope is that this bounces back because Nashville will be desperate for his offense. Nashville goalies only had a .886 save percentage last season with Josi on the ice which explains the poor plus-minus. Even if he stays at around 3 shots, that’s elite for a defensemen. Add in 40+ assists and double digits goals and Josi still ends up a #1. That said, I think the ceiling is the lowest of the guys in this tier.
9) Tyson Barrie – I was the high man on Barrie last season and he delivered with a huge bounce back in Edmonton. Barrie had 48 points, 23 of which came on the power play. He doesn’t take penalties, but Barrie is a great bet to have over 50 assists being among the league leaders in PPP. We saw him crumble in Toronto so there’s downside here, but he also feels incredibly safe playing with Edmonton.
10) Kris Letang – Letang actually stayed healthy last season missing only one game. That led to him finishing as the #3 defensemen overall despite a big drop in shot rate from around 3 per game to 2.5. My main worry with Letang, outside of the massive injury history, is that the Penguins will be missing Crosby and Malkin to start the season. For someone who gets a lot of his value from the power play, it’s a little concerning. I don’t expect a bump back up for his shot rate as well; that’s just uncommon for a 34 year old. I still like Letang, but keep expectations in check.
11) Darnell Nurse – Would you have guessed that Nurse was the #2 fantasy defenseman last season? Almost three shots per game, elite PIM, 16 goals, and a huge +27 rating was enough to overcome over 6 PPP. There in lies the issue with Nurse. Barrie has that top unit spot on lock down. The only good thing is that McDavid and Draisaitl generally play the full 2 minutes so when Nurse does go on the power play, it’s still among the best units in the league. You’ll have to make up the PPP elsewhere, but Nurse should be a big value everywhere else, even with some shooting regression. However, don’t expect another +27 from him.
12) Jakob Chychrun – Chychrun starts a new tier of players with elite upside but a big question mark. Chychrun took a massive step forward last season finishing as a top 10 defenseman for the first time. The question mark isn’t as much about Chychrun himself as it is about the Coyotes. They are going to be absolutely dreadful meaning Chychrun could have a horrible plus-minus. We could be looking at one of the seasons OEL had at his peak where he’s around 20 goals with elite shots and strong PIM, but the plus-minus hurts a lot. If you’re in a league without plus-minus, he should be higher than this. However, this may even be too high because it’s not out of the realm of possibility he hits -30 on this team.
13) Quinn Hughes – I have very little down that Hughes will have 50+ assists if he stays healthy (and signs a new contract first). The problem is that right now, he’s a two category player with PPP. Hughes is below two shots per game making it extremely unlikely he gets to double digit goals and the plus-minus was awful. My hope is we see a bump in year three from Hughes in his willingness to shoot the puck, but at the end of the day, he’s a playmaker first. Hughes fits certain builds very well, namely those that end up with a bunch of shooters early. Just be aware of the downside because he wasn’t a top 25 defenseman last season even though he played every single game.
14) Seth Jones – It’s no secret in these parts that I think Jones is massively overrated by the public and media. However, fantasy is largely about opportunity. The Blackhawks backed up the Brinks trucks for Jones and while I expect that to be a horrible contract, Jones will get every opportunity to succeed this season. That will include a ton of power play time on the first unit. One, Jones was mostly on the second unit in Columbus, and two, Chicago’s top unit is much better than Columbus’ top unit anyways. If you look at the one big season Jones had offensively, it was largely driven by 24 PPP. That’s a doable number this season; we’ve seen worse players like Gustafsson do better than that. I can see the plus-minus being quite bad too, but simply from a fantasy perspective, I’m bullish on Jones for this season.
15) Jeff Petry – I had a tough time ranking Petry this season, but this tier feels about right to me even though his floor and ceiling are closer together than the previous three guys. On one hand, he’s a clear regression candidate from the role he had last season. However, Weber’s absence should help balance that out as Petry becomes the clear focal point of the blue line. Additionally, as bad as Hoffman has been at even strength, he’s an incredible power play asset. Petry should get a bunch of easy points feeding Hoffman and Caufield on the power play. He’s right around average across the board with being a plus in goals and potentially PPP.
16) Charlie McAvoy – I’m expecting career highs from McAvoy across the board, but the question is by how much? The shot rate is still below average, but it has gradually increased in every season of his career. He’s been elite at evens every season giving him a great plus-minus. The PIM are very good. Now, he should be getting PP1 time from the start next season. Even with only 11 PPP last season in 51 games, he was the 12th best fantasy defenseman last season. If McAvoy can get to even 2 shots per game and he stays on the first PP unit all year, I think he ends up a top 10 defenseman. There’s always the chance they flip to Grzcelyk or McAvoy goes back to 1.5 shots per game in which cases he’ll settle as a bottom end #2. This ranking puts it in the middle, although I’d pick the former if I had to. McAvoy closes the tier that starts with Chychrun.
17) Tony DeAngelo – This starts a new tier that goes into the Top 40. Look, we know that this could massively blow up in my face. If DeAngelo has another problem in the Carolina locker room, his career might be over. The fact of the matter is that DeAngelo should step right into the first unit for Carolina. He’s always taken a ton of penalties, he should get easy minutes behind Slavin and Pesce, and he’s coming off a top 5 fantasy season for defensemen in 2019-20. I can understand why you would completely pass on Tony Dogs, but if he does play every game, the numbers should be great again. Again, like Ekblad, I expect him to go much later than this.
18) Alex Pietrangelo – Pietrangelo’s first season in Vegas was a success outside of the power play. He had over three shots on goal per game, was +20, and played around a 45 point pace. However, you have to expect Pietrangelo to have more than 4 PPP next season, even with Theodore having the top spot locked in. He also had his worst shooting luck in five years last season so there’s plenty of hope for Pietrangelo to push towards being a bottom end #1. I just can’t quite get there, but would be happy to get him in this spot.
19) Torey Krug – It’s not going to be exciting, but Krug looks set to be a #2 fantasy defenseman again. His first season in St. Louis saw Krug pile up 30 assists, but only score two goals because of poor shooting luck. I don’t expect Faulk to take his spot on the first unit for part of the season again like last season either. I honestly don’t have much to say about Krug because we know what to expect from him at this point.
20) Ryan Ellis – I want to put Ellis higher than this. By the start of the season, I may regret this. The problem is that the Flyers have a bunch of options on the blue line for the power play. Provorov is still there. Why sign Yandle if he’s not going to play on the power play? Maybe they roll Ellis on the first unit anyways and put those two on the second unit together. Maybe Ellis and Provorov are together at even strength and the power play with Yandle running the second unit? I am strongly against 2D on the power play at any time though. There’s still Risto as well, who the Flyers gave up an exorbitant amount for. Maybe Ellis gets stuck on the second unit just like in Nashville, in which case he’s not going to reach this ranking. That said, two of the last four seasons, Ellis has been playing at a borderline top 10 defenseman pace. I’m really interested to see how things turn out with Ellis this season, and Philly in general.
That’s all for now guys. I’ll be back later in the week finishing out my top 40 for defensemen. As always, feel free to ask any questions, leave any comments, or give any suggestions below. Thanks for reading, take care!