We’re going to keep the rankings rolling today with my defensemen tiers.  As a reminder from the goaltending rankings, I will be ranking the guys in order, but I am putting more focus on tiers than the exact rankings of players.  I will be writing in detail about guys that I aggressive with in my rankings, either because I like them a lot or also don’t want anything to do with them.  Let’s get right to it!

TIER ONE: NUMBER ONES NO QUESTIONS ASKED

1) Roman Josi

2) John Carlson

3) Dougie Hamilton 

4) Victor Hedman

As long as they’re healthy, it’s extremely likely that these guys all finish in the top 10 defensemen.  Josi crushes every single category and has earned the #1 spot with relative ease.  Carlson is the most likely assist leader from the blue line and that comes with massive PPP.  The shot rate jumped back up last season and I think Washington will need to push a bit harder in the regular season in their division.  I don’t expect him to top a point per game again, but I think he gets to 50+ points in their 56 games.  I really wanted to put Hamilton third as he was incredible when healthy last year.  14+26 in 47 games pushing four shots per game and +30!  Just like the last few seasons, I’m still all-in on Hamilton.  Hedman’s shot rate is more in the Carlson range, but he’s a lock for a great plus-minus and elite PPP, even with Kucherov out for the regular season.  I think he’s a bit behind the top three, but the floor is so high that I kept him in tier one.

TIER TWO: YOUNG STUDS AND AN OLD STAPLE

5) Cale Makar

6) Shea Theodore

7) Brent Burns

From a points perspective, Makar could be right there with the top four guys.  My issue is how much he can improve his shot rate, which is only average for a defenseman.  The penalty minutes aren’t there either.  I also don’t know how much Makar’s minutes will increase from the 21 he played last season because their blue line is so loaded and it’s not about the regular season for the Avalanche.  I’m all in on Theodore this year.  He pushed his shot rate over three per game in the regular season and was as good as any defenseman in the league in the bubble.  I don’t see Pietrangelo as a threat to his spot on the top PP unit either.  I doubt you’ll have to take him this high, but Theodore is a huge target this year.  Burns was a disappointment last year, but I’m not quitting on him yet.  The shot rate was still over three per game and the schedule gives them an increased amount of games proportional to the schedule with the Kings and Ducks.  There is some downside here, but he could also be a fairly big plus in every category but plus-minus.

TIER THREE: NUMBER ONE POTENTIAL

8) Tyson Barrie

9) Kris Letang

10) Morgan Rielly

11) Quinn Hughes

12) Torey Krug

13) Rasmus Dahlin

14) Alex Pietrangelo

15) Zach Werenski

16) Miro Heiskanen

17) Erik Karlsson

The tiers get much bigger from this point going forward.  As you can see, I’m all in on Barrie this season as well.  Yes, last season was a disappointment for Barrie.  Yes, he’s nowhere near the 8th best defenseman in the NHL.  However, before last season in Toronto, he had 57 and 59 point seasons in Colorado.  Now, he goes to Edmonton on a team that is all offense, has an elite power play, and moves to a division that should have plenty of high scoring games.  You’ll be able to get him much later than this, but you can’t ask for a better spot for Barrie to be in.  I went in having Letang around 15th but ended up moving him up because he’s still a monster on a per-game basis in every category.  Nothing has changed with Letang; it’s whether you want to gamble on his health or not.  Rielly should bounce back quite a bit, especially on the power play.  Toronto is in a very good spot with the division change.  I went in having Hughes in tier two, but I had to drop him down.  The assists and power play points will be great, but the shot rate was average and so are the penalty minutes.  I like him plenty, but there’s a bit of downside here.

Krug is a wild card for me.  Does his shot rate go back up now that he’s out of Boston?  How much does his PPP drop not being on Boston’s top unit?  That said, Krug has had 40+ assists in five straight seasons and 33-37 PIM so the floor is high.  I wanted to go higher on Dahlin but stopped myself from being too much of a homer.  That said, Dahlin played at a 50 assist per 82 game pace last season playing only 19 minutes a game.  The ATOI has to go up quite a bit this season and in year three, Dahlin could finally become the defenseman everyone expected when he was the first overall pick.  The worry is the shot rate was poor after being good as a rookie, but I think we see a bounce back.  Additionally, the PIM are solid, so there’s plenty to like for Dahlin.  I think we know what we have with Pietrangelo, but he takes a slight hit going to PP2 in Vegas.

I like Werenski, but I can’t see that goal rate repeating and the assists took a hit.  The PIM is very bad too.  There’s always a chance that Jones takes over PP1 as he’s done in the best.  I like Werenski, but you have to make sure that you have plenty of assists early.  I love Heiskanen, but I’m really worried about Dallas’ offense this year.  There’s also the chance that Klingberg keeps the PP1 spot, although with Seguin done until at least April, perhaps they play together?  Either way, I think the floor is a bit lower than other guys.  Karlsson dropped off a ton last season, but I’m putting him here out of respect.  Is it impossible him and Burns both bounce back?  I don’t think so.  He played 56 games last season and put up 40 points which is about what his floor is this year.  My hope is that the shot rate goes back up again and the Sharks power play will be better than 23rd in the league.

TIER FOUR: LIKE THEM BUT WITH CAVEATS

18) Charlie McAvoy

19) Mikhail Sergachev

20) Tony DeAngelo

21) Thomas Chabot

22) Neal Pionk

23) Ryan Ellis

24) Shea Weber

25) Adam Fox

26) Aaron Ekblad

27) Mark Giordano

28) John Klingberg

29) Mathew Dumba

McAvoy should finally play on the first power play unit with Krug’s departure.  That’s where the upside is.  His shot rate is only at 1.5 per game which is the downside.  For McAvoy to truly breakout, we need that to reach two per game.  This is a bit aggressive on Sergachev and will come down to how much time he gets on PP1, if any.  With Kucherov out for the whole regular season, perhaps Sergachev takes his spot?  Maybe they ease Hedman’s workload anyways?  I like Sergachev to take a step forward either way, but a big one will take a break on the power play.  A guy I was all in on, Tony Dogs, was one of my biggest hits.  He’s going to regress some because no defenseman shoots 10% regularly, but the question is how much?  The potential downside is that Fox takes his spot on PP1 and that makes DeAngelo a bottom end hold.  I don’t think it happens, but it can’t be ruled out.

Chabot’s downside is that the plus-minus could be awful.  The good news is that all of the categories are strong besides plus-minus and they could certainly get better, at least back to 2018-19 levels.  Pionk is in the same shoes as DeAngelo in that there’s a chance he loses PP1, but I don’t expect it to happen.  Morrissey started the season there last year but Pionk played so well after Morrissey was injured that he lost his spot for good.  I gave Pionk a small boost for being in that division.  Ellis was great in two of the last three seasons, but only a bottom end hold two seasons ago.  I’m more inclined to believe the strong years since he’s on the best pair in the league.  He does most of his damage at evens so if he finally gets decent power play points, Ellis could be a top #2 instead of a bottom end one.

Weber is going to give you very poor PPP and assists from a bottom end #2 / top end #3, but the goals and shots are elite enough to counteract that.  He fits certain team builds more given his imbalance of stats.  He’s also 35 years old now bringing aging risk.  This may be an overrating of Fox, but he was excellent in his rookie season and has full breakout potential.  He should play a few more minutes per game this season which brings improvement even without Fox taking a jump.  It’ll take a bump in shot rate to take the jump, but it’s in play.  Ekblad and Giordano are in the same boat being decent in all of the categories, but without big upside, Giordano because of age and Ekblad because of no PP1 time on a team whose second unit could a big hit this season losing Dadonov, Hoffman, and Trocheck (two of the three were on PP2 almost all season).

As mentioned above with Heiskanen, I’m very worried about Dallas offensively this season.  The chance of Heiskanen taking away Klingberg’s PP1 spot is also real.  I don’t see the big upside for Klingberg anymore.  Dumba had a year from hell last season, but I’m banking on him bouncing back.  I don’t see the 2018-19 level where he was a top 5 defenseman in his 32 games, but closer to his 2017-18 level.

TIER FIVE: SHOULD BE HOLDS ALL SEASON

30) Seth Jones

31) Kevin Shattenkirk

32) Keith Yandle

33) Ryan Suter

34) Darnell Nurse

35) Rasmus Ristolainen

36) Ryan Pulock

37) Jeff Petry

38) P.K. Subban

39) Ivan Provorov

40) Jacob Trouba

Jones is up there for most overrated player in the league for me.  He’s solid, but nowhere near the elite defenseman people make him out to be.  For fantasy, he’s decent in all of the categories but far from elite in any of them.  His only big year was getting full PP1 time and I don’t see that happening without a Werenski injury.  Shattenkirk moves to Anaheim where he should be on the first power play unit.  He had a nice bounce back in Tampa last season and despite moving to a worse team, the points should increase because of that power play time.  Yandle and Suter are firmly big assist guys who are getting up there in age.  There’s not a lot of upside, but they’re steady.  They’re nice picks if you gambled on higher upside picks earlier.

The Oilers are going to need Nurse to play big minutes again this season.  The shot rate and PIM are top quality, and the second PP unit should be a bit better with Puljujarvi and Yamamoto there.  Ristolainen is far from exciting, but the additions of Hall, Staal, and Cozens will greatly improve the second power play unit which helps Risto.  I don’t see any downside for Nurse, it’s simply a matter of team needs whether you want him this high or not.  The PIM will be strong and the shot rate is likely to take a small step forward again.  With Toews leaving the Islanders, Pulock should be counted on even more this season.  The shot rate was already borderline elite for a defenseman, but a jump from 8 PPP to around 15 (per 82 games) would make Pulock a solid #3.  Petry was excellent by his standards last season and has shown no signs of slowing down.  A boost changing divisions makes Petry a pretty safe option.

Subban was an absolute train wreck last season and if you wanted to knock him down to tier six, I wouldn’t argue.  The question is how much he bounces back, assuming he does.  Even if he gets to half a point per game, the PIM and shot rate would make him an automatic hold.  I like Provorov a lot in real life, but he hasn’t translated that into fantasy success.  It looked like he was on the verge after his second season, but the shot rate has fallen since then.  There is some upside, but I’m not expecting him to hit that.  Trouba is in the same boat as Subban, although he’ll have less opportunity because of DeAngelo and Fox.  However, the shot rate is even better and the PIM are just as good.  There’s a chance Trouba doesn’t play on the power play at all though, and if that’s the case, Trouba is not worth owning.  It’ll be something to monitor early in the season.

TIER SIX: DECENT FLOORS AND GUYS WHO NEED AN INJURY TO BLOW UP

40) Alex Edler

41) Josh Morrissey

42) Filip Hronek

43) Mikko Lehtonen

44) Devon Toews

45) Nate Schmidt

46) Erik Gustafsson

47) Justin Schultz

48) Matt Grzelcyk

49) Mattias Ekholm

Edler is like guys in the tier above like Nurse and Risto, but has even less upside.  One, Edler is getting older causing his play to drop off last season.  Two, his shot rate is dropping.  Three, Schmidt’s arrival puts him third in terms of PP1 options so even if Hughes was injured, Edler wouldn’t go on the first power play unit.  He’s another PIM guy who is decent enough everywhere to be a hold, but that’s it.  Morrissey, like most of the guys on this list, will probably bounce back and forth between being a hold or not.  He’d be an auto hold if Pionk was injured or Morrissey simply took the PP1 spot back, but otherwise he’s a fringe guy.  Hronek has the most upside here by a wide margin, but he was -38 last season.  There’s the chance he’s a top 25 defenseman but he could also destroy your plus-minus.  I wouldn’t touch him in roto leagues, but I’m willing to roll the dice in head to head leagues.

In general this late in drafts, I want to shoot for the moon.  Lehtonen may not even be active for Toronto to start the season, but I’m going to target him with my last pick in drafts just in case.  He was excellent in the KHL last season with 17+32 in 60 games shooting three shots per game.  He’s an excellent PPQB so if he cracks the Toronto lineup (clearly he should over Bogosian), then he’ll run PP2.  Given Toronto’s general offensive ability, a year similar to Barrie’s (39 points in 70 games with quality shots) is within reach.  Toews is average or slightly below across the board, but moving to Colorado should boost his numbers.  It won’t be exciting, but he’s a safe option.  Same goes with Schmidt in Vancouver as I suspect his plus-minus takes a hit, but everything else says similar or even gets a small boost.

Gustafsson should play on the second pair in Philly and has a small chance of eventually taking PP1 away from Provorov.  I doubt we ever see him close to his 2018-19 Chicago level again, but he could blow up again if he gets on Philly’s first unit.  Either way, the second unit should be pretty strong in Philly so if you need some PPP late, Gustafsson should help.  Schultz probably needs an injury to Carlson to really be worth holding onto, but Vrana’s emergence helps PP2 plus Ovechkin stays out for the full two minutes frequently enough that Schultz has some bounce back potential.  Grzelcyk is worth holding if he gets PP1 time over McAvoy.  If he doesn’t, it’s unlikely, but moving onto the first pair gives him a chance to be a bottom end hold anyways.  Ekholm is extremely boring fantasy wise, but if something happened to Josi or Ellis, he should play as a top 30 defenseman like he has in the past.  I probably won’t be drafting him since I want to gamble on upside late, but he belongs in this tier, especially for deeper leagues.

That’s all for now guys.  I’ll be back tomorrow with the start of my forward rankings  Please ask any questions, give any comments, or make any suggestions below; it would be great to hear from all of the loyal readers.  Thanks for reading, take care!

  1. Peter Parker says:
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    Excellent job on this list!! The one sleeper situation where I think you have a very good chance of seeing is Matt Grzelcyk run the PP1 for the Bruins!

    • Viz

      Viz says:
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      Thanks! It looks that way with more time, but hard to say for certain

  2. VeniceCanuck says:
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    Thanks for your commentary. Love it! I think that Ivan Provorov deserves a place on your list, and OEL if you are not worried about the +/-. I also agree with Peter that Grzelcyk likely runs the PPI.

    • Viz

      Viz says:
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      Whoops, I had Provorov in my written out list but I forgot to include him in, I will edit that. You could make the case of OEL but he’s fringe at best at this point. He’s coming off 30 points in 66 games with two shots per game, that’s simply not a hold. I don’t see the upside anymore. Time will tell on Boston, I think you may be right but far from a guarantee.

  3. Peter Parker says:
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    With regards to OEL, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jakob Chychrun take over Arizona’s PP1 at some point this season. Last season, Chychrun was more effective on the PP than OEL.

    Training camp should answer a lot of these D questions!!

    • Viz

      Viz says:
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      Agree on Chychrun, he just missed making the cut here and is another guy I’d like to take a late flier on.

  4. Teddy BB says:
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    Fantastic list, Viz
    I agree that Dahlin is going to really break out this year on an improved team.
    Surprised how high you are on Barrie, but it will be interesting to see him on the PP.
    My league counts “ice time” and “hits”. What D-men move up in your rankings the most based on those two categories ?
    Thanks

    • Viz

      Viz says:
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      Thanks Teddy! Being a Sabres fan, I really hope so. I am definitely looking to be the high man on Barrie. He was always underrated in fantasy in Colorado; we’re only one season removed from 59 points in 78 games and 57 in 68 the season before that. I think he pushes into the 60 in points given his PPQB ability and getting to play with McDavid and Draisaitl there.

      Among guys a little lower down, Chabot gets a big boost with TOI included. I wouldn’t be shocked if he led the league in ice time and is decent in hits. Doughty moves up into tier 5 because he’s great in both of those cats. A guy like Nurse also takes a big jump. Risto is also an absolute monster in hits. In general, the TOI doesn’t change the top too much because the elite guys play a ton already, so I would just sort through hits to have a general idea of who gets a small boost. I wouldn’t do anything too drastic, but it puts a little more value on defensemen in general.

  5. Slimbo says:
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    glad your back buddy!

    thanks for all your hard work! got a dynasty question

    G A +/- PPP SOG HITS

    which side? Mikko Rantanen or Andrei Svechnikov/McAvoy

    Thanks!

    • Viz

      Viz says:
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      Slimbo! Glad to hear from you! No problem at all.

      Give me the Svech side. I think him and Rantanen are close, although as you’ll see in tomorrow’s post, I actually have Svech higher than Rantanen in the same tier. Given hits helps out Svech quite a bit, in this format, I prefer Svech, so getting a bonus McAvoy is great. I don’t have much hesitation on this one, as much as I like Rantanen.

  6. Chet says:
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    Viz, What are your thoughts on John Marino in Pittsburgh? I know the SOG are low, but other than that (and PP time), he had a pretty good rookie season. Just curious. Thanks.

    • Viz

      Viz says:
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      Nice player in real life, really nice find by Pittsburgh, but I don’t see the fantasy upside. He barely put up any points in college, and while he could be a late bloomer, I would bet him on him finishing around the same point totals as last seaosn. Even in a 12 man league, I don’t see the case for drafting him. If Letang goes down and he takes his spot on the first power play unit, then he’s must own, but it’s not even a guarantee he takes that spot even if Letang does go down.

      • Chet says:
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        Cool. Thanks again!

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