We’re keeping it moving here at Razzball Hockey HQ today looking at the top 20 defensemen in my 2022-23 Fantasy Hockey Rankings. My goaltending rankings and top 20 overall are easily available on the Razzball Hockey home page. Unlike when I made a list of players that I considered for my Top 20 overall where I had 35 potential candidates, I only wrote down 22 names for Top 20 defenseman candidates. Defensemen remains an extremely top heavy positions, so differentiating the players in the 11-50 range will go a long way. Last year, I nailed Ekblad as an elite D ranking him 6th, and also had DeAngelo and McAvoy well above consensus in my Top 20. Andersson and Seider were my big wins lower down. For failures, Barrie and Petry lead the way, along with ranking Doughty too low. Let’s hope for better this time around. Let’s get to it!
1) Cale Makar – Covered in my Top 10 overall here.
2) Roman Josi – This is a two player tier. There’s pretty much nothing separating these two players and it comes down to what you’re looking for. I ultimately settled on Josi because the shots are elite for any position and is way in front of every other defenseman. I know 96 is a bit of an outlier for Josi, but he’s so good across the board that even with some regression, he can hold this spot. After all, Hedman’s 85 points from last year is also an outlier. If you flip flop them, I’m not going to argue, but they have to be #2 and #3 in some order.
3) Victor Hedman – Hedman set a career high in goals and assists last season in year #13. He led defensemen in PPP, the shots are above average for defensemen, and he’s been +24 or better in four of the last five seasons. I don’t feel the need to go into detail on why Hedman is ranked here; he’s established himself over the last decade in the upper echelon of the league.
4) Aaron Ekblad – Ekblad was the #8 defenseman last season despite playing only 61 games. That number is inflated by his +38 rating, but he was still fantastic across the board. He set a career high assists with 42 even playing less games, the 15 goals were great, and his shots remained right around three per game, elite for a defenseman. I’m putting Ekblad at the top of this tier because despite the change in coaches and potentially styles, Ekblad can see a boost with the Florida blue line getting thinner. I’m a Forsling believer, but after the top pair, it’s a lot of questions whether any of these guys can be on the second pair. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ekblad plays a couple more minutes per game this season.
5) Adam Fox – Fox’s shot rate is the only thing that keeps him down here. Sure, it’s very assist heavy, but he’s incredible at both even strength and on the power play. Maybe we’ll get lucky and takes a step forward in the shots department. Fox loses some value in hits leagues, but still, he’s the perfect fit if you go heavy on goal scorers in the first couple rounds and need to fill out your assists.
6) Kris Letang – The next three guys are almost a tier within in a tier. They’re so close that I have no idea how you separate them, but I’ll try. Originally, I was going to have Letang in 8th for health reasons, but he’s actually been relatively healthy the last three seasons missing 8,1, and 4 games. I settled on putting him first because he’s better in the PIM/hits department than the other two guys. They’re all going to be in the 10+60 range with great PPP.
7) John Carlson – Carlson actually scored 17 goals last season and has had 13+ in four of the last five, so if you want a little more goal upside, he’s your guy. He’s as safe of a middling #1D as there is.
8) Morgan Rielly – Rielly’s point production has gone a bit up and down the last four seasons, despite playing in the same role. He set a career high with 58 assists last season, good enough to be 7th on the player rater. I’m sliding him here because it feels like a little bit of best case scenario. The PIM were easily a career high, the shot rate took a massive jump forward, and the Leafs shot 12.8% when he was on the ice, a very high number. Maybe the shot rate stabilizes at a very good rate for a defenseman, but if you go back one year, he’s under two per game. Even though he’s the youngest of these three guys grouped together, he carries a little more risk.
9) Quinn Hughes – Despite Vancouver’s struggles last season, Hughes set a career high in 60 assists in 76 games. If you’re in a hits league, he needs to be much lower than this, but without hits, the bottom of the top ten feels right to me. Hughes had the Boudreau boost that almost everyone gets, and I thought it was very telling that Hughes said in an interview on “32 Thoughts” that the one thing he needs to do offensively is shoot more. Being around two shots per game isn’t terrible, but keeps him out of pushing for a spot higher on the list. If it does get to 2.5 per game, then he’s pretty much the three guys in front of him and will give him a case to be ahead of Fox, as right now, Hughes is the 90% version of Fox.
10) Dougie Hamilton – This tier has all of the upside. Most of these guys have a realistic chance to be a top 5 defenseman this season, but they’re riskier than the guys in tier three. It wasn’t that long ago that Hamilton was the #1 overall defenseman. There’s a few reasons that I’m bullish on a bounce back for him. One, his season was derailed when he had the broken jaw; he was never the same when he came back. Two, the team is incredibly young and should improve around him. Three, there’s no reason at all for anyone but Dougie to be running the PP this year. Lastly, there’s a chance Ruff gets fired, and if they go to Brunette, Hamilton could put up big points in an open style. The elite shot rate and PIM give him such a high floor that I’m going to take a shot on him again.
11) Rasmus Dahlin – Homer alert! Dahlin shows signs of taking the next step last season with 13+40. The PIM are elite, the shot rate got to slightly above average for a D, and the Sabres power play showed signs. The big worry is that Dahlin was -22, a year after being -36. Here’s the thing. Dahlin was still the 20th best defenseman last season despite the -22. The team around him continues to improve, but he also is making huge strides himself. Power should also insulate him this season giving Dahlin easier matchups. I think Dahlin has his breakout party this season and tops 60 points with those solid PIM/hits.
12) Moritz Seider – Seider’s rookie season was fantastic in his rookie season with 50 points and an above average shot rate. The question is how much does he jump in year two? I’m a little worried about Seider having to carry Chiarot as his partner with how terrible Chiarot looked last season in Montreal and even Florida in a sheltered role. The forward group is much better, and Husso gives them some upside in net. I’m a huge believer in the talent in real life, and I see the path to him booming, but it could be a year away from the massive breakout.
13) Shea Theodore – I really want to rank Theodore higher. He had some brutal stretches last season, but he tried to drag the Golden Knights into the playoffs single-handedly with 13 points in 13 April games with over three shots per game. The main problem is that Vegas balances out their power plays so Theodore doesn’t get the top PP minutes he deserves. Such a waste having Pietrangelo play top PP. If it looks like that will change under Cassidy, then I move Theodore ahead of Dahlin and Seider.
14) Thomas Chabot – The Ottawa forward group looks great on paper. The blue line? Woof. That should allow Chabot to keep his massive minute allocation. The shot rate is borderline elite for a defenseman, and it’s easy to see the path to see Chabot taking a big jump due to PPP improvement. I’m sliding him here because he’s missed a fair amount of time every season, and I don’t expect him to be a plus player based on his past and his potential partners this season.
15) Zach Werenski – Werenski set a career high in points despite playing only 68 games. He could see a big jump in power play points with the arrival of Gaudreau, and the shot rate is excellent. The problem is that he’s bad in PIM and hits, plus he’s overmatched in a top pair role with Peeke or whoever plays with him. 65 points with those shots wouldn’t surprise me, but it might get ugly outside of those categories.
16) Noah Dobson – The Islanders season was a disaster, but Dobson taking a big step forward was one of the highlights. He finished with 35 points in his last 45 games with a solid shot rate. Dobson doesn’t take penalties, but his hits are solid, so it makes him much better in that format. As much as I like Dobson, I don’t see him quite having the upside of the guys in front of him. I’m still keeping him in this tier because Lambert can’t be as defensive as Trotz, and I want the next two guys in this tier because of their huge upside, but Dobson’s safer than them.
17) Evan Bouchard – This ranking is to mostly indicate that I want Bouchard this year. One, he loves to take a lot of shots. It led to 12 goals last season shooting 6%. That’s despite getting only 7 PPP. What if he takes over the top spot over Barrie? At this point, he clearly should, but if they’re going to have Barrie playing, I suspect he keeps the role. That said, the good thing is that Bouchard will get to play with McDavid and Draisaitl on the PP anyways since they play the full 2 minutes. Bouchard also played under 20 minutes per game last season. There’s a lot of things points up for him. Bouchard has a floor of being a middling #3 defenseman, but he could end up being a #1 if he gets that PP time. 15+45 with elite PPP and shots isn’t much of a stretch.
18) Miro Heiskanen – This is as simple as “Klingberg is gone, let’s see what Miro can do with top PP time.” Heiskanen’s shot rate went up last season but he had poor shooting luck. His 11 PPP could turn into 25 if he gets top time as expected, even with the arrival of Lundkvist. The PIM are low and I don’t see a 70 point season in him like the guys ahead could, but he’s such a good player that we can finally see the offense catch up to his defensive abilities with the opportunity.
19) Devon Toews – This tier is full of guys who are safe options for your #2 or #3, but they still have some upside. If you’re looking for a safe option, the players in 4B (will continue in the top 40) could be put ahead of the guys ranked 15th-18th. Toews was absolutely incredible last season putting up 57 points in 66 games and a whopping +52 rating. I don’t want to pay a super premium for Toews because I don’t want to pay up for a career year. As good as he is, I have a really hard time seeing him match last season. The plus-minus should be great, but not that great. I’m not sure he even matches the 12 PPP without Makar missing time again. Toews fits in perfectly with most team builds so I like him plenty as your #2. Just don’t reach.
20) Brent Burns – After a decade with the Sharks, Burns moves to a contender in Carolina. Burns had 54 points last season, but the shot rate dropped quite a bit, and he won’t play 26 minutes a game in Carolina (Slavin only plays 23). There’s a chance that Burns is approaching washed, but on the other hand, Burns could bounce back big with Slavin as his partner. He was the 23rd ranked defenseman last season despite a poor plus-minus. You can easily take Burns ahead of 5 guys ahead of him depending on what you’re looking for. The ceiling is high and the floor is fairly high, but I wanted to slot him into this tier of safer guys. I’m extremely interested to see how Burns does under Rod the Bod. It wouldn’t shock me if Burns is bad enough defensively that he spends some time lower in the lineup. Burns also has stayed incredibly healthy throughout his career, making his ceiling even higher. It’s nice to put a Razzball favorite back in my top 20 defensemen!
That’s all for now guys. I’m going to be traveling tomorrow, but I hope to get my Top 40 defensemen out on Thursday morning. Worst case, it will be out on Friday. As always, feel free to ask any questions, leave any comments, or give any suggestions below. Thanks for reading, take care!