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Fantasy Hockey Sleepers 2017-18: Defense

This week our focus will be on the top five sleeper defensemen that can help solidify your fantasy blue line. Sometimes it’s hard to draft defensemen, because unless you have a guy like Eric Karlsson or Brent Burns, you need to stick to a 30- to 40-point blueliner. I usually keep my rankings based on points, but because this is about defensemen, I’ll add in hits and blocks. Most leagues use hits and blocks in their point system, and it works well to allow more fantasy scoring from your defensive core. Here are some of my past sleeper articles: Fantasy Hockey Sleepers for 2017-18: CentersFantasy Hockey Sleepers for 2017-18: Right Wing, Fantasy Hockey Sleepers for 2017-18: Left Wing.

Ben Hutton, Vancouver Canucks

At 6-foot-2, 207 pounds, Hutton is a big player that can cover a lot of ice at both ends of the rink. He was a fifth-round pick, 147th overall, for the Canucks in the 2012 draft, which featured eight defensemen drafted in the top 10 picks. Hutton was the third highest-scoring blueliner on the Canucks, scoring five goals and 19 points in 71 games. On the defensive side of his game, he was also third on the team with 106 blocks while piling up 46 hits. Hutton’s point totals may not seem like a lot, but with the departure of Luca Sbisa to the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, this will give him guaranteed top-four minutes and increase his ice time. He scored 11 of his 19 points on the power play, and his nine power play assists were second only to Henrik Sedin. At 22 years old, Hutton is emerging as the Canucks’ top scoring defenseman.

Noah Hanifin, Carolina Hurricanes

[the_ad id=”384″]Hanifin played 81 games for the Carolina Hurricanes in his second full season, scoring 29 points. He is not that physical and managed only 57 hits and 73 blocks, but he plays a very good positional game and uses his size and skill to create chances from the point. Hanifin was only two points behind Justin Faulk for the team lead in power play points with 11 and averaged 18 minutes of ice time. Defensemen usually take longer to develop, but Hanifin has shown, even at his young age, that he has the maturity to improve consistently and be an impact player now. He still lines up as a third or fourth defenseman, but he could see higher minutes if his play continues to improve. At 20 years old, Hanifin still has lots of time to develop. He will be a great pick-up for those in dynasty leagues.

Brady Skjei, New York Rangers

Skjei came from nowhere last season to score 39 points in 80 games and could be a big reason why the New York Rangers bought out Dan Girardi’s contract. For a guy who is 6-foot-3 and 211 pounds, he is a very good skater and plays a sound game at both ends of the ice. He was drafted more for his defense, but he piled on the points in his first full season, which helped him finish 10th in Calder Trophy voting for the league’s top rookie. Skjei had 69 blocks and 147 hits, which ranked second on the team behind Nick Holde,n who averaged almost three more minutes of ice time. Although still not considered an offensive defenseman, Skjei will see more ice time and get more chances to score, especially with the departure of Girardi. Skjei could go earlier than expected in drafts, so keep a close eye on him.

Shea Theodore, Las Vegas Golden Knights

Theodore could end up being the best defenseman on the Golden Knights’ roster. He is a smooth, skilled-skating, high-level offensive defenseman who can quarterback the powerplay.  Theodore played only 34 games for the Anaheim Ducks and scored nine points. Don’t let his point total fool you, though, as Theodore was stuck behind a Ducks team with loads of talent on the back end, which prevented him from seeing more time in the big leagues. In the AHL, Theodore put up impressive numbers, scoring five goals and 20 points in only 26 games last season. His trade to Vegas should open up ice time for him, allowing him to really open up his game and develop into what could be a top-scoring defenseman. Don’t let Theodore fall too far on draft day.

Thomas Chabot, Ottawa Senators

With Marc Methot drafted by Vegas in the expansion draft, Ottawa will have a spot to fill. Chabot should be the guy that will step in and take that spot. His junior resume is very good, as he scored 153 points in 202 games with 34 goals and was drafted 18th overall in the 2015 draft. Chabot is a very skilled puck-moving defenseman who has no trouble clearing the zone and creating offensive plays. At 6-foot-2, 188 pounds, he should have little issue with the size difference from junior to the NHL. He may have to catch up to the speed, though. Chabot has only one professional game under his belt, so he may be a risky pick if Ottawa decides to give him a year in the minors to develop. If he is available late in your draft, it wouldn’t hurt to pick him up and see what happens.

Depending on your league’s scoring system, defense can be hard to draft, as most people want goals and points. If you are in a league that includes hits and blocks, it won’t hurt to look at guys like Radko Gudas and Alexi Emelin, both of whom lay a lot of hits and block shots. Like I said earlier, unless you can get a player like Karlsson or Burns in the early rounds, you really need to look at defensemen who score around 30-40 points, a good total for today’s blue liner. Those are my picks for this week. I hope they help get you closer to your championship goals.

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