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Fantasy Hockey: Top 10 Defensemen

A defenseman’s primary responsibility is to make it hard for the forwards to shoot by blocking their shots, hitting them, or just covering them. This responsibility makes a lot of defensemen fantasy-relevant. However, some defensemen are also expected to drive play, especially when the team is on the power-play. Since this position usually leaves the shooting to the forwards, they don’t get as many points. Only three defensemen had over 70 points last season. The next closest was Kevin Shattenkirk, who had 56 points. An average offensive-defenseman gets around 35 points. This means having a defenseman who can get 40 points or more is valuable. On the plus side, this position can be a good way for your team to get the peripheral stats like blocked shots, hits, and special team points. This top 10 list will use those three categories as factors, but points are the biggest factor. 

10. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets

Not only is Byfuglien consistent on the scoresheet, but he can also get your team a lot of hits, blocked shots, and special team points. Byfuglien had 52 points in 80 games last season. He also had 183 hits and 124 blocked shots with 14 power play points. Usually, Byfuglien gets over 200 hits in a season, but we’ll give him a pass because last year’s 183 still put him 10th among defensemen. Considering Byfuglien’s style of play and the fact that he’s turning 333 this season, he could regress. But with 449 points in 759 career games, Byfuglien has been reliable as a defenseman that can provide points, hits and blocked shots. He’d be a good steal in the sixth or seventh round of drafts.

9. Dougie Hamilton, Calgary Flames

Hamilton hit 50 points in his second season with the Calgary Flames and the first time in his young four-year career. However, Hamilton didn’t have as many blocked shots as he did the previous season, which was really his only weakness as a fantasy-relevant defenseman. At 23 years old, he will only get better. Calgary has a lot of good defensemen with Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie and newly acquired Travis Harmonic, but Hamilton has the most offensive upside and potential of the four. He’ll likely be drafted as high as the third round and as low as the sixth round.

8. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks

[the_ad id=”384″]Although Keith has fewer goals than Hamilton, he had a better points-per-game average last season. In 80 games, Keith had 53 points, which is a .68 points per game. He also put up an outstanding 47 assists. That ties him for third among defensemen. Keith has been very consistent throughout his 11 seasons. He has 511 career points in 913 games. He will be 34 years old this season and could regress a bit. However, considering this season was statistically his third best season, he should have a couple of more productive seasons left before we start to worry. Because of his age, Keith may slip in drafts. So, he’ll likely be a sixth or seventh round pick, but no one would bat an eye if he went earlier than that.

7. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins

If Letang could stay healthy, he’d be in the top three on this list. However, since he’s played more than 70 games just four times in his 11-season career, he is moved down on this list. Last season, Letang missed half the season, angering many fantasy owners. But when he was healthy, he had 34 points in 41 games. That pace put him fourth in the league among defensemen. Letang makes the Penguins stronger, if that were possible. Letang will come with some risks, but he might slip under the radar due to his injury-prone nature. He’ll likely be chosen in the first six rounds of any draft format.

6. Roman Josi and P.K Subban, Nashville Predators

These two players are on the same team and the same power-play unit.  Since they also put up similar numbers, they can share this spot, too. Josi had 49 points in 72 games, which is .68 points per game, and had 119 blocked shots. Subban missed some time due to injury, but he still did pretty well with 40 points in 66 games. He also had 104 blocked shots. Josi has the slight edge over Subban due to points per game. Either way, you can’t go wrong with either player, and both will be third to fourth round picks. If you missed out on these two Nashville defensemen, Ryan Ellis is not a bad consolation prize. He had 16 goals and 38 points last season. He’ll be a sneaky sleeper pick for the later rounds.

5. Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres may actually be good this year. A lot of that has to do is the emergence of Ristolainen. Ristolainen had 45 points in 79 games last season. He had 25 power play points, tied for third for defensemen. He also had 195 hits, ninth among defensemen. The abundance of hits gives him an advantage for offensive defensemen. What’s also impressive is that he did this when Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo, and Evander Kane were injured at various points of the season. At age 23, Ristolainen could improve even more with his new coach, who will emphasize defense. Ristolainen could be taken as high as the late second round, but due to the uncertainty of the Sabres, he could also fall to the fifth round or so. 

4. Kevin Shattenkirk, New York Rangers

For the past season, Shattenkirk was a hot commodity. The crazy thing is that Shattenkirk had a really good season, despite playing for two teams. With the Blues and Capitals, Shattenkirk had 56 points in 80 games with 27 power play points, third among defensemen. However, he registered only six points in 13 playoff games, which soured some people on him. Shattenkirk was still one of the hottest free agents available, which isn’t a surprise considering 29-year-old playmaking defensemen usually don’t go on the market. Shattenkirk will be expected to improve the Rangers’ power play and makes New York an exciting team to watch. He’ll likely go in the third or fourth round in most drafts.

3. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning

In Hedman’s eight-season career, he has scored more than 50 points in only two seasons. He had a career high in points with 72 in 79 games last season. This is even more impressive considering the Lightning didn’t have Steven Stamkos or Tyler Johnson for most of the year. With 56 assists and 33 power play points, Hedman led both those categories for defensemen.  He can hold his own in blocked shots, as well (132). There is potential for Hedman to regress this season, but at 27 years old, he’s still worth drafting in the first two rounds. 

2. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks

An average defenseman will get 15 goals. However, Burns had 29 goals last season. That’s 12 more goals than the next closest defenseman. It’s usually tough to get 30 goals as a forward, and Burns was one shy. With 25 power play points and 149 blocked shots, Burns brings more than just points. This former right winger took a while to transition to being a defenseman, but he finally figured things out. He had 76 points in 82 games last season, almost a point-per-game pace, and that earned him his first Norris trophy. Having Burns on your team will feel like having an extra forward in your defensemen slot. Whether he can keep it up is the question. Burns should be selected in the first round in every draft.

1. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators

For years, the only knock on Karlsson was that he couldn’t play defense. He was basically a fourth forward on the ice but was never defensively responsible. However, that all changed this past season with a new coach. He had 201 blocked shots, which ranked second among defensemen. He’s also still really good at producing points. He had 71 points in 77 games, which ranked third. Historically, he’s more consistent than Hedman and Burns. At 27 years old, Karlsson is already one of the greatest offensive-defensemen this game has ever seen. He should be a first-round pick in every draft, if not a top-five pick. 

Honorable Mentions

Oliver Ekman-Larsson (ARI), Justin Faulk (CAR), Cam Fowler (ANA), John Klingberg (DAL), Torey Krug (BOS), Alex Pietrangelo (STL), Ryan Suter (MIN), Shea Weber (MTL), Zach Werenski (CLS)  

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