P.K. Subban’s offensive game is really on the upswing. (Immigrantwomeninfo.wordpress.com)
By Chris Wassel and RotoRob
The 2013-14 RotoRob NHL Draft Kit nears completion with the release of another cheat sheet. So while you wonder if New Jersey got good value in the Damien Brunner deal (and how appropriate it is for a dude named Damien to be a Devil), let’s take a look at the top 45 defensemen in Fantasy hockey.
The defense never rests. In this case, a full season post-lockout has implications for Fantasy hockey owners, and those implications are very positive. Our criteria as far as defensemen is a bit different as we consider IDP rankings as well as regular Fantasy numbers. It is why P.K. Subban is our number one. Also, Erik Karlsson was dropped to fourth because of simple concerns about how fast can he get his groove back. The guy we are intrigued most by is Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Though we have him ranked at 10, there is a possibility that his stock could rise even more. Fifty points? That is not far fetched at all given his increased progression.
One off-list player that could shoot up like a rocket is Lubomir Visnovsky. He’s one to keep an eye on. Take a look at how he does in training camp as the No. 1. Visnovsky will have to play even more on the penalty kill and though he was fairly decent, he still needs to improve in that area. He would be a reclamation sleeper of sorts. Finally, the Joni Pitkanen injury news (out for the seasion) means you need to take a look at Ryan Murphy. He could step right in.
Now, let’s get to those rankings…
Last year’s rankings are in parentheses.
1. P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens (21): Subban took a big step forward offensively last season, even while playing over a minute per game less. Hence his rise from outside the top 20 to the top of the list this year. The Habs gave Subban big money, so let’s hope it hasn’t affected his motivation and let’s also hope he’s done tipping it into his own net (see video below).
2. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild (18): The Wild doled out some serious coin to land Suter and he responded with a much better offensive season. He’s a decent bet to reach double digits in goals for the first time this season.
3. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets (3): Byfuglien’s assist numbers dropped significantly last season, but his work ethic has reportedly improved greatly, so we may see a nice recovery this season.
4. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators (2): Karlsson missed most of last season thanks to a severe Achille’s injury, and that fact that he was able to come back when he did was truly amazing. Just remember what this dude did two years ago as a good baseline of what he’s capable of.
5. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators (1): Nashvillle opted to match the massive offer sheet the Flyers signed Weber to before last season, and the durable blueliner rewarded the Preds with another strong campaign, even though he saw slightly less PT. Nashville’s captain can blast the puck like few others in the game.
6. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins (5): Letang’s had a tough time staying healthy the past couple of seasons and last year, it affected his goal total, although he made up for it with a ton of helpers for his first season of over a point per game. The Pens rewarded him with a massive eight-year extension, even though they had already given huge contracts to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
7. Keith Yandle, Phoenix Coyotes (14): Yandle has racked up four straight double-digit goal seasons and is up to his old tricks already this preseason. Last season, he added plenty of helpers as his overall offensive numbers bounced back nicely.
8. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues (9): After getting a career high in goals in 2011-12, last season was a bit of disappointment for Pietrangelo. His +/- plummeted as well, but the fact that he’s already scored once in the first two preseason games is a nice sign.
9. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks (29): The Hawks’ veteran put together a better campaign last season. When he was reunited with longtime partner Brent Seabrook in the playoffs, things really took off for him.
10. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix Coyotes (13): This dude has quietly become a tremendous defenseman, proving very durable the past couple of years and putting up a career best in +/- last season. Okay, so he’s only 22 and plays in a lousy hockey market, but by season’s end, we expect people to know who this kid is.
11. Tobias Enstrom, Winnipeg Jets (6): Enstrom might be happy to be back in Winnipeg after getting assaulted and robbed back home in Sweden this summer (when’s the last time you heard about anyone pleased to be in the Peg?). Staying healthy has been a major issue for him in recent seasons, and what was shaping up as a stellar offensive campaign last season was cut short. If Enstrom gets to play with Byfuglien this season, look for a career year.
12. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins (4): Boston may use the big man on forward to stand in front of the net on the power play to from time to time, which would be a boon to the Bruins’ captain’s numbers. The durable blueliner got more penalty minutes than usual last season, but when will Father Time slow down the big man?
13. Dion Phaneuf, Toronto Maple Leafs (36): Phaneuf has stayed healthy the past couple of years and last season, he was more valuable in penalty minute leagues. Want to talk Fantasy value? Phaneuf goes home to wife Elisha Cuthbert every night. Schwing!
14. Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings (20): This veteran has stayed durable the past couple of years, topping 500 career games last season. Unfortunately, after busting through for a career-high 15 goals in 2011-12, he only managed five last season. Fortunately, he made up for that with a ton of assists.
15. Mike Green, Washington Capitals (35): Green stayed a bit healthier last season and rediscovered his scoring touch – a trend that has continued this preseason. If Green can finally put his injury-prone ways behind him, look out.
16. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings (7): Doughty stayed healthy last season, but regressed offensively a tad. We’re expecting a huge season out of him… possibly even Norris Trophy worthy.
17. Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues (15): Expected to be part of Team USA at the Olympics next year, Shattenkirk has been quite durable the past two years, but we would have liked to see a couple more goals last season. He has good puck-moving skills that should translate into more assists this season.
18. Mark Streit, Philadelphia Flyers (10): Streit hasn’t missed a game in three seasons and it will be interesting to see how the Isles recover after losing not only their captain, but their best defenseman.
19. Brian Campbell, Florida Panthers (12): After the Panthers signed him as a free agent, Campbell broke through with a career year and helped the team snap a decade-long playoff drought. Last season, he again stayed healthy, but the team returned to its losing ways.
20. Justin Schultz, Edmonton Oilers (33): Schultz enjoyed a very strong rookie season, staying healthy and racking up lots of shots of goal. He’s in the final year of a two-year deal and the Oilers are going to work hard to tie him up long-term.
21. Jack Johnson, Columbus Blue Jackets (26): Another d-man expected to represent USA during the Olympics, Johnson has gotten past a groin woe and looks very healthy at camp. Hopefully he can return to his double-digit goal ways this season.
22. Slava Voynov, Los Angeles Kings (NR): Voynov had a breakthough season and continued his superb play in the playoffs. So far this preseason, he’s averaging a point per game.
23. Alexander Edler, Vancouver Canucks (8): Edler, who played for Team Sweden at last year’s World Hockey Championship, missed a bit of time last season and endured his worst +/- ranking yet. He could suffer, production-wise, under new Coach John Tortorella’s more defensive system.
24. John Carlson, Washington Capitals (16): The U.S.-born blueliner failed to score on the power play last season, and that will have to change if he has a chance to reach double digit goals for the first time. He sure logs enough ice time.
25. Paul Martin, Pittsburgh Penguins (NR): The veteran American could have his last chance to represent the U.S. at the Olympics next year. Martin seems to have overcome an ankle injury that plagued him in the playoffs.
26. Alex Goligoski, Dallas Stars (31): Now that Sergei Gonchar is in town, Goligoski is probably going to slip a bit this season after leading the Stars in assists in 2012-13.
27. Kimmo Timonen, Philadelphia Flyers (25): Timonen hasn’t been as durable as usual the past couple of years, and that could be a problem for what will be the league’s most expensive defense corps.
28. Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks (11): Boyle gets a boost in Fantasy value now that fellow Shark Brent Burns has been moved to forward. Boyle is angling for a long-term extension, but at the age of 37, how much longer is he going to play?
29. Cody Franson, Free agent (NR): Still unsigned, Franson may have to think about going to Europe to play this season. Remember that he played in Sweden last season during the lockout, so this is a route he’s comfortable with. Jake Gardiner gets a nice boost if Franson can’t come to terms with the Maple Leafs.
30. Sergei Gonchar, Dallas Stars (NR): After three years in Ottawa, Gonchar was dealt to Dallas, which promptly gave the 39-year-old a new two-year deal. Is he still a No. 1 defenseman? It’s close.
31. Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens (38): OMG, Markov’s rebuilt knee actually held up for a whole season after three straight injury-ravaged years. And best of all, he’s still a great player, finishing fourth among all blueliners in scoring.
32. Jason Garrison, Vancouver Canucks (28): The former Panther didn’t exactly light the world on fire after arriving in Vancouver, but he finished strong. If his shooting percentage can bounce back, he should get back to double-digit goals this season.
33. Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks (NR): Seabrook’s offensive numbers dipped slightly last season as his shot total really plummeted. He also saw his least amount of icetime since 2007-08.
34. Dennis Wideman, Calgary Flames (NR): The Flames gave him a boatload of cash, but this power play specialist knows how to score from the point, already proving so this preseason with a two-goal game.
35. Christian Ehrhoff, Buffalo Sabres (NR): Ehrhoff matched his 2011-12 goal total in 19 less games last season, but his helpers fell off the table. There’s talk he could become the new captain of the Sabres.
36. Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes (NR): Pitkanen will miss the entire season, allowing Faulk to garner more opportunities offensively. Faulk flashed more goal scoring prowess last season and could make a run at double digits this season.
37. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning (NR): One of the brightest young players in the game, Hedman is on the verge of a major breakout after taking a nice step forward offensively last season. We’ll be surprised if he doesn’t reach 30 assists this season.
38. James Wisniewski, Columbus Blue Jackets (27): Wisniewski dealt with some injury issues last season, but down the stretch he reestablished himself as a must-own Fantasy asset. While Columbus hasn’t exactly reaped the benefits from its big signing of Wisniewski, he did pot four PPG last season. In 2010-11 this dude racked up 29 points on the PP, so he’s capable of being a difference maker.
39. Matt Carle, Tampa Bay Lightning (30): In returning to Tampa Bay last season, Carle managed more goals, but the rest of his numbers were pretty much exactly what you generally expect out of him.
40. Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs (NR): After a nice rookie season, Gardiner spent most of last season in the AHL and he failed to score while with the Leafs in the regular season, but man, did he ever light it up in the playoffs. The longer Franson and the Leafs battle over money, the more likely it is that Gardiner will be thrust into a more important role for Toronto.
41. Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers (NR): This kid keeps getting better and now that Alain Vigneault has come aboard to institute a faster pace for the Rangers, McDonagh could be poised for a major breakout.
42. Michael Del Zotto, New York Rangers (19): Del Zotto had offseason hernia surgery, but he’s reportedly back to full health now (although he did suffer a nasty gash on his ear in preseason). He’ll need to produce on the PP (zero goals last season) to move back up on this list, but being paired with Marc Staal will help, as will the coaching change in Gotham.
43. Francois Beauchemin, Anaheim Ducks (NR): Beauchemin had to have a torn ACL repaired in the offseason, but he’s back now. Expect some rust early on, but given that he’s already playing plenty of minutes in the preseason, he should be able to handle a big workload again this season.
44. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators (NR): The key for Josi will again be getting to play with stud Shea Weber, but with top prospect Seth Jones now in town, that’s no longer guaranteed. Last season, Josi matched his goal total from 2011-12 in four less games. The 38th overall pick from 2008 could flirt with double-digit goals this season.
45. Jonas Brodin, Minnesota Wild (NR): The tender-aged Brodin enjoyed a fine rookie campaign and we expect him to build on that playing alongside Norris candidate Ryan Suter. Brodin could soar up this list by season’s end.
Okay, it’s your turn. Who did we miss? Who should be higher or lower?