If Dustin Byfuglien qualifies at D in your league, go for it! (Jets.nhl.com)
Welcome to the 2014-15 RotoRob NHL Draft Kit. Over the next few weeks, we’ll offer up cheat sheets for every position, plus sleepers, busts and top rookies. So while Alex Ovechkin tries to backpeddle from his seemingly political statement, let’s review the top 50 defensemen.
The defense never ever rests. In this case, a full season without an Olympic break or a lockout is going to create some interesting scenarios. It is going to be fascinating to see which teams take advantage of early beneficial schedules and fewer back-to-backs across the league. There are blueliners that are going to get their points no matter what, like an Erik Karlsson.
It was great to see Victor Hedman make a huge jump last season and that was without Steven Stamkos for a large stretch. Hedman could be a top five defenseman in our rankings (you will have to read below to find out). Some defenders did not make that leap for a variety of reasons. Adam Larsson was a victim of the numbers game in New Jersey. Oliver Ekman-Larsson played pretty well, but was a victim of Phoenix’s inconsistent offense and goaltending. There are going to be misses among the hits. That is always a certainty.
Now, let’s get to those rankings…
Last year’s rankings are in parentheses.
1. P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens (1): Subban did disappoint a bit last year as he was in a bit of transition to be honest. It is not easy having a lot of expectations heaped on you. However, in the playoffs, he was the biggest reason why Montreal defeated Boston in seven games and that momentum should carry over into this season. Remember, Fantasy value is not all just about points, but we are expecting Subban to top 60 points for the first time in his career.
2. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators (4): Karlsson was back around 70-to-75 points once again, but his defensive lapses are at least a concern as far as +/- (yes, some still have that as a Fantasy category). Ottawa’s defensive corps is not any better and some will argue its offense has regressed a little more. If Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan cannot get it done, Karlsson’s points could dip some. It is something to watch out for, but you know with Karlsson’s ability to weave through traffic (see video below), he’ll be plenty productive.
3. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets (3): This all depends on your league, but if Byfuglien still qualifies as a defenseman then take advantage of it. Whether he plays on the RW or on D for a little while, the fact that he is listed as RW/D is still grounds to enjoy the production. Yes the +/- is a bit painful and maybe the power play points suffer at times but a 60-point season is rather likely. The one thing Winnipeg can do is feed its top six pretty well.
4. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning (37): The breakout was achieved as Hedman almost reached 60 points last season (55). Tampa’s offense has only improved with the addition of power play hawk Jason Garrison. The towering Hedman will have more room and a healthy Steven Stamkos. Look out! People should expect what Hedman did last season on an annual basis while he increasing his power play point numbers.
5. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators (5): Can Weber score 20 goals again? The answer is he may have to. Weber is in the top five for a reason — because he can rack up points. He had 56 points and some may be thankful that Mike Fisher is out for at least the first few months of the season. Weber’s numbers with Fisher on the ice were awful from possession to production. The Predators also have some offensive upgrades (James Neal and Mike Ribeiro) and a new coach in Peter Laviolette. Weber could return to the top three easily.
6. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks (9): Keith may have run out of gas but his 2013-14 season was worth all the accolades including a shiny Norris Trophy to boot. His 61 points along with playing 25+ minutes a game on most occasions was a bastion in many Fantasy hockey leagues. While Brent Seabrook suffered, Keith raised his game, proving he was one of the top two-way blueliners in the game. A pinnacle moment was a third period in New Jersey where Keith literally made three plays on his own that resulted in three goals. He is a damn good player, period!
7. Keith Yandle, Arizona Coyotes (7): Yandle had another 50-point season but a change of address form may be needed if he continues to have brain cramps defensively. There seems to be rumours floating around the last couple seasons so don’t be shocked if it happens. If Yandle is near 240 shots again, he should score at least 10-to-15 goals. Phoenix needs that desperately.
8. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues (8): Last season marked a nice bounce back for Pietrangelo as he topped the 50-point mark and some pundits thought he could have had more. With the addition of Paul Stastny and no Ryan Miller, things will be looking up even more for the anchor of the Blues defense. Double digit goals are very probable and you can expect a slight uptick in power play production. Part of that defense-heavy 2008 draft (that also produced Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian and Karlsson, among many others), Pietrangelo has too much talent to not make that next step.
9. Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames (NR): The scary thing is Giordano could wind up closer to the top five as he was around a point per game before succumbing to injury. That Calgary’s captain put up 47 points in 64 games for a rebuilding Flames squad had people on notice. A full season of Giordano and a growing team should mean a trip to the 50-point sanctuary for the talented defenseman. He plays a ton of minutes and should be a cornerstone in Cowtown for years to come.
10. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes (10): This simply is a matter of sticking to one’s guns. Ekman-Larsson had 15 goals on nearly 200 shots last season and if the “OEL” is given more power play time, 50 points and some better across the board numbers are likely. Assuming Yandle is on borrowed time, Ekman-Larsson is the number one defenseman in Arizona and that will become more apparent this season.
11. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins (6): Let’s roll the bones a bit and assume Letang is fully healthy after a minor stroke last season. If new coach Mike Johnston spreads the offense around as discussed, then Letang should be a beneficiary. Pittsburgh best zone clearer, he is a 50-point guy and his power play abilities can be an adventure but can be amazing too. There are guys below Letang on this list that could pass him but time will tell.
12. Alex Goligoski, Dallas Stars (26): It is not as if Goligoski has no talent, but at first it did not seem to work out in Dallas. However, last season there were signs that No. 33 was starting to get it. With the additions made by GM Jim Nill, it will have a ripple effect especially on the first power play unit which could mean more goals and power play points for their anchor on the blue line.
13. Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers (41): Though some have predicted a dip for McDonagh, we think the only thing that may slide is his plus-minus. The point total may rise a bit and you have to think the power play points will get a little better. However, will McDonagh succumb to trying to be too much of “the guy” on defense? Without Anton Stralman there, it just does not look McDonagh is ready to be a top ten defenseman just yet.
14. Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings (14): Kronwall is a blueliner that is basically the numero uno guy in Detroit and by default because of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, that means points! Kronwall to his credit gets you hits and some blocked shots. The question is can Kronwall and the rest of the team stay healthy enough? If that answer is yes then he moves up the rankings, and will again flirt with double-digit goals. If not, well then you know.
15. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins (12): Boston did get some pretty good production from the Big Z but 40 points probably was a bit low considering. With injuries last season and cap crunch concerns this season, maybe Boston’s franchise d-man puts up 40-to-45 points this season. Either way, his hits, blocked shots, and ATOI more than make up for some of the shortcomings Father Time has thrown his way.
16. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings (16): Doughty is a weird sort of Fantasy player in the sense that his season looks better than the actual points number. His defense is very good and he racks up minutes like a trucker. With the offense seen in the playoffs, maybe that is a harbinger of good things to come for Doughty’s Fantasy owners. So we like him at 16 for now, but know that he has the potential to finish the season ranked higher.
17. Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues (17): Shattenkirk is a steady Top 20 blueliner that doesn’t have flashy numbers, but just seems to get the job done. His minutes were eased some but started rising again late last season. He still had a 45-point season despite playing a little over 20 minutes a game (second pairing ATOI basically). Shattenkirk’s presence on the power play and in shootouts is what makes him very intriguing once again this season. He is very good mid-round value pick in most drafts.
18. James Wisniewski, Columbus Blue Jackets (38): Wisniewski is a power play points league dream, but that defense sometimes will send you to an early liquor store run. His 51 points came in only 75 games so that is two points for every three contests. The former OHL star could do that again this season, but his across the board numbers are just okay. If Columbus makes a big enough jump, Wisniewski may as well.
19. Dion Phaneuf, Toronto Maple Leafs (13): Phaneuf is strictly here because he racked up 144 PIMs like his old Calgary days, and plays almost 24 minutes a game. His 31 points last season were low, but that should bounce back (although there’s talk he may be paired with a youngster this season). A 10-30-40 season or something close is a reasonable assumption given that Toronto’s point distribution should be a bit more favourable for No. 3.
20. Marek Zidlicky, New Jersey (NR): Cue the oh god it’s a homer pick alert. However, Zidlicky had another 40+ point season and thrives well in the Devils’ system. For whatever reason, you hear power play goal from the point and just know that, if Eric Gelinas is not on the ice, it has to be Zidlicky. Zidlicky has forged a nice Fantasy niche gaining points from the play of Patrik Elias and Jaromir Jagr. Expect a slight bit more this season and don’t worry about the defense so much.
21. Jason Garrison, Tampa Bay Lightning (36): The simple skinny is that it just did not work out in Vancouver but now back in Florida with Tampa Bay, Garrison owners should expect better returns. After all, the defenseman is going to see extensive power play time, possibly even on the first power play unit (although the Lightning has a deeper d-line corps now), which means “playing with Stamkos.” That alone raises Garrison’s Fantasy value and almost puts him in the top 20.
22. Justin Schultz, Edmonton Oilers (20): Schultz signed a one year, $3.5 million dollar deal in the offseason and it is essentially put up or shut up time. For all of his potential, he hopefully reaches it soon because the Oilers need to start looking like they are going to win. Schultz is destined to score around 10-to-15 goals and the assists should see a slight nudge upward. This may be the season when he gets it defensively… or else.
23. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild (2): Can we get our own shame spiral now? Suter was expected to do this and that and yet all he did was rack up a ton of ice time and while he did get 43 points, it was not the 55-to-60 some had expected. This season, he may get around the same amount of points but something has to give which is why we have him ranked lower than most. It is a risk but simply put, Suter, show us top 10 caliber Fantasy production and then you will be rewarded. Health concerns due to all those 30-minutes of ice time games may be an issue to keep an eye on.
24. Christian Ehrhoff, Pittsburgh Penguins (35): Ehrhoff had a solid season on an horrific Sabres team, yet they opted to buy him out. He showed that he had gotten his groove back a bit and now hits the jackpot in Pittsburgh where number one power play ice time is in the cards. It is tough to say what Ehrhoff’s ice time will be but a point total in the 40-to-50 range is the plan. That would mean nice boosts across all his stats and hey his Corsi was pretty good too for what it’s worth. Pittsburgh and Fantasy owners will like this.
25. Tobias Enstrom, Winnipeg Jets (11): Enstrom had a weird season that saw almost everything go wrong and yet 2014-15 is kind of hope springs eternal. He must shoot the puck more and really this is almost a rank by reputation. If Enstrom doesn’t put up some numbers this season, he will drop a good bit further in 2015-16. Something tells us the 40-point mark could be an achievable goal and double-digit goals with power play production are a nice staple.
Others to Consider
26. Tyson Barrie, Colorado Avalanche (NR)
27. Andrej Sekera, Carolina Hurricanes (NR)
28. Brian Campbell, Florida Panthers (19)
29. Jack Johnson, Columbus Blue Jackets (21)
30. Slava Voynov, Los Angeles Kings (22)
31. Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs (40)
32. Paul Martin, Pittsburgh Penguins (25)
33. Dan Boyle, New York Rangers (28)
34. Cam Fowler, Anaheim Ducks (NR)
35. Eric Gelinas, New Jersey Devils (NR)
36. Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks (33)
37. Mark Streit, Philadelphia Flyers (18)
38. Mike Green, Washington Capitals (15)
39. Mark Edouard-Vlasic, San Jose Sharks (NR)
40. Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens (31)
41. Matt Niskanen, Washington Capitals (NR)
42. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators (44)
43. Jonas Brodin, Minnesota Wild (45)
44. John Carlson, Washington Capitals (24)
45. Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes (36)
46. Michael Del Zotto, Philadelphia Flyers (42)
47. Travis Hamonic, New York Islanders (NR)
48. Kris Russell, Calgary Flames (NR)
49. Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets (NR)
50. Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim Ducks (NR)
Okay, it’s your turn. Who did we miss? Who should be higher or lower? Let us know in the comments below.