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On the 'D'-fence: When to draft fantasy defensemen

Wednesday, 09.28.2011 / 1:18 PM / Fantasy Hockey Draft Rankings, Advice and Analysis

By Brian Metzer - NHL.com Correspondent

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On the 'D'-fence: When to draft fantasy defensemen
How early should you take your first blueliner? Who are some of this season's under-the-radar names? NHL.com provides the answers in the first installment of "On the 'D'-fence."
Welcome to NHL.com's "On the 'D'-fence" fantasy hockey segment, where each week fantasy insider Brian Metzer will give you an in-depth analysis of fantasy defensemen. From updated defensemen rankings to players to keep a close eye on and much more, Metzer will be your fantasy defenseman expert all season long.

With that, here's his opening statement regarding the League's blueliners...


When people think about drafting a fantasy hockey team, they go through a ton of internal debate. Who should they select in the first round? What if they end up with the first selection? Should they go with Alex Ovechkin? Maybe take a chance on a previously concussed multi-tool talent like Sidney Crosby? They may even be considering a Sedin or wondering if Corey Perry can do it again.

One thing they don't seem to spend enough time thinking about is which defenseman will make the biggest splash. When should they start to think about selecting their blueliners and just how important can a productive defenseman be? Heck, some fantasy players refuse to draft a defenseman until all of their forward slots have been filled.

Yes, getting the biggest bang for your buck from your forwards is key, but you simply cannot win without having an effective fantasy blue line in today's multi-category leagues. Defensemen are scoring more than ever and getting production from your defense can make the difference between finishing in first and getting mocked by your friends throughout a long offseason.

Having viewed several drafts over the past couple of weeks, it seems that some folks still aren't placing enough importance on production from the back end. For example, Shea Weber, who recently topped our own NHL.com defensemen rankings, was drafted with the 90th selection in a 12-team league. Though he doesn't play on a team known for offense, he is a big part of the Predators' attack and is capable of scoring 20 goals. He should have been long gone, especially when you consider the percentage of his points that will come with the extra man.

Of course, you don't want to neglect other facets of your roster and rename your squad the Defensive Dynamos, but you should definitely grab production when it is there.

It is probably safe to say that the first defensemen in a 10-team standard league comes off the board during the second round, and that is when you should start to formulate your plan.

Zdeno Chara, Dustin Byfuglien, and some combination of Kris Letang, Keith Yandle, and Lubomir Visnovsky have been the first names selected in several drafts, and to get any of the above in the second, third or fourth round is great value. All have the capability of scoring 50-plus points, and that is a difference-maker for your team.

When drafting, it's a good idea to acquire at least one of the top-five defensemen during the first three rounds. You should also hope to have two defensemen selected by round seven. Grabbing a defensemen every three or four rounds helps keep your production evenly distributed throughout your lineup, which also makes it a little easier to overcome injuries that may pop up down the line.

Balance also allows you to be a bit more flexible. You will have more latitude to focus on "the best available" talent later in your draft, rather than having to draft for need.

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1. Marek Zidlicky, Minnesota Wild
Zidlicky used to be a guy who was a great value pick in any draft. He burst onto the fantasy scene with 53 points during the '03-04 season and looked like he would be a fantasy stud throughout his career. The script didn't quite play out that way for the talented Czech. Sure, he has gone over the 40-point plateau on four occasions since that initial season in Minnesota, but injuries, team dynamics and Brent Burns had him falling down draft boards and posting a mere 24 points last season, albeit in 46 games. Which brings us to the '11-12 season -- Zidlicky is healthy, Burns is in San Jose, and the sniping Dany Heatley will be on the receiving end of many a power-play pass. Zidlicky is likely the Wild's best option when it comes to choosing a power play quarterback, he gets to play with Heatley, fellow newcomer Devin Setoguchi, Mikko Koivu and the healthy duo of Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse. All of it adds up to steady production for Zidlicky and your fantasy team. A return to the 50-point plateau is very possible.

2. Brian Campbell, Florida Panthers
Campbell is the guy that most of my fantasy hockey friends would select in drafts over the past couple of years. They knew his name, they remembered his magical '07-08 season in Buffalo/San Jose and figured he was a slam dunk No. 1 defensemen. No one told them that during his time in Chicago he had slipped behind Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and (enter the name of any Hawks rookie you prefer here) for quality power-play minutes. He had effectively become the highest paid No. 4-5 defenseman in the League and his owners paid dearly when he netted just 27 points last year. Things have quickly changed for Campbell as the general manager who originally brought him to Chicago, Dale Tallon, swung a deal to make him a piece of his rebuild in Florida. My fantasy hockey buddies will pass on him this year, but you shouldn't -- Campbell will get back to playing with a No. 1 power-play unit. Though it might be a stretch to think he can again hit the 60-point plateau, he should be a lock for 40 and maybe 50 if David Booth, Tomas Fleischmann and company have a big year.

3. Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings
Kronwall may not be a very under-the-radar name, but folks seem to be forgetting the fact that the big Swede is in line to hawk most of Brian Rafalski's power-play minutes. He is going way too late in drafts. Though the bruising Kronwall is an injury risk based on the bruising style that he plays, he is going to make some lucky owner in your league very happy with his mix of 45-50-points, PIMs, blocked shots and time on ice (he has been amongst Detroit's leaders in the category thus far during the preseason) -- why not let it be you? His value will only increase if the legendary Nicklas Lidstrom misses any time during the upcoming season.

4. Sheldon Souray, Dallas Stars
There was a time when Souray would have been the first or second defenseman off of the board in most leagues. Unfortunately for him, that time has gone the way of the majestic Dodo. However, he is just the type of low-risk/high-reward player that you have the luxury to target if you take my advice and draft a balanced team. He still has that booming shot that scored 26 goals in '06-07 for the Canadiens and again went for 23 goals just two seasons ago for the Oilers. He isn't going to be looked at to be the main man as far as scoring is concerned thanks to the presence of Alex Goligoski, allowing him to go out and do everything in his power to prove the brass in Edmonton wrong. Make no mistake, a pro with a chip on his shoulder, who has been training like a beast with the likes of an ageless wonder like Chris Chelios, can play on my team any day. If he stays healthy, he will get his points.

5. Grant Clitsome, Columbus Blue Jackets
Grant Clitsome
Defense - CBJ
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 15 | PTS: 19
SOG: 50 | +/-: 2
Everyone knows that the Blue Jackets' power play will be quarterbacked by James Wisniewski this season. The high-profile free agent was chosen to be the marquee blueliner to team with Captain Rick Nash, incoming sniper Jeff Carter and the steady RJ Umberger. What will they do now that Wisniewski is set to miss the remainder of the preseason and eight regular-season games? They will turn to Clitsome, of course. Clitsome was slated to log minutes with the Jackets' second power-play unit, but can slide right in with the above mentioned forwards and make an impact. The youngster logged 19 points in just 31 games last season, including 10 points with the extra man. That total is sure to rise this season regardless of his role after Wisniewski's return. Grab him late and have your league-mates sulking.

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RANK TEAM PLAYER
1. Sidney crosby
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4. Evgeni Malkin
5. alex Ovechkin

CUBETA & JENSEN'S COMPLETE RANKINGS