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Fantasy D-men: Rankings entering offseason

Positional roundup, top 60 as season winds down

by Brian Metzer / NHL.com Correspondent

Another fantasy hockey season has come to an end, so it's time to take a look back at the ups, downs, surprises and storylines that surrounded the crop of defensemen. 

Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators was NHL.com's preseason top-ranked defenseman and has taken his value to new heights in 2015-16. With two games left, he has set NHL career-highs in assists (64), and points (80, 4th in NHL), has tied his best in penalty minutes (50) and is close to doing the same in power-play assists (24). He leads the League with an average ice time of 29:03 per game. 

Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks, who was drafted 45th on average in Yahoo, has reached NHL career-bests in goals (27), assists (47), points (74) and PPP (29). He entered play Wednesday tied for 10th in the NHL in points. Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins missed time because of injury but has played 70 games for the first time since 2010-11, setting personal NHL-bests in goals (16), assists (50), and points (66).

Video: PHI@FLA: Gostisbehere beats Luongo to tie it late

And then there was the breakout defenseman of the season: Philadelphia Flyers rookie Shayne Gostisbehere. His emergence was one of the biggest stories in the League and his 43 points rank sixth among defensemen since his recall from the American Hockey League on Nov. 14. That total was bolstered by a 15-game point streak between Jan. 19 and Feb. 20, the longest ever by a rookie defenseman.

Defensemen across the League have been heavily involved in generating offense this season, making the position all the more important in fantasy. We've seen 23 defensemen score at least 10 goals and 13 have scored at least 14. Twenty-seven defensemen have 30 or more assists and 26 have 40 or more points. And there are still five days left in the season.

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MOVING ON UP
Defensemen who emerged as fantasy steals based on Yahoo average draft position:

John Klingberg -- Klingberg had an outstanding rookie season for the Dallas Stars in 2014-15 with 11 goals and 40 points in 65 games, but wasn't selected in fantasy drafts this season until the 11th round (No. 122) on average. He has far outperformed that position, rewarding those who picked him with 10 goals, 56 points, 165 shots on goal, 21 power-play points and a plus-20 rating. He should be one of the first six defensemen selected next season.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic -- Vlasic has missed the past 10 games because of a lower-body injury, but he was a breath of fresh air for the Sharks and fantasy owners. The 29-year-old was the ninth-leading scorer among defensemen between Dec. 20 and March 17, when he was injured, with 27 points in 37 games. That burst pushed his season totals to eight goals, 31 assists, 116 SOG, 10 PPP and a plus-15 rating in 67 games. Not bad for a defenseman drafted on average with the 165th pick.

Video: CGY@BUF: Ristolainen's goal ties the score at 1

Rasmus Ristolainen - Buffalo Sabres coach Dan Bylsma quickly became a fan of Ristolainen and made him a staple on the Sabres' top pairing throughout the season. He's 11th in average ice time per game among defensemen at 25:16. He's worn down a bit as the season has gone on, but certainly has outperformed his Yahoo ADP of 157 with NHL career-highs in goals (9), assists (32), points (41), PPP (21) and SOG (199). 

Other fantasy steals: Ryan Suter (ADP: 127.9); Colton Parayko (151.8); Jake Muzzin (138.3); Kevin Klein (162.5); Morgan Rielly (167)

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ON THE REBOUND 
Disappointing fantasy defensemen who could see much better production next season:

Trevor Daley -- Daley was drafted in 100 percent of Yahoo leagues (ADP 165.1) after posting NHL career-bests in goals (16), assists (22) and points (38) for the Stars last season. He started this season with the Chicago Blackhawks but had six assists in 29 games. He was traded to the Penguins for Rob Scuderi on Dec. 14, and has 22 points in 51 games since. The Penguins' style of play under coach Mike Sullivan seems to be a fit, and he likely will be a more productive player next season if he remains paired with Letang.

Michael Del Zotto -- Del Zotto's disappointing season for the Flyers came to an end when he had wrist surgery Feb. 26. That was bad news for fantasy owners who drafted him with the 166th pick on average. Even before the injury, he didn't look much like the player who earned a two-year contract extension with 10 goals and 32 points in 64 games last season. But he has the talent to do it again. He's 25 years old and is entering a contract season. Gostisbehere will be the Flyers' key offensive weapon among its defense corps, but Del Zotto should still receive power-play time and continue to play 20-plus minutes per game. The likelihood of his success grows if the Flyers opt to trade Mark Streit this summer.

Video: NSH@WPG: Trouba snaps the puck past Rinne

Jacob Trouba -- Trouba put up 29 points in 65 games as a rookie in 2013-14. That had him labeled a sleeper fantasy pick each of the past two seasons. Unfortunately, he has regressed in terms of points the past two seasons, with 22 last season and 21 in 79 games this season. He's seen gains in hits and blocked shots, with NHL career highs of 141 and 177, respectively, this season. A case could be made that his development was stunted a bit by the injuries he sustained his first two seasons, when he played 65 games in each of them, and this was more of a learning season for him. That could have him ready to make big gains heading into 2016-17. He is surrounded by plenty of talent in Winnipeg and could see a jump to the top pairing alongside Dustin Byfuglien. Here's hoping the third time is the charm, because Trouba is a breakout candidate entering the offseason.

Other bounce-back candidates: Johnny Boychuk, Justin Schultz, Jack Johnson, Oscar Klefbom, James Wisniewski

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OFFSEASON PREVIEW

Streit and Travis Hamonic of the New York Islanders have been mentioned in trade rumors all season. They're intriguing players and could see their value fluctuate depending on where they land if moved before next season. Streit, 38, missed six weeks after November surgery to repair a detached pubic plate, but still managed 21 points in 59 games this season. Hamonic, 25, had an NHL career-best 33 points last season, but has 21 in 72 games this season. In the right situation, Hamonic can reach 30-35 points. 

The key fantasy-relevant unrestricted free agents include Keith Yandle of the New York Rangers, Alex Goligoski and Kris Russell of the Stars, Brian Campbell of the Florida Panthers, and John Michael-Liles of the Boston Bruins. The restricted free agent list features more than a few intriguing names that require significant attention. It starts with Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm of the Anaheim Ducks. Each could be in store for a big payday, but the salary cap could force one out. Ristolainen will be looking for a new contract with the Sabres, and the Avalanche will be doing the same with Tyson Barrie. You should also watch Torey Krug of the Bruins, Michael Stone of the Arizona Coyotes, Schultz and Rielly. 

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KEEP AN EYE ON 

Noah Hanifin -- Hanifin was the top-rated defensemen for the 2015 NHL Draft after he had five goals and 23 points in 37 games at Boston College last season. The Carolina Hurricanes drafted him with the fifth pick, and he stuck with them out of training camp this season. He's gone through some growing pains, but it's clear that he's only scratched the surface of his potential. He has three goals, 20 points, six PPP, 118 SOG, 65 hits and 76 blocked shots in 77 games. He could make big gains heading into next season and is definitely a breakout candidate.

Video: BOS@CAR: Hanifin's shot redirects past Rask for PPG

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TOP 60 FANTASY DEFENSEMEN 

These are the final fantasy defensemen rankings for the 2015-16 season, including injured players. Value has been quantified by defensive pairings, power-play usage, past performance and season totals in standard Yahoo categories (goals, assists, plus/minus, penalty minutes, PPP and SOG. IMPORTANT NOTE: These rankings are based on how players performed this season, but also take into account expectations for next season. Use these rankings as a basis for deciding which players you should retain in keeper leagues from this season to next. Other factors taken into account include contract status and potential changes in scenery, injury history, breakout potential, regression, age, etc.

1. Erik Karlsson, OTT 
2. Brent Burns, SJS 
3. Kris Letang, PIT 
4. P.K. Subban, MTL (INJ.)
5. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, ARI 
6. John Klingberg, DAL 
7. Roman Josi, NSH 
8. Shayne Gostisbehere, PHI
9. Drew Doughty, LAK 
10. Dustin Byfuglien, WPG
11. Tyson Barrie, COL (RFA)
12. Shea Weber, NSH
13. Ryan Suter, MIN
14. Kevin Shattenkirk, STL
15. Victor Hedman, TBL
16. John Carlson, WSH
17. Justin Faulk, CAR
18. Keith Yandle, NYR (UFA
19. Mark Giordano, CGY
20. Torey Krug, BOS (RFA)
21. Jake Muzzin, LAK
22. Duncan Keith, CHI
23. Sami Vatanen, ANA (RFA)
24. TJ Brodie, CGY
25. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, SJS (INJ.)
26. Dougie Hamilton, CGY
27. Rasmus Ristolainen, BUF (RFA)
28. Ryan McDonagh, NYR (INJ.)
29. Nick Leddy, NYI
30. Alex Pietrangelo, STL
31. Aaron Ekblad, FLA
32. Seth Jones, CBJ
33. Morgan Rielly, TOR (RFA)
34. Alex Goligoski, DAL (UFA)
35. Andrej Sekera, EDM
36. Andrei Markov, MTL
37. Brent Seabrook, CHI
38. Anton Stralman, TBL (INJ.)
39. Johnny Boychuk, NYI
40. Dion Phaneuf, OTT (INJ.)
41. Colton Parayko, STL
42. Hampus Lindholm, ANA (RFA)
43. Matt Dumba, MIN
44. Erik Johnson, COL
45. Francois Beauchemin, COL
46. Trevor Daley, PIT
47. Mark Streit, PHI
48. Mattias Ekholm, NSH
49. Michael Stone, ARI (INJ. - RFA
50. James Wisniewski, CAR (INJ.)
51. Alexander Edler, VAN (INJ.)
52. Matt Niskanen, WSH
53. Olli Maatta, PIT (INJ.)
54. Alec Martinez, LAK
55. Niklas Kronwall, DET
56. Jake Gardiner, TOR 
57. Zdeno Chara, BOS
58. Mike Green, DET
59. Cam Fowler, ANA
60. Zach Bogosian, BUF
 
In the mix: Brian Campbell (UFA), Ben Hutton, Jared Spurgeon, Noah Hanifin, Kevin Klein, Damon Severson, Dmitry Orlov, Justin Schultz (RFA)

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