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Fantasy draft bargains among defensemen

Kris Letang covers all standard categories; Seth Jones, Morgan Rielly have late-round upside

by Ben Zweiman @BZweimanNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

Defenseman might be the most difficult position to draft in fantasy. Not because there aren't enough talented players to choose from, but rather there are too many.

This creates the dilemma of whether to pursue an elite defenseman early in a draft. There are plenty being drafted outside of the top 10 and even top 20 that can finish much higher than where they're being selected, so it's important to pinpoint players with such potential heading into your draft.

FANTASY RANKINGS: TOP 250 | CENTER | LW | RW | D-MAN | GOALIE

DRAFT BARGAINS: FORWARD | D-MAN | GOALIE | BUYER BEWARE

Young defensemen John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars and Torey Krug of the Boston Bruins were fantasy bargains last season. Each was selected outside the top 100 overall and finished among the top 12 defensemen based on standard category performance. Veterans Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild and Brent Seabrook of the Chicago Blackhawks finished inside the top 15 at the position after being taken outside the top 20.

Here are 10 bargain defensemen that should outperform their Yahoo average draft position this season. Players among NHL.com's top 100 have their overall rank and ADP listed. Those outside the top 100 have their rank and ADP among defensemen listed.

Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL.com overall rank: 15, fourth 'D'; Yahoo ADP: 38.4)

Letang will likely be one of the first five defensemen selected in your draft, but he has a chance to finish ahead of everyone not named Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson at the position and among the top 15 overall. When it comes to category coverage, it's hard to find a defenseman more valuable than Letang, who had 16 goals, 51 assists, 27 power-play points, a plus-9, 66 penalty minutes and 218 shots on goal. A full season under coach Mike Sullivan should only help Letang and the Penguins offense. He is attainable in the third or fourth round of a 12-team draft.

Video: PIT@SJS, Gm6: Crosby feeds Letang for a 2-1 lead

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes (NHL.com overall rank: 30, fifth 'D'; ADP: 45.1)

Over the past three seasons, Ekman-Larsson has 59 goals, second to Burns (66) among defensemen. He had a career-high 96 PIM and 27 PPP last season with a strong SOG total (228). The only category where Ekman-Larsson usually struggles is plus/minus, which should improve with the Coyotes on the rise. A positive rating this season could be all it takes to get Ekman-Larsson into the top three among defensemen behind Burns and Karlsson, or perhaps even ahead of them.

Video: WSH@ARI: Ekman-Larsson's shot finds a way in

Keith Yandle, Florida Panthers (NHL.com overall rank: 62, 13th 'D'; ADP: 79.8)

The Panthers signed Yandle this offseason to anchor their power play, and that role could help him return to elite fantasy status. Yandle had 29 PPP with the New York Rangers and Coyotes in 2014-15, but regressed to 22 with New York last season. He also had 160 SOG, his lowest total in a full season since 2009-10 (145). The Panthers finished eighth in goals per game (2.83) last season despite a 23rd-ranked power play (16.9 percent), and the addition of Yandle should help Florida improve in each area. A higher shooting percentage is also likely for Yandle, giving him a shot at double-digit goals to go with great category coverage. 

Video: NYR@PIT, Gm2: Yandle buries loose puck, evens game

Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo Sabres (NHL.com overall rank: 88, 18th 'D'; ADP: 99.3)

The young Finland native flew onto fantasy radars last season with 41 points (21 PPP) in 82 games. Ristolainen has the best shot of making a Klingberg-like jump in his third full season with the Sabres, who are expected to be improved on offense with the signing of free agent forward Kyle Okposo and a more experienced Jack Eichel. A top-10 finish is certainly attainable, and you'll be able to find Ristolainen in the eighth or ninth round of a 12-team draft.

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

Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL.com rank among 'D': 29; ADP: 33)

Jones' name has been surfacing a lot in NHL.com fantasy articles lately, and this space is no different. If Jones pans out and puts it all together this season, he'll be one of the most valuable fantasy defensemen. He was on an 82-game pace of 40 points, 18 PPP and 166 SOG during his time with the Blue Jackets, but isn't getting much love in mock drafts so far. You can easily draft Jones as your fourth defenseman, and he should put together a top-20 finish at the position this season.

Video: NJD@CBJ: Jones gives the Blue Jackets a 2-0 lead

Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL.com rank among 'D': 34; ADP: 45)

Like Jones, Rielly is in the group of young defensemen ready to take on a No. 1 role. He should start the season on the Maple Leafs' top pairing and as their point man on the power play. His plus/minus remains a concern, but shouldn't be as troublesome as his first three NHL seasons (combined minus-46), considering Toronto should allow fewer goals with Frederik Andersen in net. Any time you can find a No. 1 defenseman towards the end of your draft, it's an opportunity you shouldn't pass up.

Video: CBJ@TOR: Rielly opens scoring with top-shelf SHG

Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins (NHL.com rank among 'D': 36; ADP: 43)

Chara may be 39 years old, but he can still pay dividends as a late-round pick as long as he's healthy. He isn't going to score 17 goals like he did three seasons ago, but another finish among the top 20 defensemen (like he did last season) is in the realm of possibility. Chara will still have a presence on the Bruins power play (10 PPP last season) and covers PIMs (71), plus/minus (plus-12) and SOG (158).

Video: BOS@TOR: Chara beats Bernier, Bruins take the lead

Trevor Daley, Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL.com rank among 'D': 38; ADP: 61)

Daley had 22 points in 53 games after joining the Penguins in a trade from the Chicago Blackhawks last season. He had six points in 15 Stanley Cup Playoff games until he fractured his ankle, an injury that ended his season. Daley should be fully healed and pick up where he left off as Pittsburgh's second-best offensive weapon on defense behind Letang. He's a great late-round choice that can provide goals and PPP with a respectable plus/minus.

Video: WSH@PIT: Daley flips a backhand under the crossbar

Mattias Ekholm, Nashville Predators (NHL.com rank among 'D': 42; ADP: 62)

The Predators will have plenty of offensive firepower from P.K. Subban and Roman Josi, and Ekholm can also chip in solid production as a third defenseman. Subban and Josi will get the majority of time on the man-advantage, but Ekholm will see time on the second unit and should build off a strong postseason showing (seven points, 25 SOG in 14 games). He also brings underrated peripherals with a combined plus-26 and 96 PIMs over the past two seasons.

Video: NSH@SJS, Gm2: Ekholm beats Jones from distance

Radko Gudas, Philadelphia Flyers (NHL.com rank among 'D': 60; ADP: 79)

As long as your league counts PIMs and/or hits, Gudas has a place in fantasy hockey. His 116 PIMs ranked second among defenseman last season behind Dustin Byfuglien (119), and his 304 hits led the position. Gudas also has untapped offensive potential; he scored five goals and 14 points in 76 games with the Flyers, but had a respectable 150 SOG, so it wouldn't be that surprising if his goal total increased slightly this season. Even if it doesn't, Gudas fills important category needs that many fantasy owners choose to ignore.

Video: PHI@COL: Gudas sends a blast past Varlamov to tie it

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