The San Jose Sharks acquired defenseman Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators on Thursday, altering the overall fantasy landscape. Karlsson, a potential 2019 unrestricted free agent, is now the top-ranked fantasy defenseman by NHL.com and worth targeting in the first round of a standard 12-team draft.
Karlsson joins fellow elite defenseman Brent Burns, making San Jose's already loaded offense even stronger and its power play one of the best in the NHL again. Over the past three seasons, Burns (218 points in 246 games) and Karlsson (215 in 230 games) rank first and second in scoring among NHL defensemen. Burns leads the position in goals (68), points (218), power-play points (82) and shots on goal (1,005) over the span, and Karlsson leads active NHL defensemen in career points per game (0.83).
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After the Karlsson trade, the Sharks can load up their first power-play unit with a two-defensemen set (Karlsson and Burns) and fantasy-relevant forwards Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture. Veteran center Joe Thornton, who is coming off knee surgery, is expected to be ready for the season and would likely round out that first unit when healthy. Pavelski, Couture and Thornton all gain fantasy value with exposure to Karlsson in most situations. Karlsson, in turn, should have a much-improved plus/minus (minus-25 last season).
Left wing Evander Kane, who was acquired prior to the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline and signed to a seven-year contract May 24, is likely looking at a second power-play role now. Still, that should not deter potential fantasy owners from selecting the left wing within the top 50 overall. Kane provides rare fantasy coverage of goals, hits and SOG and could be in line for his best season yet.
If San Jose fields a top-heavy power play, tri-eligible forward Tomas Hertl (C/LW/RW in Yahoo) would likely be moved off the first unit and have a lower PPP ceiling as a result. But even-strength exposure to Karlsson and rare position flexibility still make Hertl (Yahoo average draft position: 165.1) valuable in later rounds.
Video: Senators trade Erik Karlsson to the San Jose Sharks
The Sharks also have the option to arrange two strong power-play units, similar to the Nashville Predators using elite defensemen P.K. Subban and Roman Josi on separate groups. This scenario would significantly boost the value of Kane and secondary scorers like Hertl and sleeper candidate Timo Meier.
Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who shoots left, is likely to play alongside Karlsson, who shoots right, on the Sharks' first pair. Vlasic, one of the best all-around defensemen in the game, had an NHL career high in goals last season (11) and has an increased ceiling for assists this season. Vlasic is now worth a late-round flier as a No. 4 or bench fantasy defenseman and will be added to NHL.com's top 250 rankings.
The Karlsson ripple effect also helps Sharks goalie Martin Jones, who is now arguably a top five option at the position. Jones, who has at least 30 wins in each of his three seasons with San Jose, could challenge or even exceed his NHL career high (37 in 2015-16) with Karlsson, Burns and Vlasic in front of him. This also makes backup Aaron Dell (ADP: 167.4) an even more valuable fantasy handcuff for Jones (ADP: 43.7) or standalone, in case Jones deals with injury.
The Senators will see a negative impact in fantasy value after trading Karlsson. Forwards Matt Duchene (C; 152nd in NHL.com's rankings) and Mark Stone (RW; 156th), each a potential 2019 UFA, are Ottawa's top-ranked fantasy skaters after the Karlsson trade but are now less appealing in later rounds. The only player with a higher fantasy ceiling after the Karlsson trade is defenseman Thomas Chabot. The 21-year-old will likely see a large increase in ice time (17:21 last season) and first power-play usage, making him worthy of a late-round fantasy flier.
Karlsson, 28, should be targeted in the late-first or early-second round of a 12-team standard fantasy draft, much higher than his current Yahoo ADP (34.7). Burns, 33, remains a top three defenseman option (with Karlsson and Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning) but has been surpassed by Karlsson in the fantasy rankings and is better suited for the 25-30 range overall, compared to his higher ADP (19.5).
That said, Burns' fantasy value remains high with a chance for him and Karlsson to each reach 70 points this season. The last defenseman teammates to score at least 70 points in a single season were Brian Leetch and Sergei Zubov of the New York Rangers in 1993-94 (won Stanley Cup that season). This feat is unprecedented in the modern fantasy era but is feasible based on the elite track records of Karlsson and Burns.
Another feasible scenario is for the Sharks to move Burns back to forward; he has played right wing at points in his NHL career, including for a brief stint last season, and spent all of 2013-14 playing wing with Thornton. Karlsson was already projected to lead all defensemen in points by NHL.com prior to the trade, and now could feasibly challenge his NHL career high of 82 points from 2015-16.
Projection for Karlsson in 2018-19: 79 games played, 16 goals, 62 assists, 78 points, 33 PPP, 220 SOG
Draft range in 12-team fantasy league: Rounds 1-2 (picks 10-18)