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Fantasy top 50 defenseman rankings for 2017-18 lists most valuable standard-league assets for next season

by Brian Metzer / Correspondent

We've reached the end of the marathon that is the fantasy hockey season. As we take a look back at all the defenseman developments, it's never too early to do some prep for next season. 

The strategy of taking a defenseman in the first round of a fantasy draft likely paid off if you drafted Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks or Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators. Although Burns has been limited to seven points over his past 17 games, he has set a new NHL career high in goals (28) and leads the NHL in shots on goal (313). His coverage of power-play points (24), plus/minus (plus-18) and penalty minutes (40) have made him the complete fantasy package.

FANTASY COVERAGE: TOP 100 'F' | TOP 25 'G' | AWARDSTOP 250 FOR 2017-18

Not to be undone, Karlsson maintained his standing near the top of the overall fantasy landscape by becoming the 12th defenseman in NHL history to score at least 70 points (71 this season) in four different seasons. Karlsson leads defensemen in assists (54), ranks second in points, is tied for second in PPP (27), and ranks fifth in shots (218).

Video: DET@OTT: Karlsson goes top shelf from a sharp angle

Unfortunately, preseason top-five fantasy defensemen P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators and Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins did not return value based on their high Yahoo average draft positions (Subban: 21.8; Letang: 37.9). Their points-per-game averages dipped compared to last season (Letang: 0.94 to 0.83; Subban: 0.75 to 0.59), and each player's injury absence didn't help matters.

Victor Hedman of the Tampa Lightning (ADP: 72.5) took a huge step forward this season, setting new NHL career highs in goals (15), assists (52), points (67) and PPP (32, T-2nd in NHL). He's entered the top tier of fantasy defensemen and should be taken among the first five at the position next season. The same goes for Kevin Shattenkirk (93.3), who ranks fourth in scoring (55 points) among defensemen. He's always been a power-play force, but has produced nearly a point per game (13 points, seven PPP in 16 games) since being traded to the Washington Capitals. He could become an unrestricted free agent July 1, but should be the lead defenseman and power-play anchor no matter where he lands.

It's not often that rookie defensemen make a huge fantasy impact, but we saw four players burst onto the scene this season. Zach Werenski of the Columbus Blue Jackets exploded out of the gate with 13 points and six PPP in his first 14 NHL games and has put together a tremendous category profile with 47 points, a plus-17, 21 PPP and 188 SOG (ninth among D-men in Yahoo). Brady Skjei of the New York Rangers took longer to blossom, but is currently eighth among defensemen in even-strength points (32). The 23-year-old has 39 points with seven PPP and a plus-14, and could soon surpass Ryan McDonagh as New York's most valuable fantasy D-man. Nikita Zaitsev of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ivan Provorov of the Philadelphia Flyers are other rookie defensemen with breakout potential in the years ahead.

Video: FLA@CBJ: Werenski nets beautiful sharp-angle goal




Justin Schultz, PIT (Yahoo rank: 62; ADP: 138.5) - Schultz began to remold his career after being traded to the Penguins last season, and the transformation is complete. He's been given top-pair minutes because of injuries to Letang and other Pittsburgh defensemen, and has had a career-best season in terms of goals (12), assists (37), points (49), PPP (19) and SOG (151). He's also plus-26 after being a combined minus-78 in four seasons with the Edmonton Oilers. He went from waiver-wire add to the biggest steal at the position, and has a chance to remain among the top 15 at his position next season. 

Dougie Hamilton, CGY (Yahoo rank: 46; ADP: 108.3) - Hamilton, 23, has tantalized fantasy owners at times during his young NHL career, but has put it all together for the Calgary Flames this season. He managed career highs in goals (13), assists (36), points (49), PIMs (60) and SOG (219). He has three straight seasons of at least 40 points and still has room for improvement, making him one of the most valuable keeper defensemen around. 

Ryan Ellis, NSH (Yahoo rank: 161; ADP: 167.9) - Ellis' rank compared to ADP might not look like he's a huge steal, but he did go undrafted in many formats. He was one of the top 15 fantasy defensemen in standard leagues over the final month of the season, and has set NHL career highs in four major categories (15 goals, 37 points, plus-17, 11 PPP). Not many fantasy owners could have fathomed Ellis would finish ahead of Subban (190th in Yahoo).

Video: CGY@NSH: Ellis keeps puck in zone, nets wrister

Other big defenseman steals based on ADP: Jared Spurgeon, MIN (Yahoo rank: 130; ADP: 166.8); Cam Fowler, ANA (Yahoo rank: 102; ADP: 143.8); Ryan McDonagh (Yahoo rank: 81; ADP: 122); Jake Gardiner, TOR (Yahoo rank: 146; ADP: 169.5)



Aaron Ekblad, FLA (Yahoo rank: 275; ADP: 79.9) - Ekblad set the bar high with back-to-back seasons of more than 35 points and a combined 27 goals. Unfortunately, injuries limited him to 68 games and his only category specialties were goals (10) and SOG (225, third among 'D'). His minus-23 burned fantasy owners, but he has a clear bounce-back candidacy if Florida Panthers forwards Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau stay healthy next season. This 21-year-old remains a premier keeper-league asset. 

Mark Giordano, CGY (Yahoo rank: 92; ADP: 71.3) - Giordano salvaged his fantasy value with 16 points and a plus-13 over his past 23 games, but it's been a down year for the Flames captain. He's on pace to finish with his lowest point total (38 through 80 games) in a full season since 2011-12. The Flames have performed well down the stretch, and their Stanley Cup Playoff berth should give fantasy owners high hopes for Giordano next season. 

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, ARI (Yahoo rank: 226; ADP: 45.7) - Ekman-Larsson seemed to be poised for a huge season after setting career highs in assists (34), points (55) and PPP (27) last season. But he and the Arizona Coyotes have struggled, and his point total has dipped by 16 despite playing four more games this season. His goal total (12) is his lowest in a full season since 2011-12 (13). A return to the 20-goal, 50-point range isn't out of the question, which could make him a big steal next season.



Top 50 Fantasy Defensemen for 2017-18

Value is quantified by defense pairs, power-play usage, past performance and overall upside for next season in standard leagues (goals, assists, plus/minus, PIMs, PPP, SOG). Players who can become unrestricted or restricted free agents this summer have been identified.

1. Erik Karlsson, OTT
2. Brent Burns, SJS 
3. Victor Hedman, TBL 
4. Kevin Shattenkirk, WSH (UFA) 
5. Roman Josi, NSH 
6. Kris Letang, PIT (INJ.)
7. Dustin Byfuglien, WPG 
8. Dougie Hamilton, CGY 
9. Justin Schultz, PIT (RFA) 
10. Zach Werenski, CBJ 
11. Duncan Keith, CHI 
12. Torey Krug, BOS 
13. Drew Doughty, LAK 
14. Rasmus Ristolainen, BUF 
15. Shea Weber, MTL 
16. Alex Pietrangelo, STL 
17. John Carlson, WSH 
18. P.K. Subban, NSH 
19. Mark Giordano, CGY 
20. Keith Yandle, FLA 
21. John Klingberg, DAL 
22. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, ARI 
23. Ryan McDonagh, NYR 
24. Seth Jones, CBJ 
25. Ryan Suter, MIN 
26. Brady Skjei, NYR 
27. Colton Parayko, STL (RFA) 
28. Nick Leddy, NYI 
29. Matt Niskanen, WSH 
30. Justin Faulk, CAR 
31. Aaron Ekblad, FLA 
32. Cam Fowler, ANA 
33. Shayne Gostisbehere, PHI (RFA) 
34. Jake Gardiner, TOR 
35. Oscar Klefbom, EDM 
36. Andrei Markov, MTL (UFA) 
37. Matt Dumba, MIN 
38. Dion Phaneuf, OTT 
39. Hampus Lindholm, ANA 
40. Brent Seabrook, CHI 
41. Jaccob Slavin, CAR 
42. Sami Vatanen, ANA 
43. Ryan Ellis, NSH 
44. Tyson Barrie, COL 
45. Jared Spurgeon, MIN 
46. Dmitry Orlov, WSH (RFA) 
47. Jacob Trouba, WPG 
48. Morgan Rielly, TOR 
49. Nikita Zaitsev, TOR (RFA) 
50. Ivan Provorov, PHI 

Just missed: Andrej Sekera (EDM), Nathan Beaulieu (MTL - RFA), Alec Martinez (LAK), Josh Morrissey (WPG), David Savard (CBJ), Damon Severson (NJD - RFA), Brandon Carlo (BOS), Alex Goligoski (ARI), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (SJS), Mike Green (DET)


READ: Last week's Top 50 defenseman rankings

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