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Fantasy top 50 defenseman rankings for 2017-18

NHL.com lists most valuable standard-league assets entering this season

by Ben Zweiman @BZweimanNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

With the 2017-18 NHL season inching closer by the day, NHL.com is previewing each of the five positions (center, left wing, right wing, defenseman, goaltender). From top-tier players to underrated options at each position, these guides will prepare you for your upcoming draft. Remember to also keep NHL.com's fantasy cheat sheet handy for Top 250 rankings, stat projections, team previews and more.

 

FANTASY RANKINGS: Top 250Top 100 'F' | C | LW | RW | Top 50 'D' | Top 25 'G'

DRAFT GUIDES: Standard mock draft 1.0 | Keeper / dynasty | Hits | Faceoff wins

2017-18 PROJECTIONS: Forward points | D-man points | Goalie wins | Team previews

LISTS: Forward bargains | D-man bargains | Breakouts | Sleepers | Deep sleepers | Rookies

 

STARTING AT THE TOP

It's another fantasy season, but it's the same old debate as to which defenseman should be selected highest. Since about 2014-15, it's been two players vying for the top spot: Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks and Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators. Normally, the decision of who to pick is much more difficult, but offseason foot surgery for Karlsson has his status for the Senators opener in question. The risk of losing games early in the season gives the clear edge to Burns.

Video: Brent Burns takes the No. 2 spot

But in case you aren't worried about Karlsson's health, here's a quick comparison of the two for the past three seasons:

Karlsson: 54 goals, 165 assists, 219 points, plus-15, 120 PIM, 83 PPP, 758 SOG

Burns: 73 goals, 138 assists, 211 points, plus-5, 158 PIM, 79 PPP, 918 SOG

As you can see, things are tight. If you don't want to worry about shots on goal (SOG) at all, Burns is your guy. He also edged Karlsson in goals and in penalty minutes (PIM), trailing slightly in points, plus/minus and power-play points (PPP). With this information, most of your decision may come down to which defenseman is in the better situation (injury aside).

The Sharks went through little roster overhaul outside of losing forward Patrick Marleau in free agency. Burns still will have forwards Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski on the power play, and an injection of youth throughout the lineup could provide a boost.

The Senators also will bring back the majority of their roster, but Karlsson will be without defense partner Marc Methot. This could affect Karlsson's plus/minus, and he had already regressed in SOG and PIM in 2016-17 compared to the previous three seasons.

For now, Burns is the safe option and Karlsson carries a risk/reward tag, though the latter could be more of a bargain should he drop into the third round of your draft. 

You could also argue Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning is worth selecting ahead of Karlsson, regardless of injury. Hedman finished one spot ahead of Karlsson in Yahoo last season, when the Lightning were without center Steven Stamkos for 65 games. A healthy Tampa Bay lineup could boost Hedman to his first Norris Trophy and make him your fantasy MVP.

Video: Victor Hedman lands at No. 4 on the list

 

BARGAIN HUNTING

Kevin Shattenkirk, NYR (Yahoo average draft position: 62.7) -- The New York Rangers signed Shattenkirk this offseason to provide a boost to their already potent offense (3.09 goals per game in 2016-17, fourth in NHL). Right now, he's being drafted outside the top 10 among defensemen after finishing eighth last season. It isn't like Shattenkirk's situation got worse; if anything, it improved. He should be on the first power play with an uptick in plus/minus and SOG. If you're looking to wait on drafting a top defenseman, Shattenkirk is your target. 

John Klingberg, DAL (97.5) -- It wasn't too long ago when Klingberg finished seventh among defensemen in Yahoo, and he certainly shouldn't be selected outside the top 20 at his position. After setting NHL career highs in assists (48), points (58), plus/minus (plus-22), PPP (22) and SOG (171) in 2015-16, Klingberg and the Dallas Stars regressed drastically last season. But the Stars' offseason additions of Methot, forward Alexander Radulov and goalie Ben Bishop bring plenty of optimism that Klingberg can return to the top 10.

Shayne Gostisbehere, PHI (118.0) -- A breakout season in 2015-16 had Gostisbehere penned as a surefire top-15 defenseman entering last season. That didn't come to fruition, and his fantasy owners suffered for it. Now that he's fallen off the radar a bit, Gostisbehere is being selected 30th among defensemen. Despite his struggles, Gostisbehere had 23 PPP (seventh among NHL defensemen) and 198 SOG (10th). The Philadelphia Flyers have a deep forward group and are expected to bring in more talented young defensemen.

Video: Shayne Gostisbehere on his offseason and 2017-18

 

POTENTIAL STEALS

Brent Seabrook, CHI (130.8) -- The key to Seabrook's regression last season was his NHL career-low shooting percentage of 2.3. He had three goals on 131 shots, each being his lowest in a full NHL season since 2009-10. Should Seabrook return to around his NHL average (5.3 percent), he could reach double-digit goals. The Chicago Blackhawks defense is thin, so Seabrook will be relied on heavily at even strength and on the power play. He's being drafted 35th among defensemen, but has top-20 upside.

Zdeno Chara, BOS (163.1) -- It'd be crazy to bank on a 40-year-old defenseman in fantasy, right? Not necessarily. Chara surprisingly finished among the top 40 at his position last season, scoring 29 points with a plus-18 rating and 59 PIM. He isn't going to get the power-play time he used to, and his shot volume is somewhat lacking, but he's also in a contract year with the Boston Bruins. Chara has at least eight goals each of the past six full NHL seasons, and is worth a bench spot in a 12-team league.

Video: TBL@BOS: Chara drills a blistering one-timer for PPG

Jaccob Slavin, CAR (169.5) -- Slavin was a trendy waiver wire pickup last season, when he tied for second with Karlsson in scoring among NHL defensemen in March. He had 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) and was plus-12 with 20 SOG in 17 games during that stretch. Slavin led the Hurricanes in ice time per game (23:26) and scored 30 of his 34 points at even strength. It's unlikely he gets much power-play time this season, but if Carolina takes another step with its young roster, he'd be one of the main beneficiaries. Slavin is a solid keeper-league target and worth a flier late in a deep draft.

 

ROOKIES TO WATCH

Charlie McAvoy, BOS (149.7) -- Unless you live under a rock, you know what McAvoy did for the Bruins in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That performance has McAvoy projected to be on one of the top two pairs for Boston this season. On the top pair with either Chara or Torey Krug, he could see anywhere from 20-25 minutes per game with power-play time. McAvoy is a solid keeper pick to consider towards the end of your draft, especially considering Krug (jaw fracture) will miss the start of the season.

Ryan Pulock, NYI (N/R) -- The wait is finally over for New York Islanders fans. Or at least that's what we think. Pulock is expected to start the season as one of the Islanders' top four defensemen. He had 46 points (15 goals, 31 assists) in 55 games for Bridgeport of the American Hockey League and would have plenty of offensive upside should he get time on the man-advantage. Like McAvoy, Pulock will be a trendy sleeper defenseman worth drafting in standard 12-team formats. 

Julius Honka, DAL (171.3) -- Injuries derailed what could have been a promising rookie season for Honka. Instead, he spent another season with Texas in the AHL and had 31 points (seven goals, 24 assists) in 50 games. Honka is expected to be in a top-four role for the Stars, who could have the best offense in the NHL this season. Time on the power play will be a key factor, but Honka has proven he can produce at every level he's played in his young career. He'll be a hot waiver commodity and is worth a stash pickup in a keeper league.

 

TOP 50 DEFENSEMAN RANKINGS

Standard Yahoo categories include goals, assists, plus/minus, PIMs, PPP and SOG for skaters. ... Value has been quantified based on factors including but not limited to past production, defense pairs, power-play usage, team's offseason changes, injury history, age, sleeper, bounce-back or breakout potential, anticipated regression, contract status, Yahoo ADP and overall upside for this season. ... Any players with injury concerns (INJ.) are noted.

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

NOTE: Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis is expected to need several months to recover from offseason surgery for a lower-body injury.

Others to consider: Dion Phaneuf (OTT), Brandon Carlo (BOS), Morgan Rielly (TOR), Alec Martinez (LAK), Josh Morrissey (WPG), Noah Hanifin (CAR), TJ Brodie (CGY), Damon Severson (NJD)

 

READ: July's Top 50 defensemen rankings

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