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Fantasy top 60 defenseman: Ranks entering offseason

by Brian Metzer / NHL.com

The Stanley Cup Playoffs get started next week and that means another fantasy hockey season is in the books. It's hard to believe we all entered our drafts wide-eyed and hopeful roughly eight months ago dreaming of fantasy glory.

P.K. Subban (Montreal Canadiens), Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators), Shea Weber (Nashville Predators) and Duncan Keith (Chicago Blackhawks) were the first four defensemen off the board in Yahoo Standard Leagues and all were on rosters inside the first 40 picks. They rewarded their owners, but for those who waited around the rewards were still great.

Mark Giordano (Calgary Flames), who was one of the best stories in the NHL until suffering an upper-body injury, put up the finest offensive totals of his career and was at times our No. 1-ranked defenseman. That production was acquired with the 99th overall selection on average. Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis Blues) and Brent Burns (San Jose Sharks), staples in our top five when healthy, were also selected in that range, going 98th and 111th respectively.

Those players were key cogs in many fantasy championships and will likely be there again next season, which is what we'll focus on now.

STARTING AT THE TOP

Just when it looked like some emerging stars might be ready to surpass Karlsson as the reigning king of the fantasy blue line, he stepped up and showed he is 100-percent healthy and more productive than ever. He broke the 20-goal plateau for the second season in a row, the 60-point plateau for the third time and is currently sitting at 30 power-play points. He leads all defensemen with 283 shots on goal.

Erik Karlsson
STATS PRIOR TO APR. 8 GAMES
GOALS: 21 | ASST: 45 | PTS: 66
SOG: 287 | +/-: 6
Karlsson is joined in our top three by Shattenkirk, who might have been the top overall to end the season if not for a freak abdominal injury that sidelined him for a substantial chunk of time. He still managed to roll up the second-highest points-per-game total (.80) and has five fewer power-play points than Karlsson, doing so in 25 fewer games.

The third in this set of three is Subban. The 25-year-old put up career numbers in most categories, but shot the puck a lot less. His shot total combined with a semi-off year in terms of power-play points is what held him back a little, but it wouldn't surprise anyone if he is leading all defensemen in scoring at this time next season.

MOVING ON UP

Sometimes a trade, a new coach or changing responsibility can really jump start a season and/or a career for a player, and all of three of these players found themselves dealing with change.

Roman Josi (Predators), who put up 40 points a season ago, thrived under new coach Peter Laviolette and improved his point total by 15. He was a fixture on both special-teams units and partnered most often with Weber on the Predators top pairing. He set career highs in goals (15), assists (40), points (55), shots on goal (195) and game-winning-goals (four). He is just 24 and should be a fixture on fantasy blue lines for years to come.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson
STATS PRIOR TO APR. 8 GAMES
GOALS: 23 | ASST: 20 | PTS: 43
SOG: 253 | +/-: -17
There is a young Swedish defenseman leading at his position with 23 goals, and his surname isn't Karlsson. We're talking about Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Arizona Coyotes), who really thrived in the desert after Keith Yandle was traded to the New York Rangers. He was always productive, but took it up a notch, scoring 12 points (six goals) in 17 games without Yandle. He has seven game-winning goals and shoots the puck a ton. He's only getting better.

Lastly, John Carlson (Washington Capitals) got to focus on the offensive side of his game under coach Barry Trotz, who put him on a pairing with Brooks Orpik. The results were immediate and the 25-year-old has 53 points through 80 games, including 11 goals. He gets power-play time with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and stands to see a boost if Mike Green moves on this summer.

BOUNCE-BACK CANDIDATES

There is no denying what Giordano did this season, but a brilliant year was derailed by injury. He appeared in just 61 games for the Flames, but managed to put up 48 points. He may be turning 32 on Oct. 3, but he'll have the benefit of rejoining a young and hungry team. He is a must-own player next season, though injuries have been and will be a risk.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been slammed with injuries this season and Olli Maatta was one of the first to go down. The 20-year-old missed all but 20 games with a shoulder injury, but he managed to score nine points while in the lineup. He'll get to play in all situations next season and could be a shrewd pick-up.

Out since Jan. 21, Erik Johnson (Colorado Avalanche) is primed for a bounce-back season. He had 12 goals through 47 games and was on his way to a career high in points, averaging .49 points-per-game. Look for him to be a viable contributor to the Avalanche and fantasy teams next season.

OFFSEASON PREVIEW

Mike Green
STATS PRIOR TO APR. 8 GAMES
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 35 | PTS: 45
SOG: 154 | +/-: 15
Green has spent his entire career in Washington and is finishing off his finest offensive season since 2009-10. There were rumors he was being shopped at various points over the past couple seasons and it is likely he'll land with a new team. He'll turn 30 on Oct. 12, but in the right situation he could still thrive.

Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff of the Penguins have combined to score 597 points over 1,435 games. Neither has ruled out a return to Pittsburgh, but a comeback is far from a given. The duo has shown a propensity for injury, but when healthy they are two of the best puck movers in the game. The power-play time they don't always get now behind Kris Letang could be plentiful in another city. Monitor them closely.

Cody Franson might be this summer's big fish, at least in terms of defensemen. The bad thing for him is that he hasn't thrived since arriving back in Nashville following a trade from the Toronto Maple Leafs. That aside, he managed a career high in points this season. He'll be productive and if speculation is correct, it could even be back in Toronto.

Adam Larsson
STATS PRIOR TO APR. 8 GAMES
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 21 | PTS: 24
SOG: 87 | +/-: 2
KEEP AN EYE ON

We could be saying, "How Swede it is!" when we talk about the top scorers among defensemen next season. It wouldn't be out of the question to see Karlsson, Ekman-Larsson and Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning) leading the way in points. They'll have company at that party as well, as a handful of other Swedish defensemen could be primed for significant breakout seasons, such as John Klingberg (Dallas Stars), Hampus Lindholm (Anaheim Ducks), Adam Larsson (New Jersey Devils) and Oscar Klefbom (Edmonton Oilers). When picking your teams next fall, be sure to keep these players a little higher on your list, since we're in an era of high-scoring Swedish defensemen.


TOP 60 FANTASY DEFENSEMEN

These are the final fantasy defensemen rankings for the 2014-15 NHL season -- including players that are or were injured. 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. Factors taken into account include potential changes in scenery (trade or free agency), injury history, breakout potential, regression, age, etc.

1 Erik Karlsson, OTT 31 Torey Krug, BOS
2 Kevin Shattenkirk, STL 32 Olli Maatta, PIT
3 P.K. Subban, MTL 33 Nick Leddy, NYI
4 Mark Giordano, CGY 34 Trevor Daley, DAL
5 Dustin Byfuglien, D/RW, WPG 35 Jake Muzzin, LAK
6 Kris Letang, PIT 36 Aaron Ekblad, FLA
7 Brent Burns, D/RW, SJS 37 Marek Zidlicky, DET
8 Victor Hedman, TBL 38 Brent Seabrook, CHI
9 Shea Weber, NSH 39 Alex Goligoski, DAL
10 Roman Josi, NSH 40 Anton Stralman, TBL
11 Oliver Ekman-Larsson, ARI 41 Cody Franson, NSH
12 John Carlson, WSH 42 James Wisniewski, ANA
13 Duncan Keith, CHI 43 Zdeno Chara, BOS
14 Tyson Barrie, COL 44 Erik Johnson, COL
15 Keith Yandle, NYR 45 Jason Garrison, TBL
16 TJ Brodie, CGY 46 Michael Del Zotto, PHI
17 Alex Pietrangelo, STL 47 Jacob Trouba, WPG
18 Sami Vatanen, ANA 48 Mike Green, WSH
19 Justin Faulk, CAR 49 Dion Phaneuf, TOR
20 Niklas Kronwall, DET 50 Hampus Lindholm, ANA
21 Mark Streit, PHI 51 Damon Severson, NJD
22 Dennis Wideman, CGY 52 Andrej Sekera, LAK
23 Andrei Markov, MTL 53 Danny Dekeyser, DET
24 Drew Doughty, LAK 54 Tobias Enstrom, WPG
25 John Klingberg, DAL 55 Jack Johnson, CBJ
26 Dougie Hamilton, BOS 56 Travis Hamonic, NYI
27 Ryan McDonagh, NYR 57 David Savard, CBJ
28 Cam Fowler, ANA 58 Kris Russell, CGY
29 Johnny Boychuk, NYI 59 Alexander Edler, VAN
30 Ryan Suter, MIN 60 Matt Niskanen, WSH

In the mix: Justin Schultz (EDM), Kevin Klein (NYR), Ryan Ellis (NSH), Eric Gelinas (NJD), Rasmus Ristolainen (BUF)

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