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Fantasy top 60 defensemen: New Year's predictions

by Brian Metzer / NHL.com

Every Wednesday during the season, NHL.com fantasy hockey contributor Brian Metzer provides in-depth defenseman analysis. From updated weekly top 60 rankings to trending players and more, Metzer is your go-to guy for fantasy D-men advice all season long.


With the new year upon us, we leave behind the good and the bad, the ups and downs from 2015. And there is a sense of hope for what 2016 will bring.

The start of a new year is a time to reflect on the past and also gives us the opportunity to make resolutions. We won't tell you how to make yours, but we will spend time reflecting on some of what I have done here in this space.

I've done some good and some bad here and I'm going to make some resolutions that will be applied moving forward. I'll also give you some bold predictions that apply to key fantasy defensemen for 2016.

Let's start with the good.

Were you paying attention Oct. 14 when I told you to keep an eye on the Buffalo Sabres' Rasmus Ristolainen? He had two points in three games at that point of the season and has gone on to become one of the most productive defensemen in the League. He entered play Wednesday tied for 10th in goals (seven) and points (24) among defensemen, and he's averaging 2.5 shots on goal per game. The 6-foot-4, 207-pound right-shot defender was owned in eight percent of Yahoo Leagues Oct. 14, but now his ownership has leaped to 74 percent. Are you in one of the 26 percent of leagues in which he's still available?

I predicted that Trevor Daley had more to offer than he had shown through the first his first six games for the Chicago Blackhawks. He had one assist to that point and it appeared that he might be in line for a bigger role with Duncan Keith out of the lineup. That didn't happen and I felt shame; however it was just the wrong place and time. He was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 14 and since then he has been getting big minutes, power-play time and has three points in his past five games. That should continue to improve, and he's still available in 85 percent of Yahoo leagues.

November was a good for "trending up" and "keep your eyes' on players. Jeff Petry of the Montreal Canadiens, Morgan Rielly (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Shayne Gostisbehere (Philadelphia Flyers) received some love and hopefully rewarded owners who took the advice. Gostisbehere has been a must play asset.

Now we must look at the bad.

There are two big mistakes, Daley aside since he might yet pan out, and each result in my fantasy resolutions.

Marek Zidlicky of the New York Islanders was the subject of a feature on Oct. 14. He had just collected two points in his first three games and that, along with his history, seduced me. He'd have to thrive with John Tavares and an Islanders power play that scored 10 goals in its final 17 games last season, right? Didn't happen.

He has two goals and four points in his past four games, but he had eight points in his first 26 games and has 22 shots on goal for the season.

That experience taught me that the past is the past. You can't live in the years when things were going better for a younger player. It's a frame of reference but further review is necessary.

Then there was San Jose Sharks defenseman Paul Martin.

I covered a game Nov. 21 between the Penguins and Sharks in Pittsburgh and Martin was one of the best players on the ice. He teamed with Brent Burns to create all of the Sharks offense during a 3-1 victory. He had a goal and an assist to push his season totals to one goal and six assists in 17 games. He was listed as a trending up player in my next column but he had one assist in the subsequent 15 games.

I learned that I cannot take one, two or even three performances and allow them to change my thinking about a player. While Martin was one of the best players on the ice that night against the Penguins, it came against a team that has proven that it isn't very good.

BOLD DEFENSEMEN PREDICTIONS FOR 2016

Mark Giordano will finish as a top-10 fantasy defenseman -- The Calgary Flames captain was one of the best stories in the League last season when he had 11 goals and 48 points in 61 games. That had owners selecting him on average with the 39th pick in Yahoo standard drafts this season. But he had six points in his first 22 games. He's been better since then with December has been much better, as he's picked up five goals and 13 points in his past 14 games. While his nearly one point per game pace is not sustainable, but the .79 points per game he averaged last season is attainable. If he comes near that level in his final 47 games, he'd add 37 points on to the 19 he has, giving him 55 points for the season. That would place him fifth among the final defensive scorers from last season.

The Penguins will acquire Dustin Byfuglien -- General manager Jim Rutherford is a home-run hitter and acquiring someone like Byfuglien from the Winnipeg Jets would qualify as just that. Rutherford has long coveted another puck-moving defenseman and Byfuglien, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, could be a trade candidate if the Jets don't feel they can sign him. Even after acquiring Daley, Rutherford might want to investigate Byfuglien's availability. In six seasons since being traded to the Atlanta Thrashers by the Blackhawks, Byfuglien has 256 points in 373 games.

P.K. Subban a perfect buy-low option -- The Montreal Canadiens' No. 1 defenseman is the Sidney Crosby of his position this season. His production, 26 points in 39 games, is pretty good by normal standards. But when you're Subban, that isn't cutting it. The biggest culprit seems to be his shooting percentage. He has one goal on 106 shots this season, giving him a shooting percentage of 0.9 percent, the lowest in the League for a player with at least one goal. That's far below his 8.8 percent last season, or his NHL career average of 5.7 percent. His shooting percentage has to turn around at some point; let it be after you acquire him.

Brent Burns and Justin Faulk will top 30 goals -- Each player has 14 goals and there is no reason to think that production will plateau. Burns is averaging 4.4 shots on goal per game and has scored on 9.1 percent of his 154 shots. If he stays on that pace he'll finish with 32 goals. Faulk has scored on 12.8 percent of his 109 shots; that puts him on pace for 31 goals.

Shayne Gostisbehere will stay in the NHL and finish in the top 25 in points for defensemen -- The Philadelphia Flyers' Mark Streit is expected to return to the lineup Wednesday against the San Jose Sharks, but that shouldn't affect the ice time Gostisbehere has been getting. He has three points in his past three games and now has 14 points in 19 games. He has three game-winning goals and seven power-play points. He's still available in more than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues.


TOP 60 FANTASY DEFENSEMEN

These rankings are based on expectations for this season. Value is quantified by defense pairings, power-play usage, past performance and overall upside in standard Yahoo categories (goals, assists, plus-minus, penalty minutes, power-play points and shots on goal).

1 Erik Karlsson, OTT (SAME) 31 Mark Giordano, CGY (+3)
2 John Klingberg, DAL (SAME) 32 Francois Beauchemin, COL (+3)
3 Brent Burns, SJS (+1) 33 Alex Pietrangelo, STL (-3)
4 Kevin Shattenkirk, STL (+3) 34 Dion Phaneuf, TOR (-3)
5 Duncan Keith, CHI (SAME) 35 Niklas Kronwall, DET (-3)
6 Justin Faulk, CAR (+2) 36 Cody Franson, BUF (SAME)
7 P.K. Subban, MTL (-4) 37 Jason Demers, DAL (SAME)
8 Oliver Ekman-Larsson, ARI (+2) 38 Morgan Rielly, TOR (+1)
9 Roman Josi, NSH (+2) 39 Mike Green, DET (-6)
10 Andrei Markov, MTL (-4) 40 Andrej Sekera, EDM (-2)
11 John Carlson, WSH (-2) 41 Dennis Wideman, CGY (+2)
12 Shea Weber, NSH (+2) 42 Dougie Hamilton, CGY (+1)
13 Victor Hedman, TBL (-1) 43 Zdeno Chara, BOS (+1)
14 Dustin Byfuglien, WPG (-1) 44 Alex Goligoski, DAL (+5)
15 Drew Doughty, LAK (SAME) 45 Shayne Gostisbehere, PHI (+6)
16 Tyson Barrie, COL (+1) 46 Colton Parayko, STL (SAME)
17 Ryan McDonagh, NYR (+1) 47 Alexander Edler, VAN (SAME)
18 Ryan Suter, MIN (-2) 48 Matt Niskanen, WSH (-7)
19 Brent Seabrook, CHI (SAME) 49 Marek Zidlicky, NYI (-1)
20 Kris Letang, PIT (NR - INJ.) 50 Nick Leddy, NYI (+1)
21 Keith Yandle, NYR (+1) 51 Trevor Daley, PIT (+6)
22 TJ Brodie, CGY (+3) 52 Olli Maatta, PIT (-7)
23 Rasmus Ristolainen, BUF (+1) 53 Jared Spurgeon, MIN (-1)
24 Sami Vatanen, ANA (-1) 54 Ryan Ellis, NSH (-1)
25 Torey Krug, BOS (-6) 55 Colin Miller, BOS (+1)
26 Jake Muzzin, LAK (-5) 56 Tyler Myers, WPG (NEW)
27 Aaron Ekblad, FLA (SAME) 57 Alec Martinez, LAK (+2)
28 Anton Stralman, TBL (SAME) 58 David Savard, CBJ (-4)
29 Johnny Boychuk, NYI (-3) 59 Jeff Petry, MTL (-4)
30 Erik Johnson, COL (-1) 60 Oscar Klefbom, EDM (-2)

Dropped out: Seth Jones

Key injuries: Cam Fowler, Mark Streit, Kyle Quincey, James Wisniewski

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