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Fantasy top 60 defensemen: Preseason rankings

by Brian Metzer / NHL.com

As part of NHL.com's preseason fantasy hockey draft coverage, NHL.com will preview each of the three positions this week, with Pete Jensen on forwards, Brian Metzer on defensemen and David Satriano on goalies. These positional outlooks will include the writer's individual standard-league rankings, offseason reaction and all the strategy and advice you'll need on draft day.


OVERVIEW

Year in and year out, defense is the most overlooked position in fantasy hockey, and that is a head-scratcher.

Yes, the focus is and should be on forwards and goalies, but it is folly to punt on a position that makes up one-third of your starting lineup in standard Yahoo leagues.

Last season, 27 NHL defensemen had 40 or more points; of those, 11 had 50 or more and three had 60 or more. That highest tier is led by our top-ranked defenseman, Erik Karlsson. The Ottawa Senators captain is a rare breed in that he is capable of outscoring most of the second-tier forwards in the NHL. He had 21 goals and 66 points last season, with 30 coming on the power play. His 292 shots were first among defensemen and fourth in the League, and these numbers should be replicated with a young and hungry team around him.

P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens edged Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets, but each player would be a significant addition for fantasy owners. Subban has averaged 0.73 points per game the past three seasons, with 70 points coming on the power play in that span. Although his shots dropped off a bit last season, he is a must-target player in drafts. Byfuglien averaged 0.65 points per game last season and ranked eighth in shots among defensemen even though he played 69 games. He also provides a nice boost in the penalty-minute category, which when combined with how he remains eligible at defense and right wing makes him a very versatile and productive addition.

Kevin Shattenkirk of the St. Louis Blues and Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins finish off our top five, and each could challenge for the top spot before the end of the season. Shattenkirk came close to doing that in 2014-15 but missed significant time with an injury. He and Letang, who has missed 58 games because of injury the past two seasons, should continue to produce at their respective 0.79 and 0.78 points-per-game average of last season. Each is surrounded by a glut of talented forwards , but Letang gets the luxury of skating with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and newcomer Phil Kessel, which will give him a chance to be the top scorer at his position.

The position's wealth doesn't end there. Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames had a career season playing in 61 games. Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks brings Byfuglien's versatility by offering category coverage and dual eligibility at defense and right wing. The Nashville Predators' Shea Weber and Roman Josi, who's ranked No. 11, probably will be the highest-scoring defense duo in the League. We also cannot forget the Arizona Coyotes' Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who would likely have found himself a bit higher than No. 10 if he didn't have a minus-18 rating last season. He is probably the closest thing to a lock for 20 goals and 20 assists.


TRENDING TOPICS

Cody Franson to Buffalo Sabres

Franson was thought to be a big fish in the free agent pond entering the summer, but a poor showing upon his arrival back in Nashville (one goal, three assists in 23 regular-season games) might have scared off prospective employers. It apparently has frightened fantasy owners too; Franson's average draft position (ADP) in Yahoo standard leagues is 171.4. He recently landed with the Sabres, new coach Dan Bylsma and center Jack Eichel, the second pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. With his puck-moving skills and offensive acumen, Franson should see production on par with the 32 points he had in 55 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs rather than that tough finish in Nashville.

Connor McDavid's impact on Edmonton Oilers 'D'

This is a make-or-break fantasy season for Oilers defenseman Justin Schultz. Will Connor McDavid's impact on the lineup revitalize his stock? (Photo: Getty Images)

There hasn't been a buzz around an incoming player like McDavid since Crosby debuted in 2005, and that's with good reason. McDavid, widely considered the favorite for the Calder Trophy, makes everyone on the ice better, which should translate into production for Andrej Sekera and Justin Schultz. Each had a disappointing 2014-15 season, with 23 and 31 points respectively, but that should change with ample power-play time with forwards like McDavid, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov.

Christian Ehrhoff to Los Angeles Kings

When Ehrhoff was healthy, he was good. He moved the puck well and meshed with Crosby and Malkin last season in Pittsburgh. A lack of power-play time was really his undoing; if he can get that and stay healthy, he could be a late-round steal. He could provide what the Kings lost in Slava Voynov.

Trevor Daley to Chicago Blackhawks

Daley broke out in a big way last season with 16 goals and 22 assists for the Dallas Stars, but he finds himself skating in Chicago after going the other direction in the Patrick Sharp trade. He might not get the power-play time he did in Dallas, but he will still be a very productive member of a very good team. The Blackhawks roll four lines that can score and Daley will always have chances to jump into the play. He should be going sooner than his 162.9 ADP in Yahoo leagues.

Can Sergei Gonchar still produce?

Gonchar is the NHL's leader among active defensemen with 811 points and 220 goals over a 20-season career. Three of his most productive seasons were between 2005 and 2008, when he scored 190 points for the Penguins. He re-joins Pittsburgh on a professional tryout during training camp. If he makes the Penguins, one would think it would be as a power-play specialist and sixth defenseman. He still is silky smooth and has the ability to get pucks to the net; it would be a thing of beauty to see him lay saucer passes into Malkin's wheelhouse, something the Penguins have lacked since his departure in 2010. Keep an eye on this situation.


CATEGORY COVERAGE

Mike Green (Detroit Red Wings)

If Mike Green gets the bulk of the power-play minutes among defensemen in Detroit, he could regain form as an elite-level fantasy asset. (Photo: NHL.com Illustrations)

Yahoo ADP: 94.2

Green is no longer playing with Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom but he gains Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Gustav Nyqvist, Tomas Tatar and a revitalized Brad Richards. He played 72 games and had 45 points (10 goals) for the Washington Capitals last season, each his most since 2009-10. Getting back to being a top-two defenseman along with receiving a lion's share of power-play time should make Green a quality contributor in all categories, including 35-40 penalty minutes.

Nick Leddy (New York Islanders)

Yahoo ADP: 123.4

Many lose sight of Leddy because of teammate Johnny Boychuk, who was the leader on the blue line for the Islanders last season, but Leddy is slightly more productive and can be had later in drafts. Leddy, whose 37 points were two more than Boychuk had in 2014-15, ranked ninth in goals at his position with 10 and 16th in assists with 27. He was tied for 13th in plus-minus (plus-18) and had 120 shots. Leddy may lack in the PIMs department, but the rest makes him very worthy of a roster spot.

David Savard (Columbus Blue Jackets)

Yahoo ADP: 170.5

Some may overlook Savard because he skates with Jack Johnson, but he is the one to target if you need defensive help later in your draft. He had 11 points (10 assists) in his final 16 games last season, and that should roll right into this season. The Blue Jackets might be the most improved team in the Metropolitan Division after acquiring Brandon Saad and getting everyone back healthy, and that will help Savard build upon his successful 2014-15. The 24-year-old set career highs in goals (11), assists (25), points (36), PIMs (71) and shots on goal (112). Those penalty minutes are what makes Savard even more attractive; only 11 defensemen had more.


ROOKIE WATCH

Derrick Pouliot (Pittsburgh Penguins)

Yahoo ADP: 166.8

Pouliot got his first taste of the League last season and flashed the offensive skill that has had the Penguins excited since selecting him in the 2012 draft. He finished with seven NHL points, but had 24 points in 31 American Hockey League games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He spent the summer training with Gary Roberts and is primed to take the next step on the Penguins' No. 2 pairing.

Trevor van Riemsdyk (Chicago Blackhawks)

Derek Pouliot flashed his offensive potential last season. If he feeds off the Penguins' deep forward group in 2015-16, he could be a big fantasy steal. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Blackhawks are always trying to find a diamond in the rough to help them manage their precarious cap situation and van Riemsdyk could be that on the blue line. He is coming off a collegiate career that saw him score 16 goals and 75 points in 102 games for the University of New Hampshire. Though he might not log big minutes right away, he's definitely worth a grab in dynasty or keeper formats. He's owned in one percent of Yahoo standard leagues.

Mike Reilly (Minnesota Wild)

Reilly is another collegiate standout and based on the teams that tried to lure his services this summer many believe he will be an NHL standout. Reilly scored 18 goals and 89 points in 117 games for the University of Minnesota. If he shows his offensive game is advanced enough during camp he could earn a job to start the season with the Wild.


TOP 60 FANTASY DEFENSEMEN

Below are Brian Metzer's defensemen rankings, which may differ from NHL.com's aggregate top 250. Use these as a basis for your selections on draft day. Standard-league Yahoo skater categories include goals, assists, plus-minus, PIMs, PPP and SOG.
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1 Erik Karlsson, OTT 31 Johnny Boychuk, NYI
2 P.K. Subban, MTL 32 Cody Franson, BUF
3 Dustin Byfuglien, D/RW, WPG 33 Trevor Daley, CHI
4 Kevin Shattenkirk, STL 34 Ryan Suter, MIN
5 Kris Letang, PIT 35 Olli Maatta, PIT
6 Mark Giordano, CGY 36 Torey Krug, BOS
7 Brent Burns, D/RW, SJS 37 Aaron Ekblad, FLA
8 Victor Hedman, TBL 38 Nick Leddy, NYI
9 Shea Weber, NSH 39 Erik Johnson, COL
10 Oliver Ekman-Larsson, ARI 40 Anton Stralman, TBL
11 Roman Josi, NSH 41 Alex Goligoski, DAL
12 Duncan Keith, CHI 42 Brent Seabrook, CHI
13 Tyson Barrie, COL 43 Andrej Sekera, EDM
14 John Carlson, WSH 44 James Wisniewski, CAR
15 John Klingberg, DAL 45 Michael Del Zotto, PHI
16 Keith Yandle, NYR 46 Jack Johnson, CBJ
17 Alex Pietrangelo, STL 47 Jacob Trouba, WPG
18 Drew Doughty, LAK 48 Zdeno Chara, BOS
19 Dougie Hamilton, CGY 49 Hampus Lindholm, ANA
20 Justin Faulk, CAR 50 Dion Phaneuf, TOR
21 Sami Vatanen, ANA 51 David Savard, CBJ
22 Ryan McDonagh, NYR 52 Jason Garrison, TBL
23 Mark Streit, PHI 53 Danny Dekeyser, DET
24 TJ Brodie, CGY 54 Tobias Enstrom, WPG
25 Mike Green, DET 55 Matt Niskanen, WSH
26 Dennis Wideman, CGY 56 Justin Schultz, EDM
27 Andrei Markov, MTL 57 Damon Severson, NJD
28 Niklas Kronwall, DET 58 Travis Hamonic, NYI
29 Cam Fowler, ANA 59 Alexander Edler, VAN
30 Jake Muzzin, LAK 60 Ryan Ellis, NSH

Just missed: Kevin Klein (NYR), Eric Gelinas (NJD), Tyler Myers (WPG), Morgan Rielly (TOR), Oscar Klefbom (EDM)

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