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Fantasy defenseman rankings for 2017-18

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

by Ben Zweiman @BZweimanNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

Now that the majority of the dust has settled on NHL Free Agency, it's time to look ahead to the fantasy hockey season, particularly where the defensemen stack up.

Last offseason, we saw the major trade that sent P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators and Shea Weber to the Montreal Canadiens. So far, a move of that magnitude hasn't happened, but we finally found out where prized unrestricted free-agent defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk will play this season.

 

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Spurning money and term from other teams, Shattenkirk signed a four-year contract with his hometown New York Rangers on July 1. The native of New Rochelle, New York, joins a defense going through a bit of a facelift. Shattenkirk's most likely partner will be captain Ryan McDonagh, whom Shattenkirk is familiar with through the USA Hockey circuit. Each finished among the top 20 defensemen in Yahoo last season; Shattenkirk was eighth and McDonagh was 17th. It's likely that occurs again, but let's take a closer look.

Shattenkirk split time with the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals last season, finishing with an NHL career high 56 points (13 goals, 43 assists). His 27 power-play points ranked second behind Victor Hedman (33 PPP) of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and he was also top 40 in penalty minutes (47) among defensemen who played at least 60 games. What hurt Shattenkirk the most was a minus-7 rating and low shot volume (161, T-28th at position). The question now is whether Shattenkirk can translate his past success to the Rangers this season.

Video: Kevin Shattenkirk on joining the New York Rangers

Nearly half (48.2 percent) of Shattenkirk's point production came with the man-advantage last season. Both the Capitals and Blues ranked in the top eight in power-play efficiency last season; Washington was tied for third (23.1 percent) and St. Louis was eighth (21.3 percent). The Rangers were 11th (20.2 percent) with the man-advantage; McDonagh led their defensemen with 15 PPP (one goal, 14 assists). Chances are Shattenkirk will either fully replace McDonagh on New York's first unit or man the other point. The Rangers forward group isn't as talented as the Blues or Capitals, so there may be some regression -- but not much.

Ultimately, Shattenkirk's value doesn't take a hit, but it doesn't increase much upon joining the Rangers. He should still be expected to finish in the top 15 defensemen, with double-digit goals, around 50 points, 25 PPP and a better looking plus/minus.

 

WORTH NOTING

-- The big defenseman debate in recent seasons has been at the top: Brent Burns or Erik Karlsson? Burns had the edge last season, finishing first at the position and winning the Norris Trophy. He also took the top spot in 2015-16, but before that Karlsson held the mantle as No. 1 fantasy defenseman. Heading into this season, the argument is a bit easier in Burns' favor. Not only because of his overall statistics, but because of Karlsson's offseason surgery to repair torn tendons in his left foot. Karlsson could be ready for the Ottawa Senators' season opener Oct. 5, but any setback could lead to him missing a few games. That may not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but Burns and Karlsson are that close in terms of overall fantasy ranking. With that said, it's definitely safer to consider Burns over Karlsson in your draft, if you're looking to target an elite, puck-moving defenseman in the first round.

-- The Arizona Coyotes have made enough moves this offseason to restore fantasy confidence in defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The additions of center Derek Stepan and goaltender Antti Raanta should solidify some of the Coyotes' glaring holes from last season. Ekman-Larsson has his worst NHL season since 2011-12, finishing with 39 points (12 goals, 27 assists), 145 SOG and a minus-25 rating in 79 games. Not only did the Coyotes add Stepan and Raanta, but they also traded for defenseman Niklas Hjarlmarsson. He and Ekman-Larsson have played together for Sweden, and Hjarlmarsson brings plenty of experience to a potential top pairing. All these moves could fuel a resurgence for not only the Coyotes, but also Ekman-Larsson.

-- This season, we welcome the Vegas Golden Knights to the fold. In the NHL Expansion Draft, we saw the Golden Knights stockpile defensemen in an attempt to solidify the position and build assets. We can safely say Nate Schmidt (selected from Washington Capitals) and Shea Theodore (acquired in trade with Anaheim Ducks) should be the top two fantasy worthy defensemen from Vegas. Theodore showed signs of his potential during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Ducks, finishing with eight points (two goals, six assists) in 14 games. He still has a lot to learn as a 21-year-old going from a complete team to one starting from scratch, but has the most offensively potential on the Golden Knights defense. Schmidt, 25, may have less offensive upside but plays a steady two-way game. The problem is Schmidt will be matched against the opposition's top players on a nightly basis. This could lead to a poor plus/minus, which was the bulk of Schmidt's fantasy appeal for the Capitals last season (plus-22 in 60 games).

Based on all these implications and more, here is an updated look at the top 50 defenseman landscape for the 2017-18 season:

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

Just missed: Trevor Daley (DET), Alec Martinez (LAK), Morgan Rielly (TOR), Nikita Zaitsev (TOR), Sami Vatanen (ANA - INJ.), TJ Brodie (CGY), Josh Morrissey (WPG), Noah Hanifin (CAR), Esa Lindell (DAL), Mattias Ekholm (NSH), Radko Gudas (PHI), Damon Severson (NJD - RFA), Alexander Edler (VAN), Charlie McAvoy (BOS), Brady Skjei (NYR)

NOTES: Standard Yahoo categories include goals, assists, plus/minus, penalty minutes, PPP and SOG for skaters. ... Value has been quantified based on factors including defense pairs, power-play usage, injury history, bounce-back or breakout potential, projected regression, age, and contract status (free agents are noted). ... Zweiman's rankings may differ from the order of defensemen in NHL.com's top 250 overall rankings by Pete Jensen.

 

READ: April's Top 50 defenseman rankings

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