All season long, NHL.com will rank the top 50 fantasy defensemen for standard Yahoo leagues (goals, assists, plus/minus, penalty minutes, power-play points, shots on goal). Players with long-term injuries have been removed from this list.
These rankings are based on expectations for the rest of the season. Value is quantified by defense pairs, power-play usage, past performance and overall upside in standard leagues. Changes in value each week are based on recent performance and/or lineup trends.
Don't look now, but the fantasy playoffs are on the horizon. Most Yahoo leagues begin postseason play in Week 22, giving fantasy owners four more scoring periods after this week to make a final push for higher seeding or a spot in general.
MORE FANTASY COVERAGE: TOP 100 FORWARDS | TOP 25 GOALIES | PROJ. GOALIES
Many owners will look to make trades to improve their roster before their league's deadline, but there are still some waiver wire gems that can bolster your attack. Here are three young defensemen who have been productive lately and warrant greater fantasy ownership:
Nikita Zaitsev (19 percent owned) was a standout Kontinental Hockey League defenseman in each of the past two seasons before signing a one-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on May 2. The Maple Leafs are in the hunt for a Stanley Cup Playoff spot, and Zaitsev has benefited from exposure to the sixth highest-scoring offense in the League (3.11 goals per game).
Toronto's rookie forwards Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner and William Nylander have had most of the spotlight, but this 25-year-old defenseman is also contributing regularly. Zaitsev has nine points, three PPP and 14 SOG in his past 11 games. He had an assist against the New York Islanders on Tuesday, giving him at least a point in four of his past five games.
Zaitsev ranks third on the Maple Leafs in assists (24) and leads their defensemen in points (26) this season. His shot total (75 SOG in 55 games) is low, but he provides strong coverage of hits (127) and blocks (93) for leagues that count those statistics.
Brady Skjei (13 percent owned) of the New York Rangers is also quietly having a strong rookie campaign. The 22-year-old is playing for the third highest-scoring offense (3.39 goals per game) in the League, and has eight points, 25 SOG and is plus-9 in his past 11 games. He ranks sixth on the Rangers in assists (23), third in hits (93) and third among their defensemen in points (25). Most of his damage (22 points) has come at even strength, and he's plus-11 on the season as a result.
Video: NYR@TOR: Skjei buries Zuccarello's nifty dish in 1st
Connor Murphy (1 percent owned) of the Arizona Coyotes isn't a rookie, but the 23-year-old is primed to set multiple career highs in his fourth NHL season. After scoring five points in his past nine games, he has set a new career high with 12 assists and is five points away from eclipsing his best single-season point total (17 in 2015-16). He's minus-9 in 50 games, but has drastically improved in that department with a plus-7 in his past 11 games.
Speaking of the Coyotes, Oliver Ekman-Larsson was the seventh defenseman drafted on average in Yahoo leagues after a career-high 55 points in 75 games last season. Unfortunately, Ekman-Larsson got off to a rocky start and the Coyotes are 29th in the NHL standings. That said, OEL is slowly but surely turning the corner in recent months and could still be primed for a top 10-15 finish among fantasy D-men. He has totaled five assists during his current four-game point streak and has 17 points (eight PPP) in 23 games since Dec. 21. Outside of his minus-19, he's strong in the other peripheral categories (36 PIMs, 16 PPP, 102 SOG, 83 hits, 60 blocks) and could be worthwhile trade target to boost your defense down the stretch.
Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames was the 14th defenseman drafted on average in Yahoo. He's still holding such a high ownership (94 percent) based on reputation alone, because he hasn't done much for fantasy owners in quite some time. Giordano (137th in Yahoo) has been vastly outperformed by Flames teammate Dougie Hamilton (74th), and has been held without a point in 10 straight games. Among defensemen with at least 50 games played, Giordano is tied for 42nd in points per game (0.39). That puts him on pace for his lowest point total in a full season since 2011-12.
-- Hopefully you got Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators back in your fantasy lineup last week, because he's been rolling with four goals and six points in his past four games. He's added 17 SOG in five games since returning from injury and is a must-play defenseman in all formats. P.K. Subban is also heating up with multipoint outings in two of his past three games, including two PPP in the span.
-- Shayne Gostisbehere (77 percent owned) returned to the Philadelphia Flyers lineup after being a healthy scratch for three straight games. He has a power-play assist, five SOG, four hits and five blocks in his two games back, averaging 4:44 minutes of power-play time in the span. He's one of the biggest disappointments in all of fantasy, but is still worth owning in most formats with the outside chance of a bounce-back stretch run.
-- Hampus Lindholm (35 percent owned) of the Anaheim Ducks has finally found his offensive groove. He has two goals and five points (one PPP) in six games this month, averaging 22:39 of ice time in the span. He came into the season with high fantasy upside, but started slow with eight points in his first 39 games.
Video: ANA@WSH: Lindholm stays with puck, puts home rebound
Top 50 Fantasy Defensemen
These rankings were last updated Feb. 15
1. Brent Burns, SJS (SAME)
2. Victor Hedman, TBL (+2)
3. Erik Karlsson, OTT (-1)
4. Kris Letang, PIT (+1)
5. Dustin Byfuglien, WPG (-2)
6. Kevin Shattenkirk, STL (+1)
7. Shea Weber, MTL (-1)
8. Duncan Keith, CHI (+1)
9. Drew Doughty, LAK (-1)
10. Justin Schultz, PIT (SAME)
11. Roman Josi, NSH (+3)
12. Torey Krug, BOS (+3)
13. Dougie Hamilton, CGY (-1)
14. Ryan Suter, MIN (-3)
15. Rasmus Ristolainen, BUF (+3)
16. Zach Werenski, CBJ (-3)
17. Ryan McDonagh, NYR (SAME)
18. P.K. Subban, NSH (+2)
19. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, ARI (+3)
20. Keith Yandle, FLA (-1)
21. John Carlson, WSH (-5)
22. John Klingberg, DAL (-1)
23. Justin Faulk, CAR (+1)
24. Colton Parayko, STL (-1)
25. Seth Jones, CBJ (SAME)
26. Alex Pietrangelo, STL (SAME)
27. Matt Niskanen, WSH (+5)
28. Nick Leddy, NYI (+5)
29. Brent Seabrook, CHI (-1)
30. Cam Fowler, ANA (+5)
31. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, SJS (-1)
32. Jake Gardiner, TOR (-1)
33. Dion Phaneuf, OTT (+3)
34. Mark Giordano, CGY (-7)
35. Mike Green, DET (-5)
36. Matt Dumba, MIN (DTD)
37. Andrei Markov, MTL (SAME)
38. Ivan Provorov, PHI (SAME)
39. Morgan Rielly, TOR (SAME)
40. Tyson Barrie, COL (SAME)
41. Shayne Gostisbehere, PHI (SAME)
42. Jared Spurgeon, MIN (+1)
43. Nikita Zaitsev, TOR (+4)
44. Jeff Petry, MTL (SAME)
45. Trevor Daley, PIT (-3)
46. Aaron Ekblad, FLA (-1)
47. Jacob Trouba, WPG (+1)
48. Dmitry Orlov, WSH (-2)
49. Alec Martinez, LAK (SAME)
50. Brady Skjei, NYR (NEW)
Dropped out: Adam Larsson (EDM)
Key injury: Tyler Myers (WPG), Sami Vatanen (ANA)
READ: Last week's Top 50 defenseman rankings