Fantasy Hockey: The NHL's Top 15 Defencemen for a Keeper League
Welcome to part two of a three part series on top NHL players for a fantasy hockey keeper league.
In part one, we looked at the NHL's top 25 forwards. In part two we take a look at the often undervalued fantasy hockey contribution of the NHL's top 15 defencemen.
If you are looking for a typical top NHL defenceman list with Niklas Lidstrom perched up on his Norris Trophy at the top, then this list is not for you.
On the other hand, if you want to completely dominate your buddies in your keeper league fantasy pool for years to come, then read on!
No doubt the best defenceman of the modern era, Niklas Lidstrom only needs one more Norris Trophy to tie Bobby Orr with eight. But, at 41 years of age and under a one-year contract, drafting him in your keeper league would be a waste of a roster spot.
Many fantasy hockey GM's mistakenly wait until the later rounds before drafting any defencemen. While elite d-men tend to rack up less points than their elite forward counterparts, they are far more rare. Having a few of them on your team can make the difference between fantasy hockey glory or a summer of eating sour grapes. It will be much easier to find a decent forward in the later rounds than a stud blueliner.
Just like your fantasy hockey draft, we start with the best; here are the top 15 defencemen for a fantasy hockey keeper league.
1. Shea Weber
This offseason, Shea Weber was deservedly awarded the highest single season salary ever to an NHL player in arbitration.
The youngest captain in Nashville Predators history, Weber has recorded 55 goals, 89 assists and 172 penalty minutes over the past three seasons while missing a total of only five games. Last year alone, while averaging over 25 minutes of ice-time per game, Weber finished third among NHL defencemen in shots (254) and sixth in hits (211) while playing in all 82 games.
Whether your pool is for straight points or includes some of these other stats, Shea Weber is a franchise player and fantasy hockey monster. In most pools, he'll be gone by the third round. If you already have a couple of top forwards in your pocket and Weber is available, you would be wise to snag him.
At 26 years young and on a one year contract, Weber is about ready to explode.
2. Drew Doughty
One of maybe two stud d-men that will likely get drafted before Shea Weber in any fantasy hockey league, Drew Doughty oozes potential.
In just his second NHL season, Doughty finished third in points among defencemen, scoring 16 goals and adding 43 assists on his way to becoming the second youngest Norris Trophy nominee at age 20 (the youngest was Bobby Orr at age 19). Doughty took a step back by his standards in his third season, managing only 40 points. With the skills of a future Hall of Famer, you can expect that to be the low point in his career.
Drafting Drew Doughty in your pool will mean giving up an elite forward pick, but at only 21 years of age, you will have your defence corps anchor for the equivalent of fantasy hockey eternity.
3. Mike Green
An elite NHL offensive defenseman since only his second year in the league, Mike Green struggled with various injuries last season. He played in only 49 games and scored a paltry 24 points.
Previously, Green had been an incredible point-a-game player, leading all NHL d-men in points two seasons in a row with a combined 149 points in 143 games and a plus-63 rating.
With the Caps now playing a more defensive system Green may not attain the same lofty heights, but with his health in order and plenty of motivation you can treat last season as an aberration.
This is the one defenceman in the NHL that has proven he can rival elite forwards on the score sheet. Due to his off year however, he may get passed over in your draft early on. At only 25 years of age, Mike Green may not have hit his prime.
Green comes with a medium amount of risk, and extremely high reward.
4. Keith Yandle
After finishing third overall in points (59) among NHL defencemen last season, Keith Yandle is no longer a secret.
Flying under the radar in Phoenix, Yandle has steadily improved his stats over his first four years in the NHL and hasn't missed a single game in his last two seasons.
Having just turned 25 this month, Yandle has the potential to keep himself, and your fantasy hockey team, on an upwards trajectory for many years to come.
5. Zdeno Chara
At 34, Zdeno Chara is by far the oldest player on this list. He is also the tallest at 6'9".
More importantly, Chara is the most consistent fantasy performer on this list.
Since the NHL lockout season of 2004-2005, Chara has never had less than 43 points and 87 penalty minutes. He has also played in at least 80 games in each of the past three seasons and missed a total of 12 games in his last five seasons.
If your league counts shots, then Chara is your man. He has taken a total of 506 shots over the past two regular seasons alone. He also led all NHL d-men with a plus-33 rating last season.
With a proven track record of durability and consistency, Zdeno Chara should continue to be a force for a long time.
6. Alex Pietrangelo
The St. Louis Blues decided to take their time with their former first-round round pick, Alex Pietrangelo(4th overall in 2008). They were justly rewarded in his first full season last year when Alex led all Blues defencemen with 43 points, a plus-18 rating and 161 shots.
Unfortunately, he did not qualify for rookie of the year consideration as he had played a total of 17 games in his previous two professional seasons before being sent back to juniors.
A smooth skater with poise, maturity, great puck skills and on-ice vision, 21-year-old Pietrangelo is only at the beginning of a long career as an elite NHL defenceman.
You can expect Pietrangelo to be drafted around the 10th-11th round in a typical fantasy hockey league with 10 teams. He would be an absolute steal for any fantasy hockey GM in the eighth or ninth round.
7. Brent Burns
Averaging over 25 minutes of ice-time, Brent Burns finished third in scoring by defencemen last year with a career high 17 goals and racked up 98 PIMs.
Keep in mind Burns played for the Minnesota Wild last season, who had the fifth worst offence in the NHL (2.48 goals per game). After being traded this summer to the high-powered San Jose Sharks, who had the sixth best offence last season, (2.96 goals per game) you can expect his production to improve dramatically.
8. Dustin Byfuglien
Last season Dustin Byfuglien was first amongst all d-men in goals (20) and shots (347). He also finished the year 4th in points (53) for defencemen and amassed 93 PIMs.
Apparently, only former Atlanta Thrashers GM Rick Dudley (and that crazy guy in my hockey pool who drafted him early) knew the Big Buff could score more from the point than as a forward.
Don't expect Byfuglien to go on the same tear as he did in the first half of last season, but with his size and versatility, Dustin Byfuglien should remain a solid fantasy performer from the blueline in the future.
9. Kris Letang
In just his fourth full season in the NHL, Kris Letang finished ninth among all defencemen in points (50). He was sixth in PIMs (101), fifth in assists (42), fourth in shots (236) and still found the time to throw 167 hits.
Now solidly entrenched as the Pittsburgh Penguins go-to guy on the point, 24-year-old Kris Letang is an all-around performer that would make a great anchor on your fantasy team defence.
10. P.K. Subban
P.K. Subban absolutely exploded onto the NHL stage as a rookie 20-year-old in the 2010-2011 playoffs with eight points in 14 games. He followed that up with 14 goals and 38 points in his first regular season, scoring nine goals on the power play to tie for the lead among NHL d-men.
As Habs fans can attest, Subban doesn't just score goals.
He was third among all NHL defencemen with 124 PIMs last year.
P.K. will go early in your fantasy draft. If you want him, you will have to weigh the cost of not taking a forward somewhere in the sixth to seventh round.
11. Tyler Myers
A former Rookie of the Year, 6'8" Tyler Myers fell victim to the infamous sophomore slump last season.
After recording 48 points in just 82 games on his way to the Calder Trophy, Myers slipped back to 37 points in 80 games in 2010-2011, with six of those points coming in his last three games of the season.
Now under a long-term contract with the Buffalo Sabres, you can expect Myers to pick up where he left off and not look back.
12. Duncan Keith
After completing his 69 point Norris Trophy and Stanley Cup winning season of 2009-2010, Duncan Keith came back to earth last season, finishing with 45 points.
Excluding last year's Stanley Cup hangover, Keith's point totals increased in each of his first five seasons in the NHL. He also played in all 82 games four times and has missed a total of only six regular season games in six years.
Leading all NHL skaters last season, Keith averaged 26:53 in ice-time per game.
Expect Keith and the rest of the Chicago Blackhawks to show up with more hunger going forward.
13. Brent Seabrook
Duncan Keith's partner Brent Seabrook had a career year last season, finishing in the top ten amongst d-men with 48 points in 82 games and was third in hits with 227.
Another iron man, Seabrook has only missed four regular season games over the last five seasons. Over his NHL career of 474 regular season games, Seabrook has a plus-55 rating and has amassed 422 penalty minutes.
You can expect the underrated Seabrook to be drafted in the 12th-13th round of a typical fantasy league, which means you can probably snag him in the 10th or 11th.
14. Cam Fowler
The Anaheim Ducks could hardly believe their luck when Cam Fowler fell into their laps with the 12th pick overall in the 2010 NHL draft. Previously ranked as high as in the top three among NHL draft prospects, many teams passed over Fowler.
Already, some of them are regretting it.
Fowler put up 40 points and averaged over 22 minutes of ice-time over 76 games as an 18-year-old rookie.
If your pool includes the plus/minus category you will have to tolerate some mistakes from the young defender, as he was a minus-25 last season. However, Fowler's coach, former Norris Trophy winner Randy Carlyle, clearly has an enormous amount of confidence in the young man, and this will only help him going forward. Expect his d-zone coverage to improve and his offensive numbers to skyrocket.
Fowler should get drafted in a 10 team pool by the 12th round. Plan accordingly.
15. Erik Karlsson
Erik Karlsson is the player the Ottawa Senators have decided to rebuild around.
In his rookie campaign, Karlsson managed 26 points in only 60 games and then put up another six points in his first six playoff games, giving Sens fans and poolies something to think about. For an encore this past year, the 20-year-old finished with 45 points, including 13 goals, in 75 games.
He was also a minus-30 as an undersized defenceman playing big minutes on a bad team.
Karlsson is a special offensive talent. If your league doesn't count plus/minus then Karlsson would be a great pickup on any keeper team. If it does count plus/minus you will have to weigh Karlsson's long-term upside against the short to medium term downside of a team in full rebuild mode.
If you enjoyed this article, check out the NHL's Top 25 Forwards for a Keeper League, and stay tuned for part three when I take a look at the NHL's top 10 goalies.
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