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NHL

Fantasy NHL – Previewing the defenseman position from a fantasy angle for the 2018 season

In conventional scoring leagues, a defenseman’s fantasy value is strongly linked to power-play participation. Quarterbacking a dynamic top unit not only offers greater opportunity to post serious numbers but also proves indicative of a player’s proclivity for such production.

That being said, a coveted fantasy blueliner has more to offer beyond scoring flash, particularly in leagues that reward average time on ice (ATOI), plus/minus, shots, etc. One of last year’s standouts, Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning, finished first in goals (17), fifth in points (63), fifth in power-play points (26), second in plus/minus (plus-32), fifth in ATOI (25:50) and ninth in shots (216). In less orthodox leagues in which blocked shots, hits and penalty minutes are in play, many prominent two-way defensemen boast increased value.

But really, more often than not, it’s about skating on the power play. Here’s a look at this season’s fantasy blue line.


Strategy

Unlike other positions, the cream of the fantasy defensemen crop is clotted and concentrated from a production standpoint. Only seven D-men hit or surpassed the 60-point mark this past regular season. Just a dozen more earned 50-plus. Only four defensemen are featured in ESPN’s current top 40, including Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson in the 40th spot.

If unable to secure a top-tier gem early on, managers in scoring-heavy leagues are best advised to invest elsewhere first and round out their D corps in later rounds. There’s little sense in bypassing a 75-plus-point winger to secure a 50-point defenseman. Successful mining for potential also can go a long way toward season-long success.


Top-tier defensemen I like

Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks (No. 20 overall, No. 1 defenseman): There’s little to not like about the 33-year-old as an elite fantasy asset. Anchoring the Sharks’ top power play — further improved by the addition of former Buffalo sniper Evander Kane — Burns led NHL defensemen this past season in shots (332), finished second in total points and fourth in power-play production, all the while averaging more than 25 minutes per game. Other than a slightly poor minus-16, there’s no fault found here. And Burns hasn’t missed a single regular-season game in four years. In filling a defensive slot, Burns’ 70-point potential is worth early investment.

Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators (No. 40 overall, No. 4 defenseman): When healthy, Karlsson is on another level all his own, whether stuck playing for the drama-riddled Senators or some other NHL club following a trade. Last season was universally accepted as a bust on and off the ice in Ottawa, and Karlsson still managed to post 62 points in 71 games. Unless GM Pierre Dorion completely mucks this up and fails to move the best player to ever skate for the franchise before his contract expires, Karlsson will finish the campaign with a contender. That would be great — and if not, 70 points in a full season with the Sens still works. Pick him early.

John Klingberg, Dallas Stars (No. 69 overall, No. 12 defenseman): A little quietly, Klingberg finished second among defensemen with 67 points this past season, including 23 with the man advantage, a career best in his fourth season. Ever improving, the 26-year-old also averaged more than 24 minutes per game and significantly increased his shooting rate (204 shots). The (re-)addition of Valeri Nichushkin to the Stars’ top power play that already includes Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov should only increase production in that department. Durability-wise, the club’s top power-play anchor has missed only two total regular-season games these past two years.


Midtier defensemen to target

Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes (No. 102 overall, No. 18 defenseman): A fresh start, combined with a promising gaggle of young talent up front, clears the stage for a career year from Hamilton in Carolina. However uncomfortable his relationship grew to be in Calgary, the now-25-year-old still managed to lead NHL defensemen with 17 goals (tied with Hedman and Ivan Provorov), including six with the man advantage. Out from Mark Giordano‘s shadow, Hamilton is positioned to serve as the Hurricanes’ go-to puck-moving staple and No. 1 power-play anchor. Don’t be surprised if he ranks as a top-10 fantasy performer by campaign’s end.


Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues (No. 120 overall, No. 22 defenseman): At 28 years of age and with Kevin Shattenkirk long gone, Pietrangelo is coming off the most productive season of his career, scoring 15 goals and 39 assists. The offseason additions of productive power up front in the form of Ryan O’Reilly and to a lesser degree David Perron and Tyler Bozak — and the (fingers crossed) healthy return of Robby Fabbri — will further boost Pietrangelo’s numbers by association. Ranking 24th in goals and 30th in power-play production, the Blues will be appreciably better on both counts this season. Their top experienced offensive defenseman — still in his prime — stands to benefit.

Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks (No. 178 overall, No. 36 defenseman): It was only two seasons ago that Keith collected 53 points (plus-22) while averaging nearly 26 minutes per game. I’m willing to offer the two-time Norris Trophy winner and thrice-crowned Stanley Cup champ a chance to prove last season’s dismal 32-point output (minus-29) was just an outlier, rather than the norm. Even by Keith’s own low bar, his 1.1 shooting percentage of last season is a puzzler. Managers in leagues of any reasonable size could find themselves quite fortunate to have the standout veteran locked in as their No. 3 blueliner.

Honorable mention: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes (No. 166 overall, No. 31 defenseman)


Key sleeper

Oscar Klefbom, Edmonton Oilers (No. 247, No. 61 defenseman): The underachieving Oilers of 2017-18 will be altogether better this season, including their No. 1 offensive defenseman. Badgered by a nagging shoulder injury, Klefbom managed only 21 points in 66 games, down from 38 the season previous. Now, by all accounts, that shoulder is all cleaned up following spring surgery. A role on the top power play with Connor McDavid means the chance to move past last year’s setback and further his ongoing development. Drafted 19th overall in 2011, this 25-year-old has yet to near his ceiling.

Honorable mention: Shea Theodore, Vegas Golden Knights (No. 244 overall, No. 60 defenseman)


Late-round pick to consider

Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres (No. 234 overall, No. 56 defenseman): In reality, in all but the shallowest of re-draft leagues, this year’s No. 1 overall draft pick won’t last until later rounds. But there are those who believe the 18-year-old needs some seasoning at the big league level in North America before he seizes the Sabres’ top offensive-defenseman reins from Rasmus Ristolainen. Yet all we’re hearing is how mature, professional and NHL-ready Dahlin already is, even weeks ahead of camp. Oh, and incredibly, tangibly skilled. Even outside of dynasty leagues — where this kid is a must-grab — we’re not sleeping on Dahlin much at all.

Honorable mention: Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars (not ranked)


Avoid in drafts at current value

Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers (No. 43 overall, No. 6 defenseman): Provorov is an issue here. He’s a blossoming, positive issue for the Flyers, but less so for fantasy managers prematurely invested in Philly’s current top offensive defenseman. The 21-year-old presents as a legit threat to usurp Gostisbehere on the club’s top power play. In only his second season, Provorov led his club in ATOI (24:09) and the league in goals from the blue line (17). The next step for the kid who likes to shoot is an increase in special-team minutes. That nails a minor dent in Gostisbehere’s otherwise solid fantasy armor.

Honorable mention: Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild (No. 83 overall, No. 16 defenseman)


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