Defense is probably the hardest position to draft. Obviously, elite players in real life are going to be good for fantasy hockey, too, but many of those real life "pretty good" to "good" players' will have varying effects on your fantasy success. Just to show you what I mean, I'll point out now that 5 of the top 15 points getters on the blue line last year did not make my top 15 defenseman, and truthfully I only considered one of them.
In my first post, I mentioned that you can indeed play "money-puck" in order to win in fantasy. It's quite true, and defense is where you can do it the most. The disparity between players on the blue line is a lot smaller than in any other position. The overall difference between the 25th best defenseman and the 50th is going to be minimal, BUT each of those guys may be significantly better than the others at specific elements of the game. You can use that to your advantage if you look hard enough. For example, Brooks Orpik is definitely not a player you'd want in your lineup every week, but if a certain matchup came along where your opponent has a slight edge in the gritty categories like Blocks and Hits, Brooks's 309 Hits (1st in the NHL by a monstrous 73) and 192 Blocks (4th in the NHL) could be just what you need that week. Note: This strategy is exceptionally helpful in Head-to-Head Category leagues.
My top 15 defensemen were determined by evaluating offensive and defensive stats, but I considered offense more heavily simply because offense is a lot more difficult to make up for if your team doesn't have it. Regardless, these 15 guys will be in your lineup on Day 1 and will have no problem staying there all the way through the Finals.
The most important stats for defenseman are Total Points, Power play Points, Shots, Hits, and Blocks. Goals are nice, but I don't worry about them as much simply because defensemen don't get enough of them to matter much. The defenseman with the most goals this past season wasn't even top 60 in the league, and the difference between him and the 11th best goal scoring defenseman was just 8 goals.
By culling through the above mentioned stats, I picked my top 15. Then, to avoid confusion by having to consider guys like Orpik in the rankings, I ranked them from a pool of just those 15 guys on a per game basis, as I think per game is the best way to evaluate a fantasy player - especially a defenseman.
Hopefully you understood all of that, because there's no stopping now. Here are my top 15 defensemen you should target in your draft:
15. DREW DOUGHTY
Played all 82 games
46 Points (14th of my top 15 in Points/Game)
17 PPP - (9th of my top 15)
219 Shots (9th Shots/Game)
152 Hits (6th in Hits/Game)
144 Blocks (5th in Blocks/Game)
YAYS of Doughty: He's an incredible skater who is always involved in the game and he's arguably the most important piece to the Kings lineup. I mean, dude played 28:59 per game. If you happen to get Doughty AND one of my suggested top 8 guys, your blue line is off to a terrific start.
NAYS of Doughty: None of the above mentioned Yays mean anything in fantasy hockey. His Hits and Blocks numbers are pretty solid, but you can find those in other places if need be. His points production is consistently mediocre, which is surprising considering just how talented he is and how much time he's on the rink. He had just 17 PPPs and a single PPG. Do you know who had more of both? Marek Zidlicky. Heck, teammate Jake Muzzin almost had as many points as Doughty and he played less games. I briefly considered putting Sami Vatanen here simply because he has potential to put up better numbers than last season. Doughty, meanwhile, has been like this for several seasons now, so what you see is what you get. If Doughty is your #1 defenseman, you're going to have to work the waiver wire a bit to make up for this mistake.
My draft consensus: The Hockey News has him drafted at 106, while ESPN has him at 59. I'd place him around the 100 spot.
14. KEITH YANDLE
Played 84 games
52 Points (11th of my top 15 in Points/Game)
29 PPP - (2nd of my top 15, and in the league)
232 Shots (8th Shots/Game of my top 15)
14th in Hits/Game of my top 15
12th in Blocks/Game of my top 15
YAYS of Yandle: You draft him for his offense and nothing else. His power play numbers were pretty good last year, even if PPA heavy (most in the NHL with 27). His segue into New York was pretty quiet, but he seemed to find himself towards the end, including in the playoffs. I predict Yandle will handle it better now that he's comfortable.
NAYS of Yandle: Like I said in the Yays, he's a definitive offensive defenseman. He doesn't hit or block much. He's the perfect example of what I was talking about before - if it's between offense on the blue line or defense, in fantasy you choose offense. Yandle played 84 regular season games, plus 19 games in playoffs. That's a lot of hockey. Also, regardless of anyone's predictions, the question does remain, was his lack of production in the regular season for the Rangers the exception or was the good production in the playoffs the exception? We have to trust his history for now and say he'll be better.
My draft consensus: The Hockey News has him drafted at 163, which is absurdly low, while ESPN has him at 90, which is more correct. I say 95.
13. JUSTIN FAULK
Played all 82 games
49 Points (12th Points/Game of my top 15)
20 PPP (T-7th of my top 15)
238 Shots (6th Shots/Game of my top 15)
Almost 2 Hits/Game (4th of my top 15)
114 Blocks (11th Blocks/Game of my top 15)
YAYS of Faulk: Much like Doughty in real life, he does a lot across the board, but while Doughty is better in real life, Faulk is better in fantasy. He shoots a little more and did slightly better on the PP.
NAYS of Faulk: He's in Carolina. And the Hurricanes are bad. He was minus 19 last season, and could easily be more (or less, I'm not sure how you'd say that) this season. I like Faulk a lot, but much like Doughty, if he's your #1, you have things to fix.
My draft consensus: I seem to be a little more excited about Faulk than both The Hockey News (109) and ESPN (114). I'd take him at around the 90 spot.
ADAM LARSSON OLIVER EKMAN-LARSSON
Played all 82 games
23 Goals, including 10 PPG (1stby an NHL blue liner in both)
43 Points (last in Points/Game of my top 15)
20 PPP (Tied for 7th of my top 15)
3.2 Shots/Game (2nd in NHL by defenseman)
167 Hits (3rd Hits/Game of my top 15)
14th of my top 15 in Blocks/Game
YAYS of Ekman-Larsson: Great offensive threat who will help you with hits, too. He was the best goal scorer on the blue line last year, but like I said, I wouldn't concern yourself too much with the total. However, his 10 power play goals are nice. I love that he shoots a lot.
NAYS of Ekman-Larsson: He did score a sweet 23 goals, but his points total was just 43, which was last of my top 15 in Points/Game. Playing in the desert doesn't help his value much, either. If it wasn't for his shots total, I'd probably have dropped him below Faulk and Yandle.
My draft consensus: The Hockey News has him drafted at 50, which is quite high, while ESPN has him at 77. I see him better suited at the 84 position.
11. VICTOR HEDMAN
Played 59 games, Missed 23 games
38 Points (10th in Points/Game of my top 15)
11 PPP (last of my top 15)
1.9 Shots/Game (last of my top 15)
13thin Hits/Game of my top 15
4th in Blocks/Game of my top 15
YAYS of Hedman: My feelings on Hedman are similar to my feelings on Marc-Andre Fleury. Everyone keeps saying he's awesome, but when I look at the numbers, I don't see it. I have to be honest and say that I let that hype influence his position here, but if the professional analysts are saying he's legit, then I guess I have to believe them... for just one more season. After that, I'm out.
NAYS of Hedman: I guess I already said this, but I just don't see the production everyone keeps raving about. Maybe I'm ignorant. I don't know. On such an incredibly offensive talented team you'd think he'd get more points, especially on the PP, but it simply isn't there. I know you can't put too much stock in one off injuries, but missing 23 games doesn't help his value with me either. You can draft him and hope he can be a #1, but if it doesn't work out, I will assuredly be the first to say, "Told ya so."
My draft consensus: The Hockey News loves him and has him at 34, while ESPN has him at 49. I'm going much lower and thinking he's worth a gander at 74.
10. JOHN CARLSON
Played all 82 Games
55 Points (8th in Points/Game of my top 15)
16 PPP (10th of my top 15)
193 Shots (13th in Shots/Game of my top 15)
74 Hits (11th in Hits/Game of my top 15)
200 Blocks (2.4 per game was good for 2nd of my top 15)
YAYS of Carlson: Consistency is what you get with him. His 55 points were really good and it has potential to be even better next season. The Capitals are going to be the team to beat in the East. Carlson is a great shot blocker, too.
NAYS of Carlson: I wish he would shoot more. And I wish his power play production was a little better. 16 PPP is just okay, but it will increase now that Mike Green has left town.
My draft consensus: Carlson's numbers are almost identical to the next guy, so flip a coin. The Hockey News has him at 72, while ESPN has him at 92 (with the identical guy I'm referring to going way higher). I like Carlson at 68.
9. ROMAN JOSI
Played 81 games, Missed 1
55 Points (7th in Points/Game of my top 15, same total as Carlson, but in one less game)
15 PPP (T-12th of my top 15, same as teammate Shea Weber)
201 Shots (2.5 Shots/Game is 11th of my top 15)
Last of my top 15 in Hits/Game
209 Blocks (1st of my top 15, 2nd in entire league)
YAYS of Josi: If you value Carlson, then you should value Josi just as much because they're pretty identical. He was 2nd in the league in Blocks, and 1st by players you should consider owning (Kris Russell was 1st with 74 more than Josi - dude might as well be wearing goalie pads).
NAYS of Josi: He could definitely chip in a little more on the PPP. A lot of that has to do with a certain teammate and him dividing and conquering. In fantasy, conquering is good, dividing is not.
My draft consensus: The Hockey News and ESPN have him at 67 and 65 respectively, which aligns really well with where I think you take him. I'll say 66 just to be individualistic.
8. KEVIN SHATTENKIRK
Played just 56 games, Missed 26 games
44 Points in just 56 games (3rd in Points/Game of my top 15)
25 PPP (more than half his total points, 3rd of my top 15 despite missing almost 1/3 of the season)
2.4 Shots/Game is 12th of my top 15
13th in Hits/Game of my top 15
9th in Blocks/Game of my top 15
YAYS of Shat: Despite missing 26 games, he was still one of the most effective offensive defenseman. He got more than half of his points on the power play, putting him 3rd on my list with almost 1/3 less games.
NAYS of Shat: It remains to be seen if he can keep up this production for an entire season. Plus, he is mostly a points guy, as most of his other stats were near average. He's another guy that I wish would shoot more. I guess I wished all my guys would shoot more... except when playing against my goalie.
My draft consensus: The Hockey News put him at 52, while ESPN has him at 39. Both of those are a little high and think he's around 63.
7. MARK GIORDANO
Played just 61 games, Missed 21
48 Points in just 61 Games (2nd most Points/Game of my top 15)
14 PPP (14th of my top 15 - injury played a part here)
157 Shots (Over 2.5 Shots/Gameputs him 10th of my top 15)
128 Blocks (2.1 Blocks/Game is 3rd of my top 15)
YAYS of Gio: He is another guy who missed extended time because of an injury, but when he plays, he does pretty much everything... and most of it well. I consider Gio the first guy on this list thus far that I would be comfortable with as my #1. He was 2nd in Points/Game and his PPP would be one of the best if not for the lost time.
NAYS of Gio: Injuries are a part of any sport. You can't guess when they're going to happen, so you often have to dismiss that when considering whether to draft a player or not, but... Gio hasn't played a full season since 2010-2011. That's troubling.
My draft consensus: The Hockey News likes him at 59, with ESPN placing him at 48. I have him just making the top 50 at 50. He'll stay healthy this season, right?... Right?... Anyone?... Whatever. Moving on.
6. BRENT BURNS
Played all 82 Games
T-2nd in Points by a defenseman with 60 (T-6th in Points/Game of my top 15)
4th in Goals with 17
T-4th in Assists with 43
24 PPP (T-4th of my top 15, but Burns played several weeks more than the guy he's tied with)
245 Shots (3rd most in the league by a defenseman and 3rd in Shots/Game with 3 per)
148 Hits (7th Hits/Game of my top 15)
124 Blocks (10th of my top 15)
YAYS of Burns: Burns is a great fantasy hockey player. He shoots, he hits, he gets work on the PP, and the strangest/rarest factor of all - he's eligible at Forward and Defense. The fact that he's eligible to slot into your lineup at forward isn't the great part because you likely don't want to play a defenseman at forward, but the fact that he could be playing forward in real life and you can slot him into a defense spot in fantasy life is fantastic. There is only one other player (that I know/is worth discussing) that you can do that with. Another bonus of Burns is that he had 65 PIM last season. Many leagues would consider that a good thing. Some would not.
NAYS of Burns: Burns isn't the best real hockey player, but we really don't care about that. There really aren't a lot of negatives to Burns in fake hockey, except for his negative 9. That's not awful, though.
My draft consensus: The Hockey News has him at 55, while ESPN has him at 56. I'm moving him up to the 42 spot.
5. DUSTIN BYFUGLIEN
Played 69 games, Missed 13
9th in Points/Game of my top 15
18 Goals was 3rd in NHL by defenseman (5 on the PP)
17 PPP (11th of my top 15 - missed time because of injury)
209 Shots (3 Shots/Game was 5th of my top 15)
203 Hits (2.9 Hits/Game is 1st of my top 15)
Last of my top 15 in Blocks/Game
YAYS of Big Buff: He is the other dual eligible player. It's a nice luxury. For better (fantasy hockey) or worse (real hockey), Buff is always involved in the game. He shoots a good amount (3 per game) and he hits A LOT (almost 3 per game). He also had a wonderful 124 PIMs (most by all defensemen in the NHL).
NAYS of Big Buff: Surprisingly, he doesn't block many shots. I chalk that up to the fact that he's not actually a great defenseman. He missed some time with an injury, but you can't do much about that. For fantasy purposes, there isn't much overall not to like. In real hockey... oh, wait. Right now, who cares about real hockey?
My draft consensus: The Hockey News put him at 36, with ESPN one upping at 35. I say you take him shortly after Burns, as in right after, so 41.
4. SHEA WEBER
Played 78 games, Missed 4 games
13th in Points/Game of my top 15
15 PPP (T-12th with teammate Josi)
237 Shots (3 Shots/Game is 4th of my top 15)
166 Hits (2 Hits/Game puts him 2nd of my top 15)
147 Blocks (1.9 Blocks/Game is 4th of my top 15)
YAYS of Weber: I love Weber. He's a guy I keep trying to get on my team, but only succeeded once. In both real and fantasy hockey, I consider him the best overall defenseman. He shoots, he hits, he blocks. He does it all. Plus he gets PIMs.
NAYS of Weber: He only had 45 points last season (including 15 goals). That's not the type of production you want from a top 5 defenseman, but he will rebound next season. I'm predicting 60 points and 20 goals. Dude can shoot.
My draft consensus: He's projected at 45 by The Hockey News, while ESPN has him at 42. I love Weber, so I'm boosting him to 36.
3. KRIS LETANG
Played 69 games, Missed 13
54 Points was 7th in the league despite missing 13 games (4th in Points/Games of my top 15)
24 PPP (Tied with Burns for 4th - but again, he missed 13 games)
197 Shots (2.9 Shots/Game is 7th of my top 15)
131 Hits (5th in Hits/Game of my top 15)
117 Blocks (8th in Blocks/Game of my top 15)
YAYS of the Tang: He's a prolific offensive defenseman. He also hits and blocks WAY more than most other offensive D. Plus, the Pens' power play is going to be even better this year, which is scary. He was tied for 4th on my PPP list with 24 total (but only 2 PPG) despite missing 13 games.
NAYS of the Tang: Dude cannot stay healthy. He had some bad luck, seeing that his injury was an unfortunate collision, but regardless, he spends a lot more time watching the games in a nice suit than you want. His injury potential (specifically concussions) is what kept him from being in the 2 spot.
My draft consensus: The Hockey News has him selected slightly before Weber at 43, while ESPN has him at 33. I agree with ESPN with the 33.
2. P.K. SUBBAN
Played all 82 Games
60 Points was T-2nd with Burns (2nd in league in Assists, T-5th with Burns in Points/Game of my top 15)
21 PPP (6th of my top 15, including 8 PPG, which was 2nd in the entire league)
170 Shots (2 Shots/Game is 14th of my top 15)
97 Hits (8th in Hits/Game of my top 15)
142 Blocks (7th in Blocks/Game of my top 15)
YAYS of Subbi: He is a great all around defenseman who only seems to be getting better. His overall numbers here are not as shiny as you'd want from the #2 defenseman, but he had a slow first half. His second half was strong, which is exactly what you want in fantasy. He is the only defenseman that has a realistic possibility of challenging the top defenseman in points.
NAYS of Subbi: He seems to vanish sometimes, which is frustrating. He'll somehow get 30 minutes of ice time yet just 1 shot, 1 hit, and 1 block.
My draft consensus: The Hockey News has him drafted at 27, while ESPN has him at 20. I'm going to snuggle in the middle area at 24.
1. ERIK KARLSSON
Played all 82 Games
1st in Points by an NHL Defenseman (1st in Points/Game of my top 15)
21 Goals was 2nd by a defenseman (6 on the PP)
T-2nd in Assists with 45 (T-with Subban), 3rd in PPA
30 PPP (tied with Mark Streit for #1 in league by defenseman)
1st in the NHL by a defenseman in Shots by almost 30 (over 3.5/game)
9th of my top 15 in Hits/Game
13th of my top 15 in Blocks/Game
YAYS of Karlsson: While the disparity between #1 and #2 isn't quite as large here as it was in the goalies article, Karlsson is the clear top choice. His offensive output would be good for a forward, which makes it tremendous for a defenseman.
NAYS of Karlsson: His blocks number isn't good, but that's like owning a Lamborghini and complaining that you can't fit your golf clubs in the trunk. Having him is like being allowed to play a forward on defense.
My draft consensus: The Hockey News likes him at 21, while ESPN likes him at a high 13. I'm closer with ESPN on this and say he should be taken in the mid 2nd round at 15.
That's it for this week. Did I change your minds on anyone, for better or worse? Was there any tremendous surprises of in/exclusion? Another thing I'm curious about is what types of leagues most of you are doing - Points Head-to-Head, Category Head-to-Head, Rotisserie, Daily, Weekly? I'd love to know, so please leave your comments here or Tweet me @MattMowrerSays. Next week is the final draft-prep post, where I will be breaking down the top forwards.