2018 Fantasy Hockey Draft Prep: Defenseman Tiers preview
Many Fantasy leagues are won in the late rounds of drafts, so set your sights on these burgeoning players.
Defensemen used to be Fantasy Hockey afterthoughts, but that's no longer the case. With the top options at the position now producing offensive figures similar to some of the best forwards in the NHL, they can no longer be disregarded. Having a robust core of blue-liners is now nearly always vital to a Fantasy club's success.
This tiered preview of NHL defensemen for the 2018-19 campaign is based on a 12-team, CBS head-to-head league, which emphasizes goal scoring and plus-minus.
The order in which players are listed represents their rank within each tier.
Tier 1 - The Elite
Tier 1 is comprised of the best of the best. It'd be impossible to go wrong with any of the players in this tier as your team's top option at defense, but Burns is a clear favorite due to his consistent production over the past three seasons and his 25-goal upside.
Hedman, the reigning Norris Trophy winner, should be considered a close second to Burns, but he doesn't boast quite the same level of goal-scoring prowess, and he's only eclipsed the 70-point mark once in his career (as opposed to Burns, who has hit that mark twice in the past three seasons).
Karlsson would likely be considered a toss up with Hedman if it weren't for his supporting cast in Ottawa, which very well could be one of the worst in the NHL in 2018-19. If the Swedish superstar is moved to another team at the trade deadline, his second-half production will almost certainly benefit, but it'd be unwise to bank on that during Fantasy drafts.
Doughty and Subban round out Tier 1 as fantastic options who don't have quite the same offensive upside as the rest of the group. Nonetheless, both players should crack double-digit goals as well as the 50-point mark this season, making them great alternatives for owners who miss out on the big three.
Tier 2 - The Studs
Tier 2 is made up of skaters who are on the brink of being considered elite Fantasy options, but haven't quite separated themselves from the pack yet.
Klingberg is probably the closest of the bunch to ascending to the Elite Tier, having notched an impressive eight goals and 67 points last season, but his point totals have fluctuated a bit during his first four NHL seasons, which calls his consistency into question. However, if he's able to log another 60-plus point campaign in 2018-19, you'll likely see his name listed in Tier 1 next year.
Jones can be considered a close second to Klingberg in terms of the progress he's made on his way to the Elite Tier of defensemen, having set career highs in goals (16) and points (57) a season ago. The 23-year-old may not beat Klingberg in terms of total points this campaign, but he'll almost certainly have the edge in goals.
Krug had another impressive campaign in 2018-18, tying his career high in goals (14) while setting a career high in points (59) in 76 games. But at 27-years-old it's unclear how much room for improvement there still is for the 5-foot-9 blueliner.
It'd be hard to argue that Gostisbehere doesn't have one of the highest ceilings of the bunch after he racked up 13 goals and 65 points in 78 contests last season, but he only logged a disappointing seven goals and 39 points in 2016-17, so there's definitely reason to question if he'll be able to replicate last campaign's performance.
Byfuglien had a somewhat disappointing season in 2017-18, failing to score double-digit goals for the first time in five seasons, but he still logged a respectable 45 points in 69 games. He doesn't have as high a ceiling as some of the other options in Tier 2, but if he's able to stay healthy, he should return to form with double-digit goals and 50-plus points this year.
Carlson is one of the most intriguing options in Tier 2. The 28-year-old exploded to the tune of 15 goals and 68 points in 82 contests last season after failing to crack the 40-point mark in each of the previous two campaigns. There's a ton of potential upside here, but Fantasy owners should be aware that it will be extremely difficult for Carlson to replicate the 32 points he racked up on the power play last season.
Josi and Pietrangelo round out Tier 2 as a pair of high-floor, low-risk options. The veteran skaters will be highly desirable due to their consistent 50-plus-point output, but they don't have the high-end offensive upside that the top options in this group boast.
Tier 3 - The Point Producers
Tier 3 is populated by those with 40-point floors and the ability to bust out 50-plus points in any given season. Barrie is definitely the star here in terms of offensive production, having racked up 14 goals and 57 points in 68 games last campaign, and would likely be listed in Tier 2 if he didn't register a disappointing minus-15 rating in 2017-18. Hamilton and Ekman-Larsson have the highest upside in terms of goal production, but this bunch is pretty even across the board in terms of total point potential. Suter is coming off a major ankle injury, and Letang is always a health risk, but it's hard to argue with either player's upside.
All in all, the players listed in Tier 3 probably shouldn't be relied on as the No. 1 option at their position on most Fantasy teams, but they're more than capable of holding their own as high-end secondary options.
Tier 4 The Up-and-comers
Tier 4 is filled with a group of defenders who are all under 26 and have already established themselves as high-end Fantasy options. Provorov took a noticeable step forward in his development last season, setting career highs in goals (17) and points (41) while appearing in all 82 contests for a second straight campaign. The 21-year-old Russian should only continue to improve during his third full NHL season, and could realistically threaten the 20-goal and 50-point marks.
Sergachev showed why he was deserving of a top-10 pick in the 2016 NHL entry draft last season, potting nine goals and 40 points during his rookie campaign. He should take on a larger role in Tampa Bay in 2018-19 and could approach the 50-point mark if he continues to get opportunities with the man advantage.
Dumba enjoyed a breakout campaign last year, setting career highs in goals (14) and points (50) and was rewarded for his efforts when he signed a five-year, $30 million contract extension with Minnesota in July. It remains to be seen if his point production will continue to trend upward this season, but he should be good for at least 45 points and double-digit goals.
Werenski regressed a bit in terms of total offensive production during his sophomore season last year, totaling 37 points after notching 47 as a rookie in 2016-17, but he did set a career high in goals with 16 and could easily return to form and approach the 50-point threshold during his third full NHL campaign.
Butcher was fantastic as a rookie last season, racking up five goals and 44 points in 81 contests, and should continue to grow as an offensive contributor in 2018-19. His low goal total from a season ago makes him a less desirable option than the names that appear before his in Tier 4, but there's no reason to believe he won't improve in that area this campaign.
Rielly exploded in 2017-18, racking up six goals and 52 points after totaling just 27 points during the previous season. That performance was clearly impressive, but there's a decent chance his offensive production will regress towards his career average this campaign, which makes him a far riskier option than the rest of the players in Tier 4.
Miller rounds out the "up-and-comers" as a 25-year-old who was finally given an opportunity to take on a significant role after he was selected by the Golden Knights during last year's expansion draft. He didn't disappoint, notching 10 goals and 41 points in 82 contests. That's rock-solid production, but it's possible 40 points represents his ceiling rather than his floor.
Tier 5 - The Tried and True
Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen, Kevin Shattenkirk, Aaron Ekblad, Mark Giordano, Jared Spurgeon, Alex Goligoski, Colton Parayko, Mike Green, Mattias Ekholm, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Cam Fowler, TJ Brodie, Sami Vatanen, Ryan McDonagh, Duncan Keith, Noah Hanifin, Tyler Myers.
Tier 5 is comprised of players who have proven over a multi-year span they can be generally be counted on to produce 35-45 points, and thus can be treated as some of the most reliable options at their position in the middle rounds of drafts. This tier contains a healthy mix of younger players who are already well established in the league and wily veterans who are in the latter parts of their careers but still have a lot to offer in terms of Fantasy value. Ellis, Ristolainen and Shattenkirk have the highest ceilings of the bunch, which is why they're the first three names listed, but Shattenkirk comes with a fair amount of risk due to his health concerns (he's missed 48 games over the past two seasons).
The rest of the tier is filled with guys who boast rock-solid floors and will make fine additions to a the Fantasy bench, but they don't have the 50-point upside of the first three options in this tier. Owners considering picking up Myers in the later rounds of drafts should definitely take his health concerns into consideration, as 2017-18 marked the first time he's logged a full 82-game campaign in his career, but if he's able to stay healthy this season, he'll be an enticing depth option in most leagues.
Tier 6 - The Young Guns
Tier 6 represents the rookie and second-year defenders who should step in and contribute in a major way in 2018-19. The clear star of this group is Dahlin, the first overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, who many consider to be a generational talent. The 18-year-old Swede should take on a pivotal role with the Sabres immediately, and it'd be hard to blame owners for considering snatching him off the board ahead of some of the options listed in Tier 5 due to his enormous potential.
McAvoy impressed as a rookie in 2017-18, picking up seven goals and 32 points in 63 contests, and he should only continue to improve during his sophomore campaign. Heiskanen is a bit of an unknown, as he has yet to step on North American ice, but he played extremely well in Finland's top professional league last year, notching 11 goals and 23 points in 30 contests, and could step into a prominent role with the Stars immediately if he's able to make a smooth transition to the NHL.
Chabot and Dunn were both solid last year, tallying 25 and 24 points respectively during their rookie campaigns, and while they may not have the upside of the other options in this tier, they should easily eclipse the 30-point mark during their sophomore seasons.
Tier 7 - The Delayed Breakouts
Tier 7 is primarily comprised of a group of guys who broke out in 2017-18 after logging several seasons in the NHL without generating Fantasy-relevant production. This group of players is inherently more risky than the skaters who appear as the "safe bets" in Tier 8, but they could also provide owners with an excellent return on investment as names that will undoubtedly fly under the radar during drafts. Manson and Schmidt appear to be the safest bets to repeat their 35-plus point performances in 2017-18, whereas Petry and Braun are undoubtedly the riskiest options of the bunch as players who never exceeded 30 points in a season before last year's breakout. Pulock, Montour and Nurse round out the group as younger options that appeared to hit their stride last season after struggling to establish themselves as full-time NHLers for a few years.
Tier 8 - The Safe Bets
Hampus Lindholm, Dmitry Orlov, Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin, Justin Schultz, Matt Niskanen, Olli Maatta, Shea Theodore, Mike Matheson, Esa Lindell, Josh Morrissey, Oscar Klefbom, Brent Seabrook, Brady Skjei, Alexander Edler, Alec Martinez, Jacob Trouba, Dion Phaneuf, Erik Johnson, Damon Severson.
This tier represents a group of defenders who can be counted on to produce somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 points on an annual basis. That sort of production won't propel your virtual squad to glory, but it's important to have reliable options at defense who can be slotted into your lineup when dealing with injuries and bye weeks, particularly in deeper leagues. Justin Schultz racked up 12 goals and 51 points in 2016-17 before failing to crack the 30-point mark last season, so he's the clear favorite in this group in terms of upside.
Tier 9 - The Outsiders
Niklas Kronwall, Zdeno Chara, Markus Nutivaara, Dan Hamhuis, Deryk Engelland, Ron Hainsey, Samuel Girard, Marco Scandella, Michael Del Zotto, Derrick Pouliot, Brendon Dillon, Kevin Connauton, Jonas Brodin, Matt Benning, Kris Russell
Players who appear in Tier 9 can safely be ignored in most head-to-head CBS leagues. "The Outsiders" Tier is comprised of solid NHL players who are, for the most part, valuable defensive contributors for their clubs, but they lack the offensive upside necessary to be worth owning in the majority of leagues. Fantasy owners may be tempted to jump on the two headliners of this tier, Kronwall and Chara, in the later rounds of drafts based on name recognition alone, but neither player should be drafted with confidence as long-time veterans who will likely be considering retirement in the near future.
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