Although forwards are generally the most exciting players to select on draft day, a strong stable of defensemen will always be an integral component of a championship-caliber Fantasy squad. Here's this year's crop of virtual blueliners ranked by tiers.

Tier 1 – The Makar Show

Cale Makar

Makar has already developed into one of the NHL's best defenseman through his first two years in the league, having racked up 20 goals, 74 helpers, 41 power-play points and a plus-29 rating through just 101 contests. The Umass-Amherst product was rewarded with a massive six-year, $54 million contract extension this offseason, which will keep him with the Avalanche through the 2026-27 campaign. Makar was a point-per-game player (44 points in 44 contests) in 2020-21, and he could match or even exceed that scoring pace while posting an attractive plus-minus rating on a stacked Colorado club in 2021-22. Makar should be the first blueliner off the board in standard CBS formats.

Tier 2 – The next best thing

Dougie Hamilton, Adam Fox, John Carlson, Victor Hedman, Roman Josi, Shea Theodore

While these defenders may not have quite as much upside as Makar, they're still all fantastic No. 1 options for Fantasy blue-line corps. Hamilton's scoring pace may decline a bit following his move from Carolina to New Jersey this offseason, but he should still produce around 15 goals and 45-plus points with relative ease. Fox just won his first Norris Trophy after tallying five goals and 47 points while posting a plus-19 rating and averaging a whopping 24:42 of ice time through 55 appearances last season, and there's little reason to believe he won't continue to improve in his age-23 season in 2021-22. Carlson is now on the wrong side of 30, but he was still excellent last year, posting 44 points in 52 games, and he should put up around 15 goals and 65 points if he's able to play a full 82-game schedule this campaign. Hedman's a lock for double-digit goals and 55-plus points if he's able to stay healthy this season. Josi had a bit of a down of a down year, at least from an offensive standpoint, in 2020-21, but he had racked at least 15 goals and 55 points in two consecutive campaigns prior to last season, and he's capable of getting back to that level of play this year. Despite the offseason addition of Alex Pietrangelo, Theodore held onto his spot on Vegas' top power-play unit last season, racking up 15 helpers with the man advantage and 42 points in 53 games overall. He's capable of putting up 12-plus goals and 55-plus points while posting an enticing plus-minus rating over the course of a full 82-game campaign.

Tier 3 – The consolation bracket

Aaron Ekblad, Tyson Barrie, Kris Letang, Quinn Hughes, Alex Pietrangelo, Darnell Nurse, Torey Krug, Jakob Chychrun, Ivan Provorov, Morgan Rielly, Devon Toews

Ideally you'll be able to snag one of the seven guys in the top-two tiers to serve as your No. 1 blueliner on draft day, but if not, everyone in Tier 3 will serve as a fine consolation prize. Ekblad was on track to have his best season yet before suffering a season-ending injury in March, but he's expected to be fully fit for training camp. He could easily lead the league in goals among defensemen this year. Barrie will continue to quarterback the Oilers' lethal top power-play unit in 2021-22. Letang is always a fantastic Fantasy option when healthy, but he's dealt with injuries throughout his NHL career. Hughes is a highly-capable offensive defenseman, but he struggles in his own end, as evidenced by his minus-24 rating from a year ago. Pietrangelo is a highly-dependable Fantasy option, but he lacks the offensive upside most of these other guys possess – he only put up 23 points in 41 games last season. Nurse broke out to the tune of 16 goals and 36 points through 56 games last campaign, but he's due for some regression in the goal-scoring department due to an unsustainable 10.4 shooting percentage. Krug had a bit of a disappointing season by his standards with two goals and 32 points through 51 contests last year, but his shooting percentage, and thus his goal total, should rebound this year. Chychrun led all defensemen with 18 goals last year, but he'll be playing for a rebuilding Coyotes squad that will likely struggle offensively this season. Provorov should be able to produce double-digit goals and 40-plus points in a full 82-game season in 2021-22. Rielly will likely never be able to replicate his 20-goal, 72-point effort from 2018-19, but he should be good for 50-plus points this year. Toews plays second fiddle to Makar in terms of power-play time on the Avalanche, but he sees regular usage with Colorado's second unit, and should be able to post double-digit goals and around 40 points this year.

Tier 4 – Solid secondary options

Samuel Girard, John Klingberg, Neal Pionk, Zach Werenski, Jeff Petry, Charlie McAvoy, Seth Jones, Ryan Ellis, Miro Heiskanen, Brent Burns, Alec Martinez, Drew Doughty, Mikhail Sergachev, Thomas Chabot, Rasmus Dahlin

Those in standard Fantasy leagues will want to grab a player from one of the top-three tiers to serve as their No. 1 defenseman, but these Tier 4 players will all make for solid secondary blue-line options. All of these players are capable of putting up 40-50 points and most should be good for double-digit goals, too.

Tier 5 – Rounding out your roster

MacKenzie Weegar, Mattias Ekholm, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Tony DeAngelo, Jake Muzzin, Mark Giordano, Ryan Pulock, Jaccob Slavin, Jared Spurgeon, Vince Dunn, Matt Grzelcyk, Mike Reilly, Ryan Suter, Keith Yandle, Gustav Forsling, Justin Faulk

Aside from DeAngelo, who would likely be at least a tier higher if his role with Carolina was more clearly defined, none of these players are very exciting from an upside standpoint, but they're mostly all dependable, established blueliners who will make for solid "set-and-forget" third or fourth options for your Fantasy roster.

Tier 6 – Filling up the bench

Colton Parayko, Brett Pesce, Ty Smith, Filip Hronek, Brandon Montour, Duncan Keith, Justin Schultz, Dmitry Orlov, Esa Lindell, Erik Karlsson, Jonas Brodin, Nicolas Hague, Shayne Gostisbehere, Jacob Trouba, Matt Dumba, Damon Severson, Travis Sanheim, Josh Morrissey, Alex Goligoski

You probably won't want most of these guys locked into a starting spot on Opening Night, but this tier is comprised of a mix of well-established/unexciting vets and young up-and-comers with upside (Smith, Hronek, Hague). Those are the types of players you'll want to pick up and stash on your bench in the later rounds of Fantasy drafts.