Now that I have finished previewing all three forward positions for this season, it is time to take a look at the blueliners. Since the Top-15 is stacked with talent I am going to do this preview slightly different than the forwards. I am going to break the Top-15 down into three separate classes, A, B, and C. Just because someone is in the C class does not mean they are not good, it simply means they are at the bottom of a high-quality Top-15. After that I will still take a look at young players on the rise, rookie D-men and Sleepers.
There is no question that Erik Karlsson is the top fantasy defenseman. After a miraculous recovery from a sliced achilles last season, Karlsson finished with six goals and eight assists (14 points) in 17 games. The Swedish defenseman also recorded eight points in 10 post-season games. Entering 2013-14 he is hoping for a healthy season as he eyes his career high of 78 points (2011-12). Expecting 20 goals and 60 assists might be a little farfetched, while goals in the high-teens and mid 40’s is more likely. However this kid has as much upside as anybody. After missing the first six games because of a contract holdout, P.K Subban played all remaining 42 games en-route to winning the Norris Trophy (Defenseman of the Year). Subban finished second amongst D-men in goals (11), third in assists (27) and tied for first in points (38). One of the most important stats for fantasy defensemen is power-play goals and points and Subban was great on the PP last season (1st in PPP / 2nd in PP Goals). This season P.K will look to top 50 points for the first time in his career. Kris Letang was limited to 35 games because of groin and toe injuries. However he was still tied for the league lead in points for defensemen with 38. Since scoring 50 points in 82 games two years ago, Letang has missed a total of 44 games but still finds himself near the top in points each year. On a high-powered Penguins power-play the sky is the limit for Letang. At 6-foot-4-inches and almost 240lbs Shea Weber is a force on the Predators blue line. He averaged 48 points-per-season in the four years prior to the lockout year. Despite playing on a struggling Nashville team, Weber scored nine goals with 20 assists (29 points) in 48 games. Nashville added Seth Jones through the draft which will definitely help their power-play and consequently Weber’s PP numbers. St. Louis signed Alex Pietrangelo to a contract-extension that will keep him there for the next seven years. He is the rock on strong Blues backend, averaging over 25 minutes a game last season. His career high of 51 points could be in danger this season as the 23-year-old is a 15 goal, 40 assist candidate.
Zdeno Chara is the epitome of durable when it comes to fantasy defensemen. He has not missed more than three games in six out of the last seven seasons. In each of the last eight full seasons Chara has averaged 47 points-per-season. With that kind of consistency it is easy to expect 47 points once again this year. The big-man obviously contributes in the hits and PIM’s categories as well. Drew Doughty would have been on pace for his fourth straight double-digit goal season had it been a full-season. The amount of playing time (AVG 26:24 in 2012-13) he gets on the top-pair and PP for a good Kings team makes him a safe number-one fantasy defenseman. He will once again be in the 10-15 goal range with 40 assist potential. Keith Yandle is another rock-solid D option. He has not missed a single game in the last four years and has been as consistent as they come. After scoring 12, 11 and 11 goals in the three years previous, Yandle netted 10 in a short year. While it could be a sign of things to come from Yandle I expect the 27-year-old to stay in the 10-15 range. Quarterbacking the Coyotes power-play led to five PP goals (t-4th in NHL amongst D-men). The only downfall is the ceiling on Yandle’s plus/minus because he plays in Phoenix. Other than that he should have points in the mid-40’s with solid numbers on the man-advantage. In his first year in Minnesota, Ryan Suter did not disappoint after signing a monster contract. He had his best season as an NHLer in terms of points-per-game (0.66). This upcoming season will likely be just as productive as last year. Suter’s 27:16 TOI was the highest in the NHL last season. He will once again be a huge minute-eater for the Wild as they look to build off of last year’s playoff appearance. The 28-year-old has yet to get to double-digits in goals in his NHL career so that probably will not change this season. However 40 assists should be very attainable, along with solid power-play numbers. The speedy Duncan Keith added another Stanley Cup ring to his collection in 2012-13. The Blackhawks are going to be one of the best teams yet again, so as the teams best D-man Keith’s numbers are going to stay strong. People that look at his 69 points season in 2009-10 and think he is a top-5 defenseman, but he is closer to a mid-40’s type of player. Keith, like the rest of the B-class, does not miss many games, making him a really safe option.
In the first season without Niklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall was everything the Red Wings could have hoped for. The 32-year-old scored five times and added 24 assists in 48 games. The 0.60 PPG was the best of his career to this point. In 2013-14, the Red Wings are going to be better than they were last year, leaving the door open for Kronwall to have a career year. He won’t just contribute goals and assist but a solid plus/minus, lots of hits and a decent amount of PIM’s. Dion Phaneuf is very comparable to Kronwall. They are both high-30/low40’s point players with great hitting abilities. They are also both the main minute-eaters on their respective teams. Last season was Phaneuf’s best statistical season since his Calgary glory days in 2006-to-2008. He is capable of a 15 goal and 30 assist season.Oliver Ekman-Larsson broke onto the scene in 2011-12 when he put up 32 points in 82 games (0.39 PPG). Last season he bettered that by scoring 24 points in 48 games (0.50 PPG). At 22-years-old, he enters his fourth NHL season and will look to join his teammate Yandle as one of the NHL’s elite D-men. A 0.50 PPG is reasonable to expect again. Like Yandle, his plus/minus will take a hit as long as he plays for the Coyotes, but he is a reliable 25-plus minute a game D-man. Dustin Byfuglien has finished in the top-10 in shots amongst defensemen in every season since 2008. When it comes to scoring goals, you have to get the puck on net and that is what Buff does. He had back-to-back 53 point seasons and followed it up with 28 points in 43 games last year. He is someone that could outplay his pre-season ranking. Byfuglien has 15-goal, 40 assist potential in 2013-14. Brent Burns is defense eligible despite entering camp as a right winger after last years experiment. He is a huge body who is not afraid to throw his big frame around or crash the net to bury a loose puck. After being moved from the blue line Burns posted an outstanding five goals and eight assists (13 points) in 12 games. In 2013-14 if he stays at forward he could be the only defense eligible player to score 20 goals.
On the Rise
Kevin Shattenkirk has a booming shot from the point but still has not topped nine goals in the NHL. The 24-year-old posted a career high 43 points in 2011-12 and had another strong year in 2012-13. The Blues blueline is one of the best in the league and a lot of it has to do with Shattenkirk’s potential. He is intelligent in the offensive zone and could burst into the top-10 D this season. Last season everyone wanted Justin Schultz, but he landed in Edmonton. The 23-year-old’s first NHL season was a successful one. He had eight goals and 19 assists (27 points) in 48 games. Like last year, he will play a huge role in the Oilers offence and power-play. In 2013-14 it is hard not to expect more from the young blueliner. He could very well bury 15 and add 30-35 assists. Slava Voynov made a name for himself in the playoffs last season. He had a good regular season with 25 points in 48 games but it was his 13 points in 18 games in the post-season that has fantasy owners excited this year. He is not the biggest skater at 5-foot-11, but he makes up for it with his good skating and outstanding puck movement. This is a big year for the 23-year-old as he looks to crack the 40-point plateau. Even at 28, Alex Goligoski is still on the rise. His third year in Dallas was by far his best. He recorded 27 points in 47 games on a subpar Stars team. Dallas is expected to be better than last season and Goligoski should benefit from that. He is a solid skater that has the ability to join the rush and produce offensively. He will be the quarterback of their power-play and could be ready for his first 40-point season.
The second overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Ryan Murray is a good distributor of the puck but also possesses a great shot from the point. He has the look of a future top-2 defenseman, especially in Columbus. He may not start the season with the Jackets, but he will be there at some point this year. Keep an eye on him because once he makes the team he will stick. Most undersized defensemen are offense first, but Torey Krug can get it done in all zones. He might not make the opening day roster, but he will play for Boston this season. He is a tremendous skater and will bolster the Bruins power-play once he is a permanent fixture on this club. This year’s fourth overall pick, Seth Jones will start the year with the Predators. He fell in the draft but it was not because he is not skilled. He is a great skater for a player his size (6’3″ – 200 lbs.) and can move the puck very effectively on the backend. He should be able to contribute points in the mid-20’s in his rookie season.
Tyson Barrie is another undersized defenseman with a lot of upside. He is a smooth skater with great vision and passing. The Avalanche appear to be a team on the rise and a good season from Barrie will help an average blueline. His plus/minus will not be off the charts but he should see 20-plus minutes every night and end up in the mid-30’s in points by season’s end. The Flyers signed Mark Streit to a four-year, $21 million US deal this offseason after acquiring his right from the Islanders. Streit is a 35-year-old veteran with a booming slapper that bolsters the Flyers D-corp. As an Islander he did not get as much love as he deserved, but he is a near lock for 40 points, with the potential to score 10 goals and 40 assists. Danny DeKeyser was highly sought after last season as a NCAA prospect. He landed with the Red Wings and looked like he belonged in the NHL until he suffered a broken thumb in game six of the Playoffs. DeKeyser is a good defensive-defenseman but at the same time he has a lot of offensive upside. He is an outstanding skater with great vision. He will likely see top-4 minutes and a lot of power-play time this season. Monitor his status early in the year to see how he starts, but with ample opportunity he could reach 30 points in his first full year.
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