2020 Fantasy Hockey Tiers: Defensemen (6-9)

Updated: October 24, 2019 at 12:16 am by Dylan Berthiaume

Previous Tiers Posts:

Tier 6

Drew Doughty

If you’re looking for a safe, durable defenseman, Doughty is your man. He hasn’t missed a game since 2014 and is tied for 11th among all NHL defensemen in points with 246 over that span. Los Angeles’ offence is nowhere near what it used to be and Doughty’s upside is capped as a result, but his insane usage gives him a solid floor and the chance of topping 10 goals and 40 assists if all goes right. You want to minimize risk on draft day, and Doughty certainly fits that mould.

Dougie Hamilton

Hamilton unexpectedly saw a decrease in minutes upon his move to Carolina last season. His power-play ice time dropped from 2:40 a game to 1:52, and his overall ice-time went from 21:32 to 19:40. Justin Faulk continued to serve as the quarterback for Carolina’s first unit, and Hamilton’s assist totals took a hit as a result. He finished the year with 21 assists but scored 18 times on 259 shots. His elite shot volume and goal-scoring were incredibly impressive considering his limited role, and it sets Hamilton up for a breakout campaign in the wake of Faulk being dealt to the Blues. He has scored double-digit goals in each of the last five seasons, ranking fifth in that span among all defensemen with 70 goals. I’d be a buyer at his current ADP of 95.4.

Shea Weber

A knee injury forced Weber to miss the first 24 games of the 2018-19 season, but he proved to still be a valuable fantasy asset upon his return. Weber registered 166 shots in 58 games, recording 14 goals and 19 helpers. Durability is a major concern, but if he can stay healthy, Weber would be a lock for double-digit goals in 2019-20. If everything goes his way, Weber is one of a small handful of defensemen with a legitimate chance to score 20 goals. His upside is limited by his underwhelming assist totals, but he should continue to score goals at an elite rate.

Keith Yandle

At age 32, Yandle set a career-high in points with 62 last season, thanks in large part to his role on the Panthers’ potent power-play. Yandle registered a sky-high 39 power-play points in 2018-19. The mediocre 5v5 production suggests a return to 60 points is unlikely, but he still has a significant edge over Aaron Ekblad as Florida’s preferred power-play specialist. You can bank on another 40-assist season from Yandle.

Tier 7

Alex Pietrangelo

Pietrangelo saw his assist totals fall off last season and we can’t include him in tier six as a result, but he’s still a safe bet to score double-digit goals. He should continue to see plenty of ice-time at 5v5 on the Blues’ top defensive pairing, but his role on the top power-play unit is anything but a given.  Although, it has inspired some interesting hockey memes. Pietrangelo now has Faulk, Colton Parayko, and Vince Dunn to compete with for power-play time. You can still count on him for 10-plus goals and around 30 assists, but 50 points seems a bit out of his reach at this point in his career.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Ekman-Larsson should continue to assume heavy minutes in all situations for the Coyotes. If you’re in a league that favours goals over assists, OEL offers terrific value at his current ADP of 105.7. The 28-year-old Swedish blue-liner has scored 12 goals or more in each of his last six seasons. His power-play production could see a boost this year with the arrival of Phil Kessel. Arizona had the sixth-worst power-play in the NHL last season at 16.3%. Plus/minus will continue to be an issue, but I still like OEL as a No.2 fantasy defenseman.

Shayne Gostisbehere

The Flyers’ struggles on the man advantage last season took an especially hard toll on the production of Gostisbehere. Gostisbehere registered just nine goals and 28 assists last season, nearly a 30-point drop off from the previous year. He notched just 14 power-play points, compared to 33 in 2017-18. Philly’s power-play should be better this year, and Gostisbehere should experience somewhat of a bounce-back as a result, but Travis Sanheim’s emergence could cut further into Gostisbehere’s ice-time. His ATOI last year was 19:40, nearly a full two-minutes less than the year before. Still, the upside is obvious, and I like the value you’re getting out of his ADP of 147.5.

Dustin Byfuglien

Keep in mind this is ranking for Byfuglien assumes he is going to play a full 82 games, but that’s anything but a certainty. The 34-year-old blue-liner is not with the team right now as he continues to mull over a possible retirement. The Jets are going to give Byfuglien all the time in the world to decide on his future, so we might not get an update on his status before the start of the season. Durability is already a concern for Byfuglien as he’s missed 53 games over the last two seasons. You want to minimize risk on draft day, so knowing what we know right now, I’d be wary of investing anything more than a late-round flier on Big Buff in standard leagues.

Tier 8

Ryan Ellis

@P.K. Subban’s departure has generated some breakout hype around Ellis, but he still sits firmly rooted behind Roman Josi for power-play time. Ellis’ ATOI was already above 24 minutes last season, so it’s hard to imagine him assuming a lot of Subban’s ice-time. He still carries plenty of fantasy value, but I can’t project him to be anything more than a high-end No.3 fantasy defenseman this season. His current ADP of 134.7 is pretty fair value.

Miro Heiskanen

The No.3 overall pick in 2017 had a fantastic rookie campaign in 2018-19. The 20-year-old phenom was limited in terms of power-play ice-time thanks to John Klingberg, and that should continue to be the case in 2019-20. Still, Heiskanen boasts elite shot volume and is poised to one day contend for the league lead in goals at his position, but we’re still a year or two away from that. His assist total should be boosted by some favourable regression to his on-ice SH%, but given his limited power-play usage, his ADP of 116.2 is a little too early for my liking in redraft leagues.

Ryan Suter

Suter has missed only four games since the start of the 2015-16 season and ranks 13th in that span among all NHL defensemen in points with 189. His fantasy upside is capped by the fact that he’s never scored more than nine goals in a season across his 14-year career, but he should remain an above-average source of assists. He remains a solid No.3 fantasy defenseman this season and offers fair value at his ADP of 142.9.

Jared Spurgeon

The 29-year-old Spurgeon played a full 82-games for the first time in his career last season. As a result, he was able to set career-highs in goals with 14, assists with 29, and points with 43. Like his teammate Matt Dumba, Spurgeon can maintain an elite SH%, making him a reliable bet to top 10 goals and approach 30 assists again this season. He is an absolute steal at his current ADP of 170.8.

Tier 9

Ryan Pulock

Pulock enjoyed another productive season in 2018-19, registering nine goals and 28 helpers across a full 82 games. Pulock cut into Nick Leddy’s power-play time last season, and now has a real chance at being the team’s preferred power-play specialist. He has above-average shot volume that should help him push for double-digit goals again this season. The potential growth in usage and opportunity gives Pulock a lot of upside, but you’re not getting a ton of value out of his ADP of 133.5.

Aaron Ekblad

Ekblad is the rare case of a defenseman who can stay fantasy relevant without any significant power-play time. His shot volume and consistent goal-scoring at 5v5 make him a starting defenseman in fantasy hockey despite never being featured on his team’s top power-play unit. The point totals will remain below-average so long as Yandle is on the team, but five consecutive seasons with at least 10 goals is nothing to scoff at.

Rasmus Ristolainen

Ristolainen’s future remains up in the air, but for now, he’s set to continue his career as a Buffalo Sabre. You can draft him confidently knowing he’ll be a quality fantasy defenseman no matter where he ends up, but Rasmus Dahlin’s emerging presence means Ristolainen’s fantasy value would be better served playing elsewhere. He gets an obvious boost in banger leagues as he should continue to be a steady source of 40-plus points and 200-plus hits.

Cale Makar

The 2019 Hobey Baker Award winner is a popular selection in fantasy drafts this season. Makar registered 49 points in 41 NCAA games before joining the Avalanche for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The rookie was leaned on heavily in Colorado, registering six points while averaging over 17 minutes a night in 10 playoff games. The early returns were very encouraging and Makar looks every bit as good as advertised. Tyson Barrie’s departure paved the way for Makar to assume his role on the top power-play unit, but Samuel Girard could complicate things. Only one rookie defenseman has eclipsed 50 points since 1993, so we need to temper our expectations. While the upside is obvious, there are much safer picks you could be making in redraft leagues around Makar’s ADP of 117.6.



, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,