With the list of defencemen that will cover all categories, I will be a little less strict about goals, as it is very rare for a player to cover all other categories while also scoring goals. That being said, they still have to have the potential to hit double-digits in goals.
Not all of these players will play top power-play minutes on the first unit, but there’s usually limited room with many teams running four forwards. On a lot of teams, the second unit gets a good amount of playing time, especially when the team itself is more spread out talent-wise.
These defencemen are all minute-munchers and will be out on the ice in all situations. This gives them a better opportunity to get those stats that you drafted them for. These rankings and projections will be based on Yahoo Fantasy Hockey and ESPN Fantasy hockey, as Yahoo tends to lean towards physicality, while ESPN has some focus on average time on ice (ATOI) and plus/minus.
5. Rasmus Ristolainen
This is a big, hard-hitting defenceman that finally got a change in scenery from the Buffalo Sabres. This should bode very well for his stats. A couple of key categories that it will positively impact are his plus/minus and points. Rasmus Ristolainen has failed to be a positive player in any season in his career, largely in part to him being the top defenceman on the Sabres through many years of missing the playoffs and sitting at the bottom of the standings. He would have to go up against the opposing top lines with not much help. In a lesser role on the second line on the Philadelphia Flyers behind Ivan Provorov and Ryan Ellis, it should create better matchups for him.
Ristolainen will see less power-play time, but that should be the only stat that will be affected negatively. That’s not to say he won’t get any power-play points, as Yahoo projects him to hit double-digits still. He is the lowest on this list of defencemen that can get points in every category for your team, so it’s to be expected that he won’t be a top-line, top power-play guy. Ristolainen has always competed very hard and will be at the top of the league in hits, putting himself in elite company in that category to surely push your fantasy team over the top in many weeks.
4. Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Another defenceman that should benefit from a change in scenery, Oliver Ekman-Larsson looks to jump into the Vancouver Canucks‘ offensively talented group. Though Quinn Hughes currently holds the defensive spot on the top power play, Ekman-Larsson is well known for his ability to produce points, especially on the power play. In his career, he has scored at least 10 power-play goals in a season twice. Not only that, but he has 161 power-play points during his time in Arizona, a defence-first franchise. Look for him to compete with Hughes for that top spot on the power play and earn significant time. Either way, the Canucks’ second unit is one of the best in the league, filled with dangerous scorers.
Seven times in his 11-year career, Ekman-Larsson has scored more than 10 goals in a season, topping 20 in two of them. He is off to a great start with the team and has already formed some chemistry with defence partner Tyler Myers, so hopefully, for the Canucks, that helps both players bounce back. He, too, has always played a good number of minutes every night and is physical on the ice. He should easily exceed 100 hits, play over 21:00 minutes a night, and record around 50 penalty minutes.
3. Drew Doughty
Many people overlook Drew Doughty now that he seems to be on a bit of a decline, the Los Angeles Kings isn’t a top team anymore, and there are lots of other young defencemen that have the spotlight on them. However, he was a top-100 fantasy performer last season, so the numbers speak for themselves. On a Kings team that looks improved from last season, his projected fantasy ranking has still gone down a bit.
Doughty will man the top power play and penalty kill on units that have visibly improved with the additions of Viktor Arvidsson and Phillip Danault. With all the youth injected into the lineup last season and now, Doughty will be heavily relied upon to lead by example. He will get your fantasy hockey team points in every category as he still plays a very physical game and has something to prove. Watch closely for games vs. divisional rivals such as the Calgary Flames, as he and Matthew Tkachuk look to reignite their heated rivalry.
2. Kris Letang
Everybody knows Kris Letang for being a staple for offensive defencemen in the NHL. That takes the attention away from the all-around game that he brings every night. Not only has he held down the top power-play spot on the point for years on a great unit, but he also brings other less appreciated stats to the table. He has well over 200 career power-play points, and they should just keep coming this season. Penalty minutes may not be appreciated in games, but in fantasy hockey, it is hard to come by for a high-end player.
In 863 career regular -eason games, he has recorded 612 penalty minutes and two hits short of 1,400. He is one of the defencemen that will easily earn points in each category for your fantasy team if he stays healthy. Be cautious of that, as it is a bit of a high-risk, high-reward option with Letang.
1. Darnell Nurse
Darnell Nurse is heavily underrated in fantasy, and a big factor of that is that the Edmonton Oilers have Tyson Barrie as the defenceman on the first power-play unit. This doesn’t erase the fact that when everyone on the top power play changes, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl tend to stay out there, giving Nurse power-play exposure to two of the best players in the world. Even with limited time together, he would be in the offensive zone with a man up with the league leaders in power-play points. The Oilers’ power play is also top of the league by a wide margin over the past two seasons, coming in at 28.6 percent.
Nurse’s production at 5-on-5 is almost unmatched. Since he averages well over 23:00 minutes a night on the ice, and close to 26:00 minutes last season, he has plenty of time to rack up those fantasy points. He plays in all situations and is on the ice dominating for minutes at a time with the Oilers’ top line at even strength regularly. His defence partner should be Barrie once again — a very offensive-minded defenceman — and Nurse will get ample opportunities to jump up in the rush and utilize his shot on odd-man rushes.
Last season saw him finish second in the league among defencemen in goals, and seventh in the league in plus/minus with a rating of plus-27. Nurse is the go-to defenceman in fantasy hockey leagues and will give you games, as he hasn’t missed one since the 2016-17 season.
You may have to wait for a little on some of these options, as other fantasy owners tend to ride high on defencemen who can just earn them points. But with the knowledge that defencemen aren’t usually depended on in fantasy leagues to earn your team all the offensive categories, you should spread out the wealth on the back end and choose players who will also be able to get your team the categories your star forwards may not.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. As a fantasy hockey veteran, he will be informing you on the best weekly options for your matchups to begin the week and mid-way. He will also keep you in the loop for weekly news and updates on the Oilers & Flyers.