Fantasy Hockey: Five Draft Day Sleepers (Defense)

For the last few months, hockey fans have been patiently waiting for the start of the ’14-’15 NHL season. While training camp might be just around the corner, fans are undoubtedly anxious enough for the season to kick off – and that means that draft days in fantasy leagues are almost upon us as well.

Despite the fact that many have their respective strategies for team selection on draft day, there is no arguing the fact that pickings often do get slim toward the end of a draft or when the hockey season is in full swing. In particular, finding a reliable and consistent defenseman might be more troublesome as drafts get closer to their deeper stages. Although the names suggested below might not be all too well known, there is definitely enough potential for managers to strongly consider adding these players when their draft day rolls around.

Defensive Drafting Dilemmas?

Danny DeKeyser (Detroit Red Wings – D)

DeKeyser Red Wings
Danny DeKeyser emerged as a very dependable option on Detroit’s blueline last season, and he’ll look to continue his solid play this season. (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Owned in 5% of Yahoo! leagues last year, Danny DeKeyser had a pretty impressive showing in 65 games for the Red Wings. DeKeyser scored four goals and added 19 helpers last year for a total of 23 points and also added four powerplay points (1 Goal, 3 Assists) and a shorthanded goal.While DeKeyser went undrafted, he received lots of interest as a free agent before Detroit was able to ink him to a contract – and the young defenseman’s play during the ’13-’14 season certainly justified the Red Wings’ decision to sign him.

Averaging 21:38 worth of ice-time last year, DeKeyser was definitely given a good amount of responsibility by head coach Mike Babcock, and should have the same duties with Detroit going into the ’14-’15 NHL season. Fantasy managers should strongly consider adding DeKeyser as he was the second leading scorer amongst Red Wings defensemen and will only continue to get better as he gains more NHL experience.

T.J. Brodie (Calgary Flames – D)

T.J. Brodie Rebuild
T.J. Brodie is part of a defensive group that definitely jumps into offensive play. (Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Between Mark Giordano, Kris Russell, and T.J. Brodie, the Flames sure did get a decent amount of contributions from their defensemen last season. However, with Mark Giordano in high demand, options such as Russell and Brodie – both of whom were only 4% owned in Yahoo! leagues last year – might be easier to snag during the later stages of one’s draft. Seeing as how Kris Russell might be the more well-known 4%-owned defenseman of the two, it is more than possible that Brodie could wind up being widely available to fantasy managers.

Last year, Brodie averaged 24:03 minutes per game and produced 31 points (4 Goals, 27 Assists) as he played in all but one of Calgary’s 82 regular season contests. Brodie will also register the occasional hit, blocked shot, and powerplay point, so fantasy managers surely wouldn’t be losing much by putting some stock into the defenseman on draft day or through free agency/waivers.

Sami Vatanen (Anaheim Ducks – D)

Vatanen led all defenceman in assists with five.
Sami Vatanen could be a pretty good defensive addition – especially for managers in deeper formats. (Bridget Samuels)

At first glance, Sami Vatanen’s 21 points (6 Goals, 15 Assists) from last season might not seem like all that much, but then one has to factor in the fact that the Finnish defender only played in 48 games last season and only has a total of 56 NHL games under his belt.

Being a shorter defenseman, Vatanen might not be what one would necessarily envision as a physical defender, but his 66 hits definitely show that he’s not a stranger to close play with the opposition. With the Ducks rolling out defenders such as Francois Beauchemin, Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, and Ben Lovejoy, it’s a bit hard to see Vatanen jumping the depth chart all at once – but that’s not to say that he isn’t capable of leapfrogging another d-man if the situation arises.

Vatanen was only 6% owned in Yahoo! formats last year, but if the defenseman can maintain the pace at which he was scoring last season, then that number will only increase. Those in deeper leagues should absolutely keep an eye out on Vatanen as he can be a very good source of points – especially if he plays a full NHL season with the Ducks.

Matt Bartkowski (Boston Bruins – D)

Matt Bartkowski Bruins
Matt Bartkowski could be a very good fantasy hockey sleeper as he was only 1% owned last season. (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)

The Boston Bruins sure do have a number of defensemen on their roster right now, and it’s looking more and more like one of the team’s defenders might have to be dealt in order for Peter Chiarelli to be able to re-sign Torey Krug and Reilly Smith.

While the names of various Bruins defensemen have emerged in certain trade rumors, the fact of the matter is that Bartkowski can play, and he would be an asset on any team that he plays for. Last year, Bartkowski appeared in 66 games for the Bruins and scored 18 points (all assists) while chipping in 155 hits – so it’s not hard to see why teams would like a well-balanced player that contributes on either side of the puck.

Bartkowski averaged 19:32 of ice-time last year, but was only owned in 1% of Yahoo! leagues, which should indicate that not a whole bunch of people had put their faith into the d-man at season’s end last year. Fantasy managers should wait to see how Chiarelli resolves the Bruins’ money situation, but Bartkowski should definitely be on managers’ radars regardless of where he is playing.

Matt Irwin (San Jose Sharks – D)

Matt Irwin Sharks
Matt Irwin could see more ice time as a Shark this season, and fantasy managers would certainly be amongst the beneficiaries. (Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)

Matt Irwin is in prime position to elevate his stock as an impending free agent. During the ’13-’14 NHL season, Irwin put up a whopping 147 shots on goal while averaging only 18:48 of ice-time per game, but the depth chart is the only question that separates Irwin from a higher ownership rate.

With defensemen such as Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brent Burns, Jason Deemers, and Justin Braun seemingly ahead of Irwin on the Sharks’ defensive pairings, it might be tough for Irwin to receive significant playing time, but that hasn’t prevented the defender from putting the puck on net before. Irwin played in 62 games for San Jose last season and scored 19 points (2 Goals, 17 Assists) while tallying 62 hits and 93 blocked shots.

Irwin (1% owned in Yahoo! leagues last year) also had six points (1 Goal, 5 Assists) on the man-advantage, so fantasy managers should definitely not overlook the defenseman this season.

The Watch-List

Michael Stone (Arizona Coyotes – D)

Michael Stone Coyotes
Fantasy managers should keep an eye on Michael Stone this season. (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Michael Stone played in 70 games for the Arizona Coyotes last year and recorded 21 points (8 Goals, 13 Assists), so fantasy managers might want to watch out for the defenseman that was owned in only 3% of Yahoo! formats last season.

While Stone had a -10 +/- rating, he also contributed handsomely in the hits (153) and blocked shots (114) department. Furthermore, Stone also had six points (2 Goals, 4 Assists) on the Arizona powerplay, so fantasy managers could expect to see a steady uptick in production if the d-man does earn more ice-time this season.

Nick Holden (Colorado Avalanche – D)

Nick Holden Avalanche
Nick Holden enjoyed a very successful ’13-’14 campaign with the Avalanche, and he will look to repeat his performance during the ’14-’15 NHL season. (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

Not only did Nick Holden impress fantasy managers last season, he also made his mark on first year coach Patrick Roy.

With 10 Goals and 15 Assists last year, Holden put together quite a showing in just 54 games. Holden also finished the season with 118 hits and seven powerplay points (2 Goals, 5 Assists) and continued his offensive production into the postseason as he scored three goals and added an assist in Colorado’s first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series.

Fantasy managers should keep a very close eye on Holden as he was only 3% owned last season, but should also be ready to snag the defenseman in an instant – especially if his ice-time and responsibilities are increased during the upcoming season.

Andre Benoit (Buffalo Sabres – D)

Andre Benoit
Andre Benoit could prove to be a good depth option for the rebuilding Buffalo Sabres. (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

In 79 games played last season, Andre Benoit scored 28 points (7 Goals, 21 Assists) with the Avalanche – with eight of those points (1 Goal, 7 Assists) coming on the man-advantage.

The Sabres signed Benoit to a one-year contract earlier in the summer, and the defender could get a chance to show off his offensive prowess in Buffalo. Being a shorter rearguard, Benoit might not be a physical defenseman, but he can certainly get the job done on offense, so fantasy managers should definitely keep him in mind as the season goes along.

Seeing as how Buffalo is rebuilding – and Benoit having averaged over 20 minutes of ice time last season – it’s hard to envision the defenseman not getting a shot to show off his skills, so his availability and production should be closely monitored.