We have taken a look at the forwards and the goalies so far, now let’s take a look at the move overlooked fantasy hockey position: defense. It is true that defensemen in many leagues do not have the same value as the majority of forwards, but having them in a necessary thing and finding useful ones is even more important.
Having a strong stable of defensemen to compliment solid fantasy forwards and goaltending can help to tip the balance in many a fantasy league. We saw some fantastic individual performances from defenders this past fantasy season, some continuing those years into the playoffs. It is reasonable to expect those players to continue that output and others to take the next step forward.
There were not many fantasy-relevant defenders who switched teams via free agency or trade that will make this list. The biggest changes will come in the form of P.K. Subban and Shea Weber’s relative rankings as both shifted thanks to their one-for-one swap between the Canadiens and Predators. Another big mover is Keith Yandle who climbed in the rankings thanks to his signing with the Panthers. So with that let’s take a look at the top-25 fantasy defensemen right now:
The Top 5
- Erik Karlsson
- Brent Burns
- Kris Letang
- P.K. Subban
- Victor Hedman
Despite losing out on the Norris Trophy to Drew Doughty, Karlsson takes the top spot in these rankings. He is without a doubt the top offensive defenseman in the NHL today and with his ability to put up points comparable to a top scoring forward he is a game-changer in fantasy hockey. Karlsson led all defensemen in points, led all players in the league in assists and finished tied with Joe Thornton for fourth in points with 82. Since his rookie season of 2009- 10, he has the most points of any defender in the league with 385.
There isn’t much to say about Burns that is different from Karlsson. He is as valuable as a top-scoring winger and shoots like one too. Burns finished 11th in the league in scoring with a career-high 75 points. He also set new career marks with 27 goals and 48 assists. He also added a new high in shots on goal with 353, second in the league to Alex Ovechkin’s 398. Playing primarily with Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Logan Couture it is reasonable to expect another stellar season from Burns next year, especially after his 30 power-play points this season.
This was a toss-up between Letang and Subban for the third spot but Letang’s playoff performance tipped the scale in his favor. Letang finished third among defensemen in points this season with 67 in 71 games. The 67 points were a new career-high and he added 15 points in 23 playoff games to boot. It is, however, the fourth-consecutive full season that Letang has missed a minimum of 10 games due to injury. That could be concerning for fantasy owners but playing on the offensive juggernaut in Pittsburgh makes him that valuable.
P.K. Subban has posted 50 points in each of the last 3 seasons, joining Erik Karlsson as the only defensemen who can claim that feat.
— Bucci Mane (@Buccigross) June 30, 2016
Subban had a down season, like the rest of the Habs, in Montreal this year. The offense struggled and the defense fell apart without Carey Price. The shocking trade that led to him being swapped for Shea Weber could be what he needs to re-jump start his career and take his offensive game to the level that it has never been at before. Subban immediately becomes a top-five defender and the thought of him pairing with another top-10 defenseman, Roman Josi, should have fantasy owners salivating over the offensive possibilities of the two. His addition also boosts the fantasy stock of Pekka Rinne and forwards like James Neal, Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Colin Wilson.
Headman arguably had his best season, even bettering his 2013-14 season when he netted 55 points. Hedman posted 47 points in 78 games with career-highs with a plus-21 rating and 180 SOG. He followed that up with a stellar performance in the playoffs with 14 points in 17 games and consistently shutting down the likes of John Tavares, Sidney Crosby and Henrik Zetterberg. His all-around game took a step forward this season and if the Lightning stay consistently healthy this season a 55+ point season is not out of the realm of possibility for Hedman, with the potential for a 200 shot campaign.
- Dustin Byfuglien
- Roman Josi
- John Carlson
- Oliver Ekman-Larsson
- Shayne Gostisbehere
Big Buff has a lot of fantasy value thanks to his dual-eligibility in certain formats, his ability to be in a fantasy lineup as either a defenseman or forward. Byfuglien has the rare combination of size, speed and scoring ability and is one of the most physical defenders in the game. Byfuglien broke the 50-point barrier for the fourth time in the last six seasons, and he looks to lead an even better Winnipeg offense from the blueline this year. He jumps into the top-five rankings on this list in leagues that count PIMs and Hits. If Winnipeg’s offense takes the step forward it should this year his PP numbers will increase as well.
Josi has quickly developed into one of the best all-around defenders in the league and surpassed Shea Weber as the go-to offensive options from the Predators blueline. Josi should only be helped by the new presence of Subban as his defensive partner. The duo will not only man the Preds top pair but will also be running the point on the Predators soon-to-be more potent power-play. Josi was fourth in scoring among defenders this season and is fourth in scoring for defensemen in the NHL over the last three seasons combined as well.
John Carlson is the first defenseman in franchise history to record 12 points in the first 12 games of a single postseason.
— CapitalsPR (@CapitalsPR) May 11, 2016
This was supposed to be the breakout season for John Carlson after a 55-point campaign in 2014-15. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen with injuries limiting the talented puck-moving blueliner to 56 games and 39 points. If he can remain healthy this season Carlson should approach that breakout status with the continued play of Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov in front of him. He will also be back manning the point on the Caps highly-lethal power-play unit, making him a must-own in fantasy circles.
Ekman-Larsson is the guy who made Keith Yandle expendable in Arizona and he is one of the best offensive defensemen in the NHL today. Still only 24, OEL has the second-most goals in the league over the last three years among defenders behind only Brent Burns. He is also fourth in that time in power-play points. He was second in both categories this season among defensemen in the NHL and was seventh in scoring.
Most OT goals since 2012-13#Bruins Brad Marchand: 6 (incl. tonight)
Jonathan Toews: 6
Oliver Ekman-Larsson: 6
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) March 9, 2016
The hockey world knew Gostisbehere was going to be good, but I doubt anyone thought he would be this good this quickly. You can make the argument his call-up single-handedly turned the Flyers season around. He gave an immediate boost to the Flyers offense scoring 22 points in his first three months in the league before exploding for a 13-point month of February. He finished fourth on the team with 46 points, 152 SOG and 22 PPPs in only 64 games. Overall he was fifth among rookie scorers this season, finishing second in the voting for the Calder Trophy. A full-season and an improved offense will only help him get better in fantasy.
- Shea Weber
- Drew Doughty
- Keith Yandle
- John Klingberg
- Mark Giordano
Weber could have been a top-10 defender and, like Byfuglien gets a boost in leagues that count Hits, SOG and PPPs. He was the only defender in the league in the top-15 in SOG, Hits, Points, Goals and PPPs. He gets knocked because of his trade to the Canadiens, a team with less offensive upside than Nashville. He will still be a very valuable fantasy commodity because of his all-around production and he will be the point man of the Habs first pair and power-play unit. Having a healthy Carey Price behind him should help to turn around the minus-7 he was last year.
Doughty does not put up the gaudy fantasy hockey stats like the players before him but he is a very solid fantasy contributor and is the reigning Norris Trophy winner for the league’s best defenseman. Doughty did have arguably his most productive season this year. He posted 51 points, tied with Weber and PK Subban, a plus-24 rating, 197 SOG and 24 PPPs. The Kings will return the majority of their lineup this season, sans Milan Lucic, so it is reasonable to expect Doughty to have an equally good season.
Keith Yandle has 75 PP assists in last 3 seasons, tied w/ Erik Karlsson for most by a defenseman in that span https://t.co/mdFg2A8Qmu
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 20, 2016
Yandle signing with the Panthers propels him to this position. He had his ups and downs with the Rangers but never seemed to fully gel with their system. He should not have an issue with that on the up-and-coming Panthers team. Yandle is one of the best power-play point defenders in the NHL. He immediately will be running the Panthers first unit that will deploy the likes of Jaromir Jagr, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. He will have much more offensive freedom in the Panthers system and is playing with a young Aaron Ekblad, who himself is developing into one of the better all-around defenders in the league. Yandle should be a lock to break the 50-point, 20-PPP barrier this season on a very good Panthers team.
Klingberg could, and probably should, be higher on this list thanks to his manning the Dallas Stars top pair and PP unit. He gets dinged for being largely a first-half of the year performer. Yes, Klingberg finished fifth among defensemen in scoring and was just outside the top-10 in the league in assists with a career-high 48. But after posting an impressive 35 points through the first three months of the season, Klingberg only posted 23 over the last three-plus months, and that is counting a 12-point month of February. He is a very good player and the consistency should develop, but until then he slots in here.
Giordano could be higher on this list. He shoots a lot, his point totals are solid and he plays with two top-50 forwards in front of him. His power-play numbers will need to go up before he gets a bump up the rankings and there are questions about Calgary remaining offensively consistent. He also has the potential to lose fantasy value if Dougie Hamilton and TJ Brodie see upticks in their production. Having Brian Elliott behind him should help his plus/minus ratings and make the Flames better defensively. He could jump into the top-10 on this list at some point during the season.
- Duncan Keith
- Kevin Shattenkirk
- Rasmus Ristolainen
- Tyson Barrie
- Ryan Suter
Despite missing 15 games Keith still managed a 43-point campaign with 18 PPP, 130 SOG and a plus-13 rating. He split time on the PP with Brent Seabrook but Keith is the best option on the Blackhawks blueline on the PP. Expect him back there full-time next season. A full season of play should return him to a 50-plus point scoring season, a barrier he was on pace for this season before injury and his suspension at the end of the season.
Shattenkirk could potentially be a defender who moves in these rankings quite a bit, depending if he is traded this offseason or during the year by the Blues. He is a very good defenseman and is a solid point contributor. His 133 points in the last three seasons rank in the top-20 among NHL defenders, with his 77 PPPs ranking third behind only Erik Karlsson and Keith Yandle in that time. He is always a lock for solid SOG numbers while touching on the peripheral PIMs and Hits categories with above-average numbers for point-producing defensemen. Whether he is on the Blues or another team is his a top-20 fantasy blueliner, especially as a power-play producer.
— Andy Strickland (@andystrickland) March 30, 2016
Ristolainen is one of the better-developing defensemen in the NHL. Only 21-years old he was a solid sleeper going into last season and on a below-average Sabres team managed 41 points. More than half his point total, 21, came on the man-advantage and he was one of only nine defensemen in the league to break the 200 SOG mark. Another full season with Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly, newly-signed Kyle Okposo and potentially top college UFA Jimmy Vesey could see Ristolainen break the 50-point barrier, whilst putting up comparable shot and PP outputs.
Another young, soon-to-be stud defenseman in the NHL is Barrie. He’s mired in a contract stalemate with the Avalanche at the moment as an RFA coming off a two-year bridge contract that carried an AAV of $2.6 million. He averaged 51 points per season over the course of that contract and is now looking for a new deal. That may or may not come from the Avs. His contract uncertainty and the inconsistencies of Colorado’s offense and goaltending keep Barrie down this list. He has consistently seen his shot and power-play output go up, but the reasons mentioned prior keep him down this list.
Since coming to the Wild in the summer before the 2012-13 lockout Suter has led all Wild defensemen in scoring each season and leads all NHL defensemen in average time on ice. He is a total workhorse of a player who averages over 28 minutes on ice per night, almost half a game. His offensive output is solid, he tied Weber, Subban and Doughty this season with a career-high 51 points. He also managed a career-high 188 shots, broke the 20-point barrier on the PP for the second time and blocked 142 shots. However, he could see a dip in production with the continued development of the Wild’s younger offensive defensemen like Matt Dumba, Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon. That could cause him to drop down this list before or during the season.
- Aaron Ekblad
- Brent Seabrook
- Justin Faulk
- Nick Leddy
- Seth Jones
A few more young defenders in this five who are just coming into their own. We start with Ekblad who has shown poise beyond his years despite being thrust into the NHL as an 18-year old rookie last year for the Panthers. All he did was go out and win the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year and follow that up with an impressive 36-point campaign this year. He has shown solid scoring in his two years in the league so far, sitting 10th among defensemen in that time in goals scored with 27 so far. Having an offensive defenseman like Keith Yandle to take the pressure off him actually will free him up to potentially produce more, especially if he is placed on the PP with Yandle and the Panthers first unit.
With that goal, Aaron Ekblad has set a #FlaPanthers franchise record for the most even-strength goals in a season by a defenseman (12).
— Cats On The Prowl (@Cats0ntheprowl) April 9, 2016
Seabrook could find himself dropped down this list depending how Keith performs with him on the Hawks blueline. For now, he’ll be here thanks to the bump he gets from playing big minutes with Chicago’s top-six and seeing ample PP time. He had a career season this year with 14 goals and 49 points, both new highs. He out-produced Keith this season for the first time since the 2010-11 season and he was seventh among defensemen in the NHL with 25 PPPs. He could put up comparable numbers next season, but don’t be surprised to see a regression with a full-season by Keith.
Faulk could be a top-15 fantasy defender but injuries and questions marks with his team knock him down. Though he has proven mostly durable in his young career, he missed almost 20 games this season. He is a top goal-scoring defender, netting 31 over the last two seasons. His 37 points were a 12-point drop-off from his prior year but with his 18 games missed you can assume he would have approached that again. The knock on him is the Hurricanes. They are a young team with many offensive question marks that could hold his fantasy production back. Before his injury, he was on pace for a second consecutive 200-plus shot season.
Leddy makes the jump into the top-25 after a solid, career season for the Islanders. He got off to a slow start at the beginning of the season only posting 12 points through the end of December. After January 1 he finished the year posting 28 points and finishing with career-highs in assists (35) and points (40). He also added 19 points on the Islanders power-play. He is one of the smoothest skating defenders in the league and always jumps up on the offensive rushes. A return to more consistency from the Islanders offense and PP this season could see Leddy approach 50 points or more. He could approach 10 goals again with increased shooting numbers.
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) June 29, 2016
Jones was blocked from advancing further up the Predators defensive depth chart by Weber and Josi and was moved to give the Predators the elite-level center they have been longing for. He took off in his time in Columbus so far, posting 20 points in 41 games with the Jackets. Nine of those points came courtesy of the PP. He has the keys to the car as the top offensive option for the Blue Jackets and both he and the team should see a step forward in production next year. He totaled a career-high 31 points this season and will easily break that next year and should get into the 40-point range. Fresh off his new contract extension Jones finds himself in the preliminary top-25.
Jake Muzzin, Torey Krug, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Sami Vatanen, Dougie Hamilton, Alex Pietrangelo, Ryan McDonagh, Anton Stralman, Colton Parayko, Trevor Daley
Like the other lists posted so far, this list is far from complete. There is still three months until the start of the season and there are still trades and signings to be made that will impact players on this list. We’ll take a look at how things shake out over the next few months and make changes if/when things begin to heat up once the World Cup and training camp roll around.
I’m a New York guy who grew up and has remained a huge Islanders fan. I have been writing for smaller sites for years about a myriad of sports. I focus primarily on fantasy hockey content and spent the 2014-2015 NHL season writing Daily Fantasy Sports content for DraftKings, Inc.