Fantasy Focus: Top Defencemen

As you prepare for your 2019-20 NHL Fantasy Hockey draft, it is important to go in with a plan. That can mean meticulously mapping out your picks or simply doing a little extra research on who you should take. This article should help with the latter.

Related: 2019-20 NHL Fantasy Guide

Most standard fantasy hockey teams will end up having around four defencemen. Here we will offer some insight into who you should draft to fortify your back end. These are the top 30 defencemen you should draft in fantasy hockey.

1. Brent Burns (SJ)

This is an easy place to start. Fantasy leagues often differ in which categories count for points and defencemen will hold varying levels of importance as a result. Regardless of whether or not your league counts stats like hits and blocks, Brent Burns should be the first defenceman taken in most fantasy drafts.

Brent Burns - Sharks
Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks, Oct. 9, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Burns should go in the first round. He is the most offensive-minded blueliner in the NHL and will surely rack up the points for your team. He has not missed a game since the 2013-14 season, a clear sign of his durability. The Sharks are a team that will remain in the playoff picture, and playing on a good team usually means more points and a higher plus/minus. You will not go wrong with Burns on your team.

2. Victor Hedman (TB)

Regardless of their quick playoff exit last season, the Tampa Bay Lightning appear ready to defend their title as the best team in the league. A key reason for their success is star defenceman, Victor Hedman. Hedman has finished in the top three in Norris Trophy voting in each of the last three years, winning the award in 2017-18.

Victor Hedman #77 of the Tampa Bay Lightning
DETROIT, MI – JANUARY 07: Victor Hedman #77 of the Tampa Bay Lightning (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

He has missed games in every season of his career but he should not be considered a risk if taken early in the draft. He may miss a handful of games this season but there is still no doubt that Hedman should be the second blueliner picked in your draft. As with Burns, he is on a great team and should see plenty of production.

3. Erik Karlsson (SJ)

This is where risk begins to become a factor. The rationale for taking Erik Karlsson high in your draft is that he has been the best defenceman in the NHL for the last decade. He played on Ottawa Senators teams that ranged from Eastern Conference finalists to draft lottery hopefuls, but Karlsson was almost always the Senators best player.

Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson
Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson (Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports)

Now he has spent a season with the Sharks and it was a season ruined by injuries. He spent a good chunk of the season on the injured reserve and had to have surgery in the offseason to repair his groin. He is on pace to be ready for opening night but it is up to you to decide whether you want to tempt fate. If you have the means, it may be a good idea to lock in Burns or Hedman in the early rounds and let Karlsson slide.

4. Dustin Byfuglien (WPG)

This entry comes with a big asterisk. Recently it was revealed that Dustin Byfuglien was taking time to reflect on hisfuture in hockey. At the time of writing this, it is not clear what the future holds for the Winnipeg Jets blueliner and thus his draft status becomes very hazy.

Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien
Winnipeg Jets’ Dustin Byfuglien (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

If Byfuglien decides to play, he should be one of the first defencemen off the board. He has a proven track record and while the Jets could excel or disappoint this year, it remains likely he would be able to produce. All of this is null and void if he decides to retire of course. As it looks like this is a real possibility, this is the biggest risk on the list. Use your discretion.

5. Roman Josi (NSH)

Roman Josi has been a model of consistency since he became an NHL regular. He has averaged 55 points over his last five seasons while missing only a handful of games. Playing on a solid Nashville Predators team, Josi should be great in the fourth round area.

6. Kris Letang (PIT)

It should be becoming apparent that the highest-ranking players on this list also play for good teams. Kris Letang is no exception as he and the Pittsburgh Penguins should be in line for another strong campaign.

Kris Letang Penguins
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins, January 2, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Letang struggled through an upper-body injury last season but put together a solid season, finishing sixth in Norris Trophy voting. Injuries are a concern with Letang but given his high-end production, a little risk may be necessary. You can count on him to be the Penguins best defender for another season and a strong addition to any fantasy team.

7. John Carlson (WSH)

Coming off a career season is John Carlson of the Washington Capitals. In 2018-19 he scored career highs in assists and points with 57 and 70, respectively. If given the chance, he can certainly continue to build off this season and produce another stellar fantasy performance in 2019-20.

John Carlson Capitals
John Carlson (Bridget Samuels/Flickr)

Carlson could rank as high as third on this list as some fantasy sites have him ranked as the third best candidate for your fantasy team. We have elected to place him slightly lower due to only showing this new level of production in his last two seasons. He could easily impress but it could also be a good idea to play it safe.

8. John Klingberg (DAL)

Despite only making his NHL debut five years ago, John Klingberg has emerged as one of the leagues top defencemen. The Dallas Stars had a very up-and-down season in 2018-19. They were publicly shamed by their owner before making a push for the playoffs. Whether the team performs well or not will have a decent impact on Klingberg’s fantasy stock but for now, he should be taken fairly early.

John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars
John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Klingberg is reliable for points, as displayed by his 67-point campaign in 2017-18. He is the Stars’ best defenceman and should be a lock to go in the fourth or fifth round.

9. Mark Giordano (CAL)

Last season’s Norris Trophy winner comes in at number nine on our list. Mark Giordano had a tremendous showing last season, scoring a career-high 74 points. The Calgary Flames look to be roughly the same team that finished first in the Western Conference last season so expect good production out of their star players.

Mark Giordano Calgary Flames
Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ben Nelms)

You may expect the Norris Trophy winner to place a bit higher on the list but it is another case of needing a few more seasons of consistent, elite play. Before last season, Giordano had only cracked 50 points once in his career. He will be a safe bet to have a productive season once again and he could be a real bargain if you can grab him with a mid-round pick.

10. Morgan Rielly (TOR)

Morgan Rielly continued to build off of a strong 2017-18 performance with the biggest season of his career in 2018-19. He finally became the defenceman the Toronto Maple Leafs had hoped he would be and his fantasy stock rose as a result.

Morgan Reilly Maple Leafs
Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs, Dec. 12, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Rielly plays on the Maple Leafs’ first power-play unit and while the special team was disappointing last season, you can expect that he should pick up a few power-play points this season. If he progresses further in 2019-20 you could end up with a Norris Trophy candidate on your team at a bargain. Unless you are in a league with a bunch of Maple Leafs fans. They will probably reach for him.

11. Torey Krug (BOS)

Torey Krug missed three weeks at the beginning of last season but returned to play the rest of the year. Despite missing 18 games, Krug still managed to rack up 53 points. With a full season, it is not unrealistic to think that Krug could crack 60 points for the first time in his career. He is that good and the Boston Bruins do not appear to be slowing down.

12. Tyson Barrie (TOR)

Tyson Barrie finds himself in a new home this season as he was traded to the Maple Leafs in the offseason. Toronto is not known for their defence but the idea is that Barrie can be a part of the solution there. He is currently set to play alongside Jake Muzzin and should see time on the team’s first and second pair. He scored a career-high 59 points last year and could repeat the feat with the Maple Leafs. Another good fifth-round area pickup.

13. Keith Yandle (FLA)

The Florida Panthers have been a year away from being a year away for several years now. With the addition of Sergei Bobrovsky this past offseason it may be time to shed that monicker. If the Panthers can push themselves to be a playoff team, Keith Yandle should be a big fantasy bargain for those drafting him in a later round. He has the point production to back up being selected earlier and now he may have the good team around him.

Keith Yandle Florida Panthers
Keith Yandle, Florida Panthers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

14. Seth Jones (CBJ)

This is an instance where it really depends on the type of league you are in. If your league counts hits and blocks then Seth Jones is a major asset. He piles up both hits and blocks like there is no tomorrow and could help you win those points/categories. He plays a ton of minutes which means more opportunities for points. The negative is that the Columbus Blue Jackets do not appear to be a very good team this season and that could hurt his value.

15. P.K. Subban (NJ)

P.K. Subban is set to take his talents to the New Jersey Devils after being dealt this summer. His production took a hit last season as he dealt with injuries, otherwise, he would be much higher on this list. He totalled just 31 points, the lowest mark of his career. New surroundings could be good for Subban as the Devils should return to playoff form. Another thing to consider is that Subban has a ton of name-value and that usually goes a long way in trade talks if you want to hustle a less experienced owner. Just sayin’.

16. Shea Weber (MON)

Shea Weber is a difficult one to place. He has the potential to be a high-level defenceman in the NHL but he will begin the season at 34 years of age. That is not a ludicrous age to expect high production but it would be fair to say that his best years are likely behind him. Add in the factor that the Montreal Canadiens missed the playoffs last year and made zero significant additions in the offseason and this could be a season to forget for Weber and the Habs. Take him if you want but do not reach more than necessary.

Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens
Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

17. Alex Pietrangelo (STL)

Another player who has shown his consistency is Alex Pietrangelo. Pietrangelo has scored at least 40 points in each of his last three seasons, including last year when he did it despite injuries. The 2018-19 St. Louis Blues were the ultimate example of why you should not count a team out and if they continue their winning ways Pietangelo should be a great mid-to-late round pickup.

18. Rasmus Dahlin (BUF)

The 2018 first overall draft pick performed adequately in his first season in the NHL. The Buffalo Sabres have been chained to the bottom of the NHL’s standings for a long time and it hurts some of Rasmus Dahlin’s fantasy value. His plus/minus is not great at minus-13 but he still managed to score 44 points in his rookie season. Do not be fooled by the first overall pick aura, Dahlin should be picked somewhere in the seventh or eighth rounds.

19. Drew Doughty (LA)

Drew Doughty would be much MUCH higher on this list if the Los Angeles Kings did not crumble last season. The team is ageing rapidly and many of the new contracts on the team now belong to some of the oldest players on the team. Despite his skill, Doughty can only do so much on a team that finished second last in the league. His plus/minus was a whopping minus-34 and he only managed 45 points. Not bad if he gets picked in a later round but definitely not the high-end production of years past.

Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
Had it not been for Drew Doughty, Karlsson could be a three-time Norris Trophy winner – including two consecutively. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

20. Thomas Chabot (OTT)

One of the only glimmers of light on the Ottawa Senators team as of late has been the young Thomas Chabot. In his second full season in the NHL, Chabot scored a staggering 55 points with the last-place Senators. That is way better than anyone should have been doing on the 2018-19 Senators. He is locked in for the next eight seasons with his shiny new contract but the problem is that Ottawa is essentially the same team as last year, minus some depth pieces. You can take Chabot based on his production but expect his team to affect him at least slightly.

21. Dougie Hamilton (CAR)

Dougie Hamilton brought his production with him to the Carolina Hurricanes last season. He is a solid goal scorer, having an average of 16 goals in his last three seasons. Hamilton is another player who should probably not be the first defenceman you draft but he would make an excellent second or third defender if you are trying to fill out your roster.

22. Jacob Trouba (NYR)

The Winnipeg Jets traded Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers this offseason, with Trouba immediately signing a seven-year extension with his new team. His presence alongside the additions of Artemi Panarin and Kappo Kaako should make the Rangers a playoff team. Trouba proved that he can be an offensive force last season as he accumulated 50 points for the first time in his career. Look for Trouba to be a steal in the later rounds, expect big numbers from him in New York.

Jacob Trouba with the Jets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

23. Mathew Dumba (MIN)

Mathew Dumba would be higher on this list had he not missed the majority of last season due to injury. In 2017-18, he scored 50 points for the only time in his career thus far. He would have crushed his career highs in goals and points last season if he remained healthy. Picking Dumba comes with the risk of a recently injured player but he also comes with the upside of a greatly offensive player.

24. Oliver Ekman-Larsson (ARI)

The Arizona Coyotes seem like they should be pretty good this season, a far cry from the recent state of the franchise. Oliver Ekman-Larsson has been hidden away in Arizona for his entire career, quietly putting up very respectable numbers. With the Coyotes looking like a solid team for once, it will be interesting to see what he can accomplish. I say go for this one, he could easily surprise a lot of people this season.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

27. Zach Werenski (CBJ)

Another player to have just signed a contract extension, Zach Werenski has put up three straight seasons of consistent offensive production with the Blue Jackets. The only problem now is that the team does not look like they are going to be very good this season. Werenski could still surprise and pull the team up to his level but with very little help around him, it would seem more likely that his production could take a hit this season.

26. Shea Theodore (VGK)

Shea Theodore has taken a step forward in his career since joining the Vegas Golden Knights. He struggled to crack the lineup in Anaheim prior to the expansion draft but he now has put up two seasons with decent production. He scored his career-high in points last season with 37 and should see similar numbers this seasons barring an injury. If you are filling out your third and fourth defence slots at this point Theodore would be a nice pickup.

27. Charlie McAvoy (BOS)

After two very solid seasons to start his NHL career, Charlie McAvoy could be a sleeper pick in a lot of people’s drafts. He can put up points without a doubt and with another season of development, the sky is the limit for McAvoy. The Bruins continue to find ways to develop their young players into stars and he should be no different. This will be a solid pick, mark my words.

Boston Bruins Charlie McAvoy
Boston Bruins’ Charlie McAvoy (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michael Dwyer, File)

28. Aaron Ekblad (FLA)

Ideally, we are looking at depth pieces here. Aaron Ekblad has been fine over the last few years and would be just that for your fantasy team. Just hope that you have most of your defensive core filled out by the time you draft him. He has decent offensive capabilities and with Florida possibly vying for a playoff spot this season he definitely has some sleeper potential. Go for it at this point, picks in the tenth round or later are usually sleeper hits or busts anyway.

29. Ryan Ellis (NSH)

Ryan Ellis scored 41 points last season for the first time in his career. Another solid offensive player, he could bring a little extra pop to your fantasy team if he is able to continue trending upwards offensively. He is a good source of blocks if that factors into your decision and he still plays on a very good Predators team. Could be good, could be nothing, up to you if you want to go for it.

30. Erik Gustafsson (CHI)

The last man on the list is Erik Gustafsson. If one season was all we were looking at then he would likely place much higher on the list, but alas, we must look at an entire body of work. After two mediocre NHL seasons, Gustafsson exploded with a 60 point campaign in 2018-19. It seemed to come out of nowhere and it is hard to bet on his to repeat the success this season as a result. If he does he could be the ultimate sleeper pick in your draft but if not then he could be someone you drop two weeks after your draft. I would think it’s worth a roll of the dice at this stage in the process.