Our fantasy hockey draft kit here at Fake Teams keeps on motoring. We've already introduced our plan for the rest of the offseason, showed you how to set up an effective league, outlined the offseason changes, and provided our rankings for each forward group for the upcoming season. If you missed anything, you can find it all here:
I'm not going to go into the process in which I rank players, I've already wrote about it once. You can read about it in the intro to my center rankings: Fantasy Hockey 2014-15: Centers Will Anchor your Team. I will say though that there may be differences between ranks in different positions for dual eligible players and the individual rankings might not always be consistent. As I continue to do research, my thoughts will change. Always use the most recent article when there are differing opinions. You've been warned.
The defense position is deeper this year than I seem to remember it in years past. This might be due to the game changing the defensive role and teams relying on their defense more to score than they did in the past. Teams are more commonly activating the blue line, leading to more defensive points. And we're starting to see many more young offensive defensemen enter the game and make an impact. Like in in real life where defense wins championships, in fantasy defense wins matchups. Let's bring out the first tier of defensemen:
There are only two defensemen capable of putting up points comparable to your offensive players and they are Karlsson and Subban. Both are elite defensemen capable of scoring sixty points in any given year, with the upside for seventy. Karlsson gets the nod here because he will take more shots and score more goals than Subban will, but he's also more of any injury risk. Both of these guys will be going early in drafts, likely within the first two rounds of your draft.
Everyone in tier two is more than capable of carrying the load for your defensive roster and will be far more affordable than the big two. They'll probably start being taken in the fourth round and many will still hit fifty points this year. Weber and Byfuglien are the guys capable of 20 goals and are also the two with added value in leagues with hits while Keith, Pietrangelo, and Yandle are your forty assist guys. Weber and Pietrangelo are the guys you want in blocks leagues. If Letang could ever stay healthy, he's capable of a twenty/forty year and entering the first tier with Karlsson and Subban, but it's probably safer to assume that he'll only play half the games each year. Beware with Keith as he has typically followed up big years with mediocre years. I honestly have no idea why Byfuglien is being drafted so low. He's a forward who plays defense and has defensive eligibility. That alone is worth a higher draft slot, but he is also a lock to be a significant contributor in shots, penalty minutes, and powerplay points. His point totals are a bit up in the air with the position switch to forward and third line minutes, but he shouldn't hurt you too bad in anything but plus/minus. He is being drafted far too late right now.
Tier three marks the end of your top defensemen. If you're taking a third tier defensemen for your first blue line contributor, you should probably get two in this tier as the tiers start to differentiate quite a bit at this point. At the very least, you want to make sure you get at least one in the first three tiers. Tier three has a lot of the upside that tier two has but with more questions and tier four has the same questions with less of the upside. Most of this tier are the elite defensemen that are getting a bit older and are seeing their offensive contributions spread throughout the lineup now or are young up and comers that we're not sure if they can continue to sustain the success that they had last year. Chara, Suter, and Kronwall are your older consistent veterans in the group. They'll help across the board and can be relied upon week in week out. Doughty is a better player than he is a fantasy asset. He's being taken far too high in drafts - on average the fifth defensemen off the boards. He has added value in hits leagues, but his team often holds him back. With three other good defensmen in Muzzin, Voynov, and Martinez, he is not relied upon to do all the scoring and the Kings struggle to score goals as a team. His upside is fifty points, but I wouldn't count on much more than forty. Ekman-Larsson, Hedman, and Niskanen are your high upside plays, all coming off of breakout years. I have the least faith in Niskanen with the change in team and a new, more defensive head coach in Barry Trotz.
We have even more questions in tier four. There are a lot of the guys that we're expecting their breakout in this tier such as Krug, Goligoski, Ehrhoff, and Barrie. All of them have hinted to it in the past, but need to take the next step and provide that level of production for a full year in order to be included with the top defensemen. Shattenkirk, Wisniewski, Phaneuf, Green, and Boyle are coming off steady or disappointing years last year. They've all shown better before and will want to prove that last year was an aberration. McDonagh and Giordano had good years last year that probably marked their ceiling for what you can expect going forward. McDonagh will have Boyle to share time with New York and Giordano will have to overcome a terrible Flames team this year in order to continue to grow. McDonagh and Giordano have additional value in leagues with shorthanded points, Phaneuf and Burns are your hitters, Phaneuf and Goligoski are your shot blockers, Wisniewski and Shattenkirk are your powerplay specialists, and Phaneuf is your only big penalty minute guy. Burns is an interesting player as he has dual eligibility. It remains to be seen where he'll play in the lineup, but he did play on the top line last year which is where part of his value is coming from. Plus I love his wild beard. You should stop waiting for Green to be the player he used to be, he won't ever score fifty points, let alone seventy ever again. Not only does he have a new defensive coach, but the Capitals brought in Niskanen to replace him as the offensive guy on the blue line. I might have him ranked too high even.
Hopefully you've drafted your top two defensemen by this point already as tier five should not be relied upon as your top defensemen. If they are, you're already at a significant disadvantage. Carlson and Markov are your powerplay specialists, Carlsson, Josi, Garrison, and Edler are your shooters, and Seabrook and Johnson are your hitters. I am obviously not a Fowler fan and have dropped him in my ranks. He has a lot of potential, but he always under performs and has never seemed to put it all together to contribute as a number one fantasy defenseman. Josi is the one moving up the ranks significantly. He broke out with Smashville last year playing on the first pairing with Weber and the team should be even more offensive this year with Laviolette at the helm. I like where this might go. Already appropriately ranked in Yahoo!, Edler is a bounceback candidate after the terrible year he had last year.
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Tier six should round out the last of your starting defensemen and most of your bench. Your fourth and fifth defensmen will likely be flipping around in your rotation quite often as there will likely be little difference between them. The Kings trio of Muzzin, Voynov, and Martinez all have much higher upside, but it'll depend on who gets top powerplay time and if any of them can differentiate themselves from the others in order to be a consistent force through the year. Franson and Gudas can hit and you'll want Gudas if you're still looking for penalty minutes. Enstrom and Martin have upside if thrust into larger roles due to injury or ineptitude. Both have played top offensive defenseman roles for their club in the past, but have been bypassed recently by others. Enstrom is behind Byfuglien and youngster Trouba right now and Martin behind injury prone Letang and Ehrhoff. It's not a long shot to see both rise through the ranks quickly.
Hopefully you don't need to touch tier seven in your draft, but mark them down in your watch list. Timonen has the highest upside, but we need more clarity on his blood clot situation before we can move him up the ranks. Visnovski is another guy who has been a top option, but we need to see him on the ice more often. Bieksa will take penalties, shoot, hit, and block shots at a good rate for a guy buried on draft boards. Maatta had a nice audition last year, but with Letang, Ehrhoff, and Martin there, I just don't see him getting enough opportunity this year to continue his breakout. I don't generally like rookie defensemen, so Ekblad will not be a starter on my teams. Rookie blue liners first have to learn to defend at the NHL level before they can learn to contribute on offense, so I'm not expecting much from him for a couple years. That said, he is a stud and will be great when he does breakout. Rielly is your reach deep player. The top prospect spent much of the year with the Leafs and might be able to take the offensive role away from Franson or Gardiner.
If you want a Microsoft Excel version of my rankings, here's the link: Defensemen Rankings 2014.
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