It’s an old saying. Defense wins championships. And you know something?
Whether it’s football, baseball, hockey or basketball, defense truly is the key aspect of winning, and believe it or not, that saying holds true in fantasy hockey as well. While they don’t get as much hype as the centers, left wings or right wings, defensemen are a huge piece of the puzzle to winning your fantasy hockey league. When picking among the group, you want to go for the versatile ones, the guys that will provide you with a little bit of everything. So, with preseason games already in full swing, who are some of the top blueliners to target?
1) P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens: Subban went on to finish as the top fantasy defenseman, lead all players at his position in points (38), had 26 powerplay points, 13 multi-point games and, of course, was named the Norris Trophy recipient. All of this while still missing the first six games of the season due to a contract dispute. In just 14 games in March, Subban hit the ground running, tallying 18 points and seven goals. He never looked back, and did it all for fantasy owners, firing 126 shots, posting 57 PIMS, sporting a plus/minus of 12 and, most importantly, blocking 49 shots and posting 51 hits. He was absolutely stellar, and in my eyes, is the most versatile blueliner of the bunch, which results in him being my number one ranked fantasy defensive player for the upcoming 2013.
2) Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators: If it hadn’t been for a nasty Achilles injury, Karlsson could very well be the top-ranked fantasy defenseman, though, I wouldn’t blame you for siding with the Senator over the Canadien. In just 17 contests, Karlsson scored six goals and added eight helpers, while taking an impressive 79 shots. When healthy, he is the most dominant offensive defenseman in hockey, as he scored a silly 78 points in the 2011 season. Karlsson is a master of the man advantage, and when he came back from injury last season, averaged a solid .82 points per game. Looking ahead to 2013, the Senators may have an even better powerplay unit with the likes of Bobby Ryan joining the group. He is a very safe bet to lead all defensemen in shots, as he posted at least seven in five games last year, and while he may finish with better offensive numbers, Subban holds more value in all categories, which puts Karlsson slightly lower in my book.
3) Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins: There is a lot to like about Letang’s fantasy prospects each and every year. For instance, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, just to name a few. But seriously, Letang has the opportunity to be the top fantasy defenseman each year, as long as he is on the ice. Over the last two seasons, he’s missed 44 games due to injury, which has hindered his production. However, when he is on the ice, he is a great candidate to dominate the powerplay categories among his position, especially manning the point with Crosby and company. He’s averaged over 24 minutes of ice time in three straight seasons, and while he isn’t quite as appealing as the top two, Letang has just as good a shot at leading defensemen in points.
4) Shea Weber, Nashville Predators: A pretty safe bet for 50 points and 200-plus shots on goal, Weber may be becoming a bit of an afterthought when it comes to the best defenseman in the league, but he is still very much in the picture. The Predators best player will be on the ice more than everyone besides goaltender Pekka Rinne, so the volume will be there. His average time on ice per contest over the last four seasons; 25:55, 26:10, 25:19, 23:10. He is a true workhorse. His plus/minus could continue to take a hit, as the Predators seem to be going backwards, but Weber gives you a little bit of everything, which is something I look for in not only my defensemen, but in all of my players. The Predators are bringing in top draft pick Seth Jones, and after already losing Ryan Suter, this move should only help Weber’s value.
5) Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild: The move to Minnesota was very good for Suter, as he posted a career-best in points per game (.66) and was very busy on the man advantage, posting his second-highest ice time per powerplay (3:46). He only scored four goals, but he has never been a big goal-scorer, posting a career-high of just eight. In his first season with the Wild, just like former teammate Weber, Suter was a workhorse, averaging over 27 minutes of ice time per game, which speaks volumes to Minnesota’s feelings toward their defenseman. I think as he and the other new faces from last make themselves even more at home in Minnesota, Suter will post even better numbers than last season.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.