Brenden Dillon USA Today

 

Five more young defensemen who bear watching next season...

 

Here are five young defensemen who are ready to make an impact at the NHL level – either offensively or with other aspects of their game.

 

More and more fantasy hockey leagues are embracing hits and blocked shots as positive statistics. Why? Well, for starters, they are both recorded in every single NHL rink. The accuracy isn’t the same as a goal or an assist (the fluctuations in how these stats are recorded from rink to rink are quite pronounced, actually), but adding these statistics gives fantasy value to a wider net of players. It is widely known that the New York Rangers receive a significant home advantage when it comes to hit recording – the Madison Square Garden statistician is very trigger-happy.

 

If you learn which rinks tend to award hits more liberally, you can use that information to your advantage.

 

And it is a nice way to reward gritty forwards and defensemen who otherwise would get little to no attention in fantasy circles. Some leagues are also moving away from PIM (a subject that was debated here last year), as PIM are inherently a negative statistic. Debating aside, there is no arguing that including PIM, hits, and blocked shots in fantasy leagues makes it more challenging (and thus, more rewarding) to evaluate and rank players as draft day approaches.

 

Mark Cundari – Calgary

 

Who?

 

The 23-year-old defenseman came over to the Flames in the Jay Bouwmeester deal. Cundari is only 5-9, but he is a very smart player. He also has an absolute bomb of a shot. He has three seasons of AHL experience under his belt (20 goals and 70 points in that time), and the Flames liked what they saw out of him in the NHL in 2013.

 

Why?

 

Cundari will have fantasy value if he manages to stick in the NHL. As I mentioned above, he has a heavy and accurate point shot. He is an aggressive player offensively, and he is an aggressive player in general, too. What he lacks in size he makes up for in grit and tenacity. Cundari had at least 130 PIM in each of his four OHL seasons, and he had 106 PIM in his first AHL campaign, too. His three points in four games with Calgary in 2013 (small sample size) also help his cause when Calgary looks at their depth chart this summer.

 

Wideman, Giordano, Sarich, and Smith are all under contract. Butler, Brodie, and Cundari are RFA’s. I foresee the Flames bringing in one veteran defenseman, but Cundari has a great shot to crack the roster either way.

 

Brenden Dillon – Dallas

 

Who?

 

Undrafted to Team Canada in two years – Dillon’s incredible development over the past few years is quite the story. He was expected to challenge for a roster spot with the Stars in 2013, but even the most optimistic Stars fan wouldn’t have expected him to be the club’s best defenseman on many nights.

 

 

Dillon is big, mobile, physical, and offensively talented, too. He was fairly conservative from an offensive standpoint in 2013, as many rookie defensemen are. Expect him to pinch and rush the puck more often as he grows more comfortable in his role as one of the go-to defensemen on the Dallas roster.

 

Why?

 

I play in a standard fantasy league (we count the usual categories, including hits). Dillon was the 17th most valuable defenseman in our league last year. Pretty good for a player who wouldn’t have been drafted, even in the deepest of keeper leagues. He’s been on my radar for a while now – first in September of 2011, and last year when I profiled him a bit more extensively.

 

Dillon should settle in as a 5-10 goal, 25-35 point defenseman who fills up other categories, too. The Stars just need to get a few better defensemen to surround him (and the other young core players) with.

 

Brendan Smith – Detroit

 

Who?

 

The former Wisconsin star has put his time in at the AHL level. Smith has spent three seasons playing in Grand Rapids, and he finally earned the full-time call up to Detroit in 2013. However, he wasn’t the offensive force that many (myself included) were expecting. At least not right away.

Smith ended the 2013 season with eight assists in 34 games, but his upward trend is what you should be looking at. He had seven of those points in the final 15 games of the season, and he added two goals and three helpers in 14 postseason contests.

 

Why?

 

Like the other defensemen on this list, Smith also plays with a physical edge. He had 124 and 90 PIM, respectively, in his two full AHL seasons. He has 49 PIM in 48 career NHL games – at the very least, he will be a 75-90 PIM defenseman (who throws a lot of hits). He plays with a ton of confidence (this sometimes gets him in trouble on reads and when making aggressive offensive decisions), and this will translate over to more production once the rest of his game settles down a bit.

 

His upside is very high, and the Red Wings know this. I’d expect him to see more offensive opportunities as a second year player in 2013-14. And his fantasy upside is just as high – Smith should be a productive defenseman (at even strength and on the PP), and he will get a lot of SOG, PIM, and hits, too. 

 

Ian White won't be back in Detroit. Kronwall, Colaiacovo, Ericsson, and Quincey are all under contract. That gives Detroit a top pairing and a third pairing (essentially). Expect Kindl, Smith, and DeKeyser to battle for the other ice time (and this, of course, is assuming the impossible - that Colaiacovo remains healthy).

 

Michael Stone – Phoenix

 

Who?

 

The 6-3, 200 pound defenseman is flying well under the radar right now, but that won’t last long. He doesn’t have the name value of other young Phoenix blueliners (David Rundblad, Brandon Gormley), but Stone outplayed all of Phoenix’s defensive prospects in 2013. He even saw time on the top pairing as Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s defensive partner.

 

He finished 2013 with five goals and nine points in 40 games (along with 16 PIM).

 

Why?

 

Stone won’t rack up the PIM like the other four defensemen on this list, but he still has a lot of upside in most fantasy league formats. He’s a great skater and sees the ice well, and he this when necessary and also is quite good at blocking shots. Stone had six goals and 28 points in only 36 AHL games in 2012-13 – that is really impressive production for a blue-liner. He finished second on Phoenix’s defense in hits (89), third in blocked shots (64), and fourth in SOG (50). All of these numbers will increase significantly in 2012-13 (and not just because the season is full-length…).

 

Matt Donovan – Long Island

 

Who?

 

I have covered Donovan fairly extensively here at DobberHockey over the past year or so.

 

For more on Donovan, read this. Or this. Or this.

 

Why?

 

If the above links don’t do it for you, the fact that Mark Streit is leaving Long Island should. Donovan could become a primary offensive weapon on the back end in short order (along with Lubomir Visnovsky, of course). He is physical and he shoots the puck a lot, too.

 

Putting some work in:

 

 

There will be a bigger focus on this kind of player (multi-category sleepers) in the 2013-14 Fantasy Guide.

 

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