Top 20 Western Conference Fantasy Defensemen - Part 1 of 2
My Eastern Conference counterpart, Russ Miller, suggested last week that we do a top 20 defensemen rankings in our respective conferences for a little symmetry. Since this lockout has been a nightmare for generating topics to write about, I was happy to oblige. You may remember a little while back we did a few similar rankings pieces with goaltenders. At the suggestion of Russ, these rankings will not be keeper league related and only have to do with this season. This season...... I love his optimism.
Typically when trying to bolster my roster with defensemen, I look at a lot of categories that don't jump out at first glance. Plus/minus, blocks, and hits are usually the type of areas I try to improve on with my defense corps. That's not to say that if you choose right you can't improve on your offensive totals also. Finding a breakout player on the blueline could elevate you to a championship for that season. Just ask Keith Yandle owners in 2010-11.
Narrowing it down to a top 20 list was difficult. Before we get started, however, I want to mention a couple of guys who just missed the cut, but could be really valuable next season.
Nick Leddy is a guy who had a nice 37 point campaign in 2011-12, but only three of those were goals. He also had just 67 hits, 10 PIM, less than 100 shots, and was a minus-12. He is not a terrible play by any stretch, but for the purposes of this one year list there are more versatile options deserving of the top 20.
Jason Garrison had a career year in 2011-12 with the Florida Panthers, but now with the Vancouver Canucks I fear he will be in tough to duplicate those totals. He still could be a valuable power play asset, even though I don't see him reaching 16 goals again. Not to mention the Canucks blueline is crowded and Garrison is from British Columbia. I’m not a huge fan of players on their hometown team. Things always seem to go south in that scenario.
Here are numbers 20-11.
20) Alex Goligoski - Dallas Stars
Goligoski’s point totals took a substantial hit last year from the numbers he posted in 2010-11. With Sheldon Souray gone to Anaheim, Goligoski figures to become the quarterback and much more of a focal point on the power play. The additions of Jaromir Jagr, Ray Whitney, and Derek Roy should infuse a lot more offense in the Stars lineup, and help Goligoski exceed 40 points.
19) Brent Seabrook - Chicago Blackhawks
There are not too many negative things you can say about Seabrook. He doesn't do anything phenomenal, but is solid in just about every statistical area. In 2011-12 he had 34 points, nearly 200 hits, over 160 blocks, and over 150 shots on goal. He was also a plus-21. Seabrook rocks an underrated playoff beard as well come spring time.
18) James Wisniewski - Columbus Blue Jackets
Brace yourself, but Wisniewski is one of two Blue Jackets to make the list. Two Blue Jackets I say! He had 27 points in only 48 games last year, and if you project his totals in most other areas out to a full season they look pretty solid. I've said before that with the combination of Wiesniewski and Jack Johnson on the points, Columbus could have a sneaky good power play in 2012-13. And I was sober as judge when I made that statement.
17) Brent Burns - San Jose Sharks
Burns' point totals dropped a tad in his first year with the Sharks after coming over from the Minnesota Wild. He's still worth having around since San Jose excels in the regular season. Luckily for us postseason failures have no bearing on fantasy hockey. He did set a career high with 201 shots in 2011-12, and if he keeps on that pace expect his point totals to rise. A solid 16 power play points last year is nothing to sneeze at either.
16) Niklas Kronwall - Detroit Red Wings
Now that Nicklas Lidstrom is sitting on his deck out in Sweden somewhere, expect Kronwall's totals to go up. He should lead the team in ice-time this season and play against the opponent's best line on a regular basis. That means his hit numbers should go up substantially and he could even improve on the whopping 177 blocked shots he had in 2011-12. He should be good for 40-plus points also.
15) Jack Johnson - Columbus Blue Jackets
Somebody break up the Blue Jackets! Two blueliners in our top 20 just isn't fair. Here's a weird Johnson stat for you from last season. The smooth skating American was actually a minus-12 in 61 games with the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, but then was a plus-5 in 21 contests with Columbus. His true value for 2012-13 may lie on the power play feathering over passes to Wisniewski and his booming point shot. A Blue Jacket D Man who can produce points and is responsible defensively??? Say it ain't so.
14) Kevin Shattenkirk - St. Louis Blues
The Blues may have ranked last on Forbes' NHL franchise value list last week, but that doesn't mean they don't have a few solid young defensemen. Shattenkirk was a pleasant surprise last year and tallied 43 points to go along with over 100 blocks, and a plus-20 rating. As long as Ken Hitchcock is coaching the team then expect those numbers to be similar going forward. Nearly half of his points came with the man advantage and he racked up 178 shots as well.
13) Ryan Whitney - Edmonton Oilers
If Whitney can remain healthy then grabbing him would be a solid pickup. That's a big if, however, because only once in the last four seasons has he played more than 51 games. It looks like Whitney and Carlo Colaiacovo have a bet going as to who can miss the most games due to injury. How can you not take a risk on him though in Edmonton? There's more talent there than you can shake a stick at and if he should get solid production just by default. Heck, I'd draft the Oiler hot guy if he was available.
12) Kevin Bieksa - Vancouver Canucks
Bieksa exploded in 2011-12 and doubled his point totals from the previous two seasons. He actually ranked sixth in scoring among Western Conference defensemen last year. He's always been solid when it comes to hits and PIM, but now with his offensive prowess shining through, that makes him even more versatile. The Canucks should be strong once again and last year they ranked fifth overall in goals for per game. With all that talent around him, expect a lot of easy points for Bieksa.
11) Dan Hamhuis – Vancouver Canucks
Hamhuis actually ranked sixth overall in the NHL last year with a plus-29 rating. Factor in a 37 point year with a 140 shot campaign, and Hamhuis arguably had his best season as a pro. He also tallied 11 power play points and put up two shorthanded assists as well. Hamhuis has a chance to easily better his numbers from 2011-12 and his excellent plus/minus numbers make him a must have.
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