Top 20 Western Conference Fantasy Defensemen - Part 2 of 2
The holidays are almost upon us, and that means World Junior Hockey Championship time. The tournament is always exciting because it is often the first time the masses get to watch many young prospects that figure to soon be in the NHL. The best part of the World Juniors this year will be the fact that we will actually get to watch some good old-fashioned hockey, instead of listening to the players and owners argue about who should get how many millions five years down the road.
This year's competition will be held in Russia, and hopefully they no longer have that chicken-wire fencing up instead of glass like they did in the 1972 Summit Series. Otherwise we could see some scary injuries similar to those in a Hulk Hogan and King Kong Bundy steel cage match.
One legitimate factor due to the tournament being held in Russia is the start times of the games. Many will be starting at 4am Eastern and fans will have to decide if they should record the games, stay up until four, or wake up early and watch them live. Recording them could give your hours some sense of normalcy during the holiday season, but someone is sure to spoil the results before you actually sit down to watch it. Staying up late just seems counter productive and the least attractive option. I'm personally leaning towards getting up early. Having dinner at five, being in bed by 8pm, and waking before the sun rises could be a nice glimpse at what life will be like for me in 50 years.
Here is the conclusion of our list with defenders 10-1.
10) Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Phoenix Coyotes
Some may say this placement for Ekman-Larsson is a little high, but my feeling is he is on the rise and could really be a sleeper this season. Ekman-Larsson took a huge jump in his sophomore NHL campaign by scoring 32 points and really looked like one of the league's up and coming stars. He also proved he can find the back of the net as 13 of those points were goals. Add in 140-plus shots and hits, as well as the ability to produce on the power play, and the best may be yet to come from Ekman-Larsson. Not to mention he is furthering my belief that players from Sweden who have last names that end in 'sson' will turnout to be solid NHL defensemen.
9) Dennis Wideman - Calgary Flames
Wideman played in the East last year with the Washington Capitals, but his point totals would have been good enough for a tie for fifth in 2011-12 when it came to Western Conference defensemen. Now with the Flames, he figures to give their power play a boost this season. Of his 46 points last year with the Caps, 20 of those came with the man advantage. His 175 shots in 2011-12 shows he loves to shoot the puck, and he has a deceivingly hard shot. The 29-year-old also fits in perfectly with Jay Feaster's refusal to rebuild mentality.
8) Drew Doughty - Los Angeles Kings
Doughty had an off year for his standards, but his tremendous skills suggest he can't be held down for long. His 36 points were the lowest since his rookie campaign, but on the plus side he did manage career highs in both PIM and shots on goal. With contract and off ice issues hopefully behind him, look for the smooth skating Kings D man and Stanley Cup champion to rebound in 2012-13.
7) Duncan Keith - Chicago Blackhawks
Keith may never equal his phenomenal 2009-10 season where he put up a whopping 69 points, but that doesn't mean he still isn't one of the NHL's elite blueliners. The sheer amount of minutes he plays makes him valuable to have around. He tied for the league lead last year with an average ice-time of 26:53 per game. Just by being out there that regularly should let you know he has a chance to produce solid numbers. When healthy, look for Keith to exceed 40 points while also consistently putting up decent power play numbers.
6) Keith Yandle - Phoenix Coyotes
After last week's announcement that the city of Glendale has passed a lease deal for Greg Jamison to buy the Coyotes, it seems we can finally put the ongoing Phoenix saga behind us. Now we can talk about more exciting things like....... the lockout.
Yandle certainly will be happy with some stability in the Desert though, even if he couldn't match his 59 point campaign from 2010-11 last season. The more concerning thing would be his drop in power play points which fell by over 50% last year. Having said all that, Yandle usually hovers around the 200 shot mark and hitting 45-50 points shouldn't be a problem.
5) Ryan Suter - Minnesota Wild
Remember during the summer when the owners told everyone we were headed for a lockout because teams weren't making enough money, and then the Wild signed Suter and Zach Parise for nearly $100M a piece. Times are tough.
Suter and Shea Weber were a dynamic duo in Nashville, but it remains to be seen how venturing out on his own will affect him. Suter ranked third last year in the NHL in average ice-time per game, and expect that to continue as he will certainly earn a ton of minutes on the Wild's blueline. In 2011-12 he led Western Conference defensemen with 25 points on the power play and 22 of those were assists. If Dany Heatley has anything left, maybe the two of them can form a connection with the man advantage.
4) Dan Boyle - San Jose Sharks
Boyle has been a model of consistency during his four years in San Jose, and has averaged 53 points a season during that span. At 36 years of age, he has yet to show any signs of slowing down. Nobody fired more pucks at the net in 2011-12 among Western Conference defensemen than the career-high 252 he put up. As long as Boyle keeps up that pace you can continue to expect quality production from him.
3) Alexander Edler - Vancouver Canucks
Let's hope this Canucks squad doesn't go down as one of the best to never win the Stanley Cup. Edler is one solid piece of this talented group who has captured the last two Presidents Trophies. In 2011-12 Edler broke out with 49 points, 23 of which came on the power play, 143 hits, 145 blocks, and 228 shots. If he keeps that up, Edler may get some Norris Trophy consideration sooner rather than later.
2) Shea Weber - Nashville Predators
Weber led Western Conference defensemen last year in goals with 19, and thanks to his cannon of a point shot he has averaged 18 over his past four seasons. That's pretty impressive for a blueliner. The heart and soul of the Predators also ranked second among D Men in the West with 230 shots, and added 177 hits. There are not too many areas he can't help you in, and with the departure of Suter, Nashville is going to rely on him even more.
1) Alex Pietrangelo - St. Louis Blues
The scary thing about Pietrangelo is he is just 22 and still learning the NHL game. In only his second full season with the Blues in 2011-12 he led the conference in scoring among defensemen with 51 points. He also tallied 24 points with the man advantage and six game winning goals. What's most impressive about Pietrangelo is he was at his best in the second half of the season last year, when many young players start to slow down. He recorded 40 of his points after January 1st. Expect Pietrangelo to be the cornerstone of the Blues for years to come.
Feel free to follow me on Twitter at @amato_mike