I have a few general rules when it comes to building a team in a fantasy hockey keeper league. One of the more important ones is to not plan beyond a two or three year window. You are not building a real NHL club, and too often fantasy hockey poolies place an emphasis on youth and prospects over proven veterans with gas still left in the tank. So using my general rule, take a look at your team(s). Can you realistically say you will have a shot at winning the league at some point within the next two or three seasons? If not, time to scrap the rebuild and start adding proven NHL talent.


Keeping my rule in mind, I have compiled a list of the top 10 keeper league defensive prospects to own (assuming standard keeper league rules and scoring categories). Using the two or three season scope, I balanced the long-term upside of these players with their NHL readiness. The cut-off point for this list is 25 games played at the NHL level. Erik Karlsson is a player who would have cracked the list (and maybe topped it as well), but he has played more than 25 games with Ottawa.


This list is in order, so I probably wouldn’t trade the fourth player straight across for the fifth player, and so on. I balanced talent with opportunity, as it takes both to become an elite offensive defenseman in the NHL.


I have also included a stylistic comparison for each player. Don’t get insulted if I have compared an unproven prospect to your favourite current or former NHL superstar – I am just comparing playing styles.


My previous lists:


Top 10 Keeper League Centers

Top 10 Keeper League Left Wingers

Top 10 Keeper League Right Wingers

Top 10 Keeper League Defensemen

Top 10 Combo Players (Points + PIM)

Top 10 Keeper League Goaltenders

Top 10 Keeper League Prospects (Forwards)


1. John Carlson – Washington Capitals


‘Real American Hero John Carlson’ earned the nickname for scoring the overtime winner for the United States at the 2010 World Junior Championships in Saskatoon this past January.



Carlson is a dynamic skater who loves to get involved in the offense. Washington seems like a natural fit for him, as head coach Bruce Boudreau encourages his defensemen to take chances at even strength. Some Mike Green owners are worried that Carlson may cut into Green’s power play time. Both defensemen like to carry the puck up the ice and both of them shoot right handed, so the odds of them playing on the first unit together are not likely. Expect Carlson to quarterback the second power play unit, with the likes of Eric Fehr, Brooks Laich, and Tomas Fleischmann.


Green owners shouldn’t ever worry about his power play time being taken away. He is far and away the best offensive defenseman in the NHL, and even the best offensive defenseman prospect can’t do anything about it.


Player comparison: A young Scott Stevens (His Washington Capital days)

One year upside: 12 goals, 50 points

Three year upside: 18 goals, 65 points


2. Jamie McBain – Carolina Hurricanes


Carolina’s 2006 2nd round draft pick was recalled by the team for the final 14 games of the season. He had been having a spectacular 2009-10 campaign in the AHL with Albany, scoring seven goals and recording 40 points in 66 games. McBain seamlessly transitioned into the NHL, and he surpassed even the wildest expectations with his play. During the final 14 games of the season, McBain scored three goals, added seven assists, and averaged over 25 minutes of ice time per game. Over a full 82 game season, those numbers project to 18 goals and 41 assists. Obviously over a full season his per-game ice time wouldn’t be over the 25 minute mark, but that kind of production right off the hop is out of the ordinary.


McBain faces a bit of competition for power play minutes this season, most notably from Joe Corvo and Anton Babchuk. However, he should quickly separate himself from the pack early on this season. He’ll be the quarterback and focal point of Carolina’s power play for both this season and beyond. McBain is big, fast, and incredibly smart. He’s better defensively than most of the other players on this list, as well.


Player comparison: Jack Johnson

One year upside: 12 goals, 45 points

Three year upside: 15 goals, 60 points


3. PK Subban – Montreal Canadiens


Like McBain, Subban made an immediate impact in the NHL after being recalled late in the season. He had two assists in Montreal’s final two regular season games, and he followed that up with an impressive eight points in 14 playoff contests. Aside from the first two games of the Washington series, Subban didn’t see less than 18:11 of ice time in any of Montreal’s postseason games.


There is a definite theme with the top three on this list – skating ability. Subban doesn’t have the top end speed of Carlson, but he has tremendous acceleration and can cover a lot of ice in a very short period of time. Like Carlson, he plays with a physical edge, and his 82 penalty minutes for Hamilton last season attest to that.



Player comparison: Brian Campbell

One year upside: 10 goals, 40 points

Three year upside: 15 goals, 50 points



4.  Alex Pietrangelo – St. Louis Blues


The Blues have been very patient with regards to Pietrangelo’s development, and they will be rewarded for that starting in 2010-11. Pietrangelo is a lock to make the Blues out of training camp. He was Canada’s best player at the World Juniors, and he absolutely tore up the OHL season, scoring nine goals and adding 20 assists in only 25 games with the Barrie Colts.


He’s a silky smooth skater and he has a deadly wrist shot. The Blues are set for the next decade on the power play with Erik Johnson and Pietrangelo on the points.



Player comparison: Sergei Zubov

One year upside: eight goals, 35 points

Three year upside: 12 goals, 45 points



5. Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Phoenix Coyotes


Ekman-Larsson recently announced that he would return home to play another season in Sweden if he failed to crack the Coyotes roster out of training camp. Don’t expect him to be heading back to Sweden any time soon. He is the quintessential “total package.” Big, physical, quick, sound defensively, skilled offensively, but his most noticeable trait is his poise with the puck on his stick. He never panics, which is a rare trait to see in a young defenseman.


The Coyotes have one of the best young offensive defensemen in the league in Keith Yandle, and they have a few veterans capable of producing with the man advantage in Ed Jovanovski and Adrian Aucoin. Ekman-Larsson won’t have the immediate offensive impact of the four players above him on the list (or some of the players below him, either), but once Phoenix’s veteran defensemen move on, look for him to log heavy minutes with the man advantage (and on the penalty kill, and at even strength...).



Player comparison: A more polished Nik Kronwall

One year upside: five goals, 30 points

Three year upside: 12 goals, 45 points


6. Kevin Shattenkirk – Colorado Avalanche


John-Michael Liles, Colorado’s only true offensive defenseman, has never been on the same page with head coach Joe Sacco. If Shattenkirk can step in and play on the first power play unit, don’t be surprised to see Liles on the trade block.


In addition to Shattenkirk, the Avalanche have a wealth of other young offensive defenseman prospects – Colby Cohen (Shattenkirk’s defensive partner in college), Stefan Elliott, Tyson Barrie, and Cameron Gaunce. Shattenkirk is by far the best overall defenseman of the group, as he is just as good in his own end as he is in the offensive zone.


He captained the team at Boston University, and finished the 2009-10 saeason with 29 points in 38 games. He finished the season with the Lake Erie Monsters, recording two assists in three games. Those three games will probably be the only he’ll ever see at the AHL level, as the Avalanche are expecting him to step in and take a roster spot at training camp.


Player comparison: Dan Boyle

One year upside: five goals, 30 points

Three year upside: eight goals, 45 points


7. Brendan Smith – Detroit Red Wings


Smith led the entire country in scoring last season while he played at the University of Wisconsin. He scored 15 goals and finished 2009-10 with 52 points. Detroit is a team that tends to take their time developing prospects, so don’t expect Smith to play more than a handful of games with the Wings this season (even with the knee issues that Nik Kronwall is currently facing).


Smith will be a full-time Red Wing starting next season, and he is the power play quarterback of the future. He’ll have some decent role models to learn from in Nick Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski. He plays on the edge and has been labelled a feisty/dirty (depending on whether he was a teammate or an opponent) player throughout his career. A skilled offensive blue liner unafraid to mix it up... sounds a bit like a former Red Wing, doesn’t it?



Player comparison: Chris Chelios

One year upside: five goals, 20 points (55-60 games at most)

Three year upside: 12 goals, 45 points



8. John Moore – Columbus Blue Jackets


Moore is the best skating defenseman on this list, which is quite the accomplishment considering the company. He won’t be Columbus’ quarterback this season (those duties will fall to Anton Stralman), but he is the long-term fit for the position. He is both quick and powerful on his skates, and he effortlessly gets up to top speed going both directions, much like Scott Niedermayer.


He’ll probably spend most of the 2010-11 season in the AHL, as he is only one year removed from playing high school hockey. Look for him to earn a few call-ups throughout the season, though. His number of games played will primarily depend on two factors: how well the Blue Jackets do, and the health of their defensemen (especially Stralman).


Player comparison: Scott Niedermayer

One year upside: four goals, 20 points (45-50 games at most)

Three year upside: 10 goals, 45 points



9. Cam Fowler – Anaheim Ducks


As I said in the introduction to this column, young offensive defensemen need two things to break out at the NHL level – skill, and opportunity. Fowler has both of those in spades. He was projected as a lock for the top five at the NHL Entry Draft back in June, but he somehow slid all the way to pick 12, where the defence-starved Ducks snatched him up as fast as they could.


Anaheim’s defense used to be their backbone. Led by Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, and Francois Beauchemin, the Ducks were tough to score against. In only two years, their top three on defense has become Lubomir Visnovsky, Toni Lydman, and Andy Sutton. There are no locks on the bottom pairing, either. Luca Sbisa, Sheldon Brookbank, Brendan Mikkelson, and Brett Festerling are all in the mix, as is Fowler.


Anaheim is one of only a handful of teams that Fowler would have a realistic shot of making as an 18-year-old. He had 55 points in 55 games for the powerhouse Windsor Spitfires last season, but he is still very raw defensively.



Player comparison: Wade Redden (the good one)

One year upside: five goals, 20 points

Three year upside: eight goals, 40 points



10.  Ryan Ellis – Nashville Predators


There were three Nashville defensemen I considered putting on this list. Aside from Ellis, the other two were Roman Josi and Jon Blum, both of whom are mentioned below. Ellis, who turned 20 back in January, has a bit more offensive upside than the other two. He has been a huge part of back-to-back Memorial Cups for the Spitfires, and he finished the most recent OHL postseason with three goals and a whopping 30 assists in only 19 games.


He’s not a dominant defensive defenseman, but he plays with a physical edge and he is known for his active stick (channelling Pierre McGuire). His best attributes are his shot, his skating ability, and his hockey sense. The Predators have an open spot on their blue line heading in to training camp this year. Ellis a long shot for this season, but he’ll be in the mix.



Player comparison: Brian Rafalski

One year upside: five goals, 25 points

Three year upside: 12 goals, 45 points


Honourable Mentions:

Jon Blum – Nashville Predators – I got to see him play a lot when he was with the Vancouver Giants. Cool as a cucumber with the puck.


Roman Josi – Nashville Predators – a bit of an unknown, having played in Switzerland his entire career.


Jakub Kindl – Detroit Red Wings – doesn’t have elite offensive upside, but should develop into a steady top-four defenseman.


Bobby Sanguinetti – Carolina Hurricanes – Rangers gave up on him, will the Hurricanes benefit?


Maxim Goncharov – Phoenix Coyotes – a part of a great young nucleus of defensemen in Phoenix


Patrick Wiercioch – Ottawa Senators – former 2nd round pick isn’t far away from NHL action


Kevin Connauton – Vancouver Canucks – 24 goals and 72 points in the WHL last season… looks like a fourth forward at times on the ice.


Calvin de Haan – New York Islanders – battled injury last season, still a year or two away from NHL action


Ty Wishart – Tampa Bay Lightning – Lightning aren’t rushing the only real asset they got from the Dan Boyle trade


Thomas Hickey – Los Angeles Kings – steady two-way defenseman, doesn’t have elite offensive upside.


Brandon Gormley – Phoenix Coyotes – like Fowler, Gormley slipped in the draft a bit.


Dmitri Orlov – Washington Capitals – a Russian on Washington? Say it ain’t so!


Ivan Vishnevskiy – Chicago Blackhawks – Chicago needs to fill one or two spots on the back end, and Vishnevskiy would add offense as well.


David Savard – Columbus Blue Jackets – impressive offensive totals last season in the QMJHL.


Stefan Elliott – Colorado Avalanche – great passer and skater. Probably plays another year in the WHL.


Nicolas Deslauriers – Los Angeles Kings – Kings are very high on their 3rd round draft pick from 2009.


Tyler Eckford – New Jersey Devils – doesn’t have elite offensive upside, but New Jersey desperate for offensive defensemen on the team.


Travis Hamonic – New York Islanders – Brent Seabrook version 2.0.



This isn't an extensive list, if I missed someone, let me know!

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Comments (17)add comment

Big Ev said:

Big Ev
@Jim Fildes What does that have to do with Defensive Prospects?
September 03, 2010
Votes: +0

Jim Fildes said:

Jacob Markstrom for Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson* I have a chance to land Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson but I would have to give up Jacob Markstrom. My other goalies are Tuukka Rask, Semyon Varlamov,Ondrej Pavelec,and Carey Price. What do you think.

September 03, 2010
Votes: +0

Gary said:

... How is Moore on the list over Blum??? Blum has elite talent and has done good at every level!!!
September 02, 2010
Votes: +0

sentium said:

... Sam:

"The cut-off point for this list is 25 games played at the NHL level."
September 02, 2010
Votes: +0

Sam said:

September 02, 2010
Votes: +0

Rad64 said:

... How about Scandella in Minny?
September 02, 2010
Votes: +0

StatsJunkie said:

... Great list

Just a couple that may have been overlooked for HF:

Charles-Olivier Roussel?
Simon Despres?

Also, I think John Moore is ranked too high at this point.
August 31, 2010
Votes: -1

Jeff Angus said:

... 1 or 2. Flip a coin.
August 31, 2010
Votes: +0

Big Ev said:

Big Ev
... In regards to Katharsis' comment, where would Karlsson rank...1, 2, or 3?
August 31, 2010
Votes: +0

angus said:

... Kulikov would be number six. Trust me, I thought about it.
August 31, 2010
Votes: +0

Katharsis said:

completely hypothetical I know he just played basically a full season, but where would Kulikov slot in here? Say you had to rank before last season began, just to get a ball park. He seems to be underrated.
August 31, 2010
Votes: +0

sentium said:

... I like that I own #1 and #2 on your list smilies/smiley.gif
August 31, 2010
Votes: +0

MLG said:

Larsson Adam Larsson would be 1 or 2 on this list next year would he not??
August 31, 2010
Votes: +0

pierre said:

miss one hi i think you might have miss or a least consider jake gardiner from the anaheim organisation he was drafted 2 years before fowler and is still consider a offensive def man dont you think that he also benefits from opportunity and timming with the ducks keep up the good work !!
August 31, 2010
Votes: +0

Jeff Angus said:

... Cohen can't play defense. Menace to his own team, maybe. smilies/smiley.gif

Shattenkirk is miles ahead as a prospect. No comparison in my books.
August 31, 2010
Votes: +0

Ben said:

Colby Cohen Where does he fit into this list? He's ahead of Shattenkirk in my books... stats wise anyway. And he's bigger and racks up the PIM which tells me he is a menace in the Dzone... am I missing something here?
August 31, 2010
Votes: -1

Big Ev said:

Big Ev
... HM goes to David Rundblad smilies/smiley.gif
August 31, 2010
Votes: +1
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