In preparation for the draft (more info including date, time and location coming soon), I’m doing a series of posts to help you strategize. ESPN has released their projected stats for next season, and we’ll be using those numbers as the basis for analysis. Next in the series: Defensemen.
With the exception of Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, your defensemen will likely be the lowest scoring players on your team. For perspective: Alex Pietrangelo is the 24th ranked defenseman and projected to get 150.2. As a center, Vincent Trocheck is projecting a similar 149.4 points, yet he’s ranked 65th at his position.
It’s unlikely that a single defenseman will make or break your performance, but because you have 6 starting defenceman slots, a consistent and balanced core can absolutely make a difference to your overall score. And because there’s so many slots, (unlike goaltenders) you can afford to take a some risks.
About half of the top 15 projected defensemen have been claimed as keepers, and I’d expect the rest of them to be claimed by the expansion teams. There’s some interesting names in the rest of the top 25, so let’s see how they did last year and project this coming season.
|Rating||2016 - Total||2016 - AVG||2017 ESPN Projected Total|
|1||Brent Burns - 292.0||Brent Burns - 3.6||Erik Karlsson - 274.9|
|2||Erik Karlsson - 253.0||Kris Letang - 3.2||Brent Burns - 267.3|
|3||Kris Letang - 227.9||Erik Karlsson - 3.2||Oliver Ekman-Larsson - 212.8|
|4||Roman Josi - 207.2||Oliver Ekman-Larsson - 2.7||Roman Josi - 209.3|
|5||Oliver Ekman-Larsson - 205.4||Shayne Gostisbehere - 2.6||Shayne Gostisbehere - 192.8|
|6||Mark Giordano - 202.6||Roman Josi - 2.6||Dustin Byfuglien - 186.6|
|7||Dustin Byfuglien - 193.9||Shea Weber - 2.5||Kris Letang - 185.9|
|8||Shea Weber - 193.6||PK Subban - 2.5||Mark Giordano - 185.7|
|9||John Klingberg - 187.8||Mark Giordano - 2.5||John Klingberg - 183.6|
|10||Drew Doughty - 186.1||John Klingberg - 2.5||Justin Faulk - 180.2|
|11||Ryan Suter - 177.0||Dustin Byfuglien - 2.4||PK Subban - 179.0|
|12||Brent Seabrook - 175.6||Justin Faulk - 2.3||Shea Weber - 173.7|
|13||Tyson Barrie - 173.9||Kevin Shattenkirk - 2.3||Tyson Barrie - 171.7|
|14||Kevin Shattenkirk - 168.9||John Carlson - 2.3||Drew Doughty - 166.8|
|15||Torey Krug - 168.9||Drew Doughty - 2.3||Keith Yandle - 163.6|
|16||PK Subban - 168.5||Tyson Barrie - 2.2||Torey Krug - 163.3|
|17||Shayne Gostisbehere - 166.7||Brent Seabrook - 2.2||Duncan Keith - 160.7|
|18||Rasmus Ristolainen - 159.2||Ryan Suter - 2.2||Sami Vatanen - 156.5|
|19||Keith Yandle - 157.0||Duncan Keith - 2.1||Dougie Hamilton - 156.3|
|20||Dougie Hamilton - 156.9||Torey Krug - 2.1||Andrei Markov - 155.5|
|21||Victor Hedman - 156.4||Victor Hedman - 2.0||Kevin Shattenkirk - 155.2|
|22||Justin Faulk - 150.3||Rasmus Ristolainen - 1.9||Rasmus Ristolainen - 155.0|
|23||Jake Muzzin - 146.4||Sami Vatanen - 1.9||John Carlson - 152.1|
|24||Duncan Keith - 143.9||Keith Yandle - 1.9||Alex Pietrangelo - 150.2|
|25||Aaron Ekblad - 137.4||Dougie Hamilton - 1.9||Victor Hedman - 147.9|
With 6 starter slots for defensemen, that’s the minimum you’ll need to carry on your roster. After that, there’s a couple different strategies you could take. Carrying a 7th defenseman an/or 8th defenseman will rarely mean leaving points on the bench. However, carrying only 6 defensemen on your roster means your extra bench slot could go to a higher-scoring forward…but with less starting slots, they may be left on the bench more often.
I expect most teams to draft 7 defensemen – one for each starter slot and one for the bench. Using this model, here’s a general strategy to follow:
Rounds 1-3: Use one of your first picks to nab the best defenseman available. You’ll want at least one stud defenseman to boost your weekly point total.
Rounds 3-10: By round 10 you should have at minimum 2 defensemen picked, preferably 3. After the Top 30 are picked, the talent level begins to drop rather quickly.
Rounds 10-20: There’s less variation between the defensemen ranked 40-60, so you’ll only need to grab defensemen if the rest of the league is snapping them up. By round 20 you should have 5 picked.
Rounds 20-26: At this point you’ll have a good idea where the rest of the league is plugging holes in their roster. Try not to leave your last defensive pick until the last minute, or you may not be happy with your options.
What could that look like at the draft? Here’s a couple of examples from a mock draft I ran.
Team 1 – Expansion
Mark Giordano – Round 2
Colton Parayko – Round 6
Rasmus Ristolainen – Round 9
Marc-Eduard Vlasic – Round 12
Alex Goligoski – Round 15
Damon Severson – Round 21
Kevin Klein – Round 25
By grabbing Giordano with a round 2 pick, this owner guarantees a top pairing, power play-running defenseman to lead his core. Parayko and Ristolainen are good candidates to breakout this year, and Vlasic gets lots of minutes on an excellent Sharks team. Because Dallas doesn’t have a ton of defensemen, Goligoski should get plenty of minutes. Severson will also see his usage increase this year, and Kevin Klein is just filler.
Team 2 – Original
Drew Doughty – Keeper
Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Keeper
Francois Beauchemin – Round 11
Jason Demers – Round 12
Jason Garrison – Round 19
Toby Enstrom – Round 22
Nick Holden – Round 26
With Doughty and OEL as keepers, this owner can afford to wait a bit before picking Beauchemin and Demers, solid second-pairing d-men in the middle rounds. Garrison should get some second unit power play time in Tampa, Enstrom provides veteran minutes on a young Winnipeg team, and Holden is a lottery ticket – the move from Colorado to the Rangers could increase his ice time.
Nashville has arguably the best defense in the league, and with apologies to PK Subban, the best part of it could be Roman Josi. Rated as the fourth best defenseman overall, he’s the best available defenseman by a long shot. He’ll be picked in the first round, possibly 1-3rd overall.
Speaking of Nashville, Seth Jones was considered the future #1 on the Preds blueline until his surprise trade to Columbus in exchange for center Ryan Johansen. Given the woeful state of the Blue Jackets defensive corps, Jones was thrust into a much bigger role that he’d previously held. So far he appears to have risen to the challenge, and ESPN is projecting him to do even better next season, going from 116.1 to 143.8 points. If he makes it past the 8th round, I’ll be surprised.
Even with a roster that contains Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk and Bouwmeester, the St. Louis Blues have had no problems giving Colton Parayko the tough assignments. The 23-year-old is in the last year of his entry level deal, and widely expected to sign a long term, big money extension. As a result, the Blues may have to trade Shattenkirk to clear up cap space, a move that would then give even more ice time to Parayko. Predicted to get 143.6 points, he has the talent to surpass that. If he’s on the board past the 10th round, snap him up.
Ryan Suter is consistently a league leader in time on ice, and plays tons of minutes for the Wild. He’s not known as a goal scorer, and in fact his 8 goals last year tied his career best. He also collected a personal best 43 assists, and was in the conversation for the Norris trophy. So why has ESPN projected him to drop from 177.0 to 146.8? Age is becoming a factor, as Suter is 32 this year. Additionally, they’re projecting his production to drop to 6 G and 37 A, a significant drop in a league like ours. It could be worth rolling the dice with an early pick if you think he can still produce.
The Oilers defense has be woeful for years, and last season was no exception. With Oscar Klefbom out with a foot infection for most of the season, the only real first pairing d-man the Oilers had was Andrej Sekera. Sekera ended up getting significant power play time, ending up with a personal best 14 power play points. With the addition of Adam Larsson, Sekera will likely see less time on the power play, and therefore less scoring. ESPN is projecting a drop from 118.6 to 85.8, so you should probably avoid picking him up until you’ve drafted 3-4 better defensemen first.
A big reason the Blue Jackets traded for Jones? They’d been relying heavily on Jack Johnson, a situation that doesn’t exactly instill confidence. With the addition of Jones, Johnson is no longer the defacto #1 d-man, and ESPN is predicting an increase in points from 59.0 to 84.6. That big of an improvement seems improbable to me. It’s not a bad idea to use a pick on potential like this, but I’d be wary of picking him before round 20.