Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
With the NHL season just a few weeks away, we continue our five-part series, ranking the best fantasy players by position. In the first of the series we evaluated the goaltenders. Today we will look at the blue line guys.
Skaters contribute to six of the 10 fantasy categories - Goals, Assists, Plus/Minus Rating, Penalty Minutes, Power Play Points, Shots on Goal.
But unlike forwards, defensemen who can contribute to your scoring totals are hard to come by. So making it a goal to get at least one top-notch offensive blue line player should be part of your Draft Day strategy.
Let's evaluate the top-10 defensemen.
Mike Green, Washington - The "best of the best," Green will score like a top-10 winger or center. In 2009 he played in 75 games and posted 76 points (19 G, 57 A) with almost half of the damage done on the power play (35 PPP). He'll be the top defensemen in 2010-11 too, so don't wait long before selecting him. His Average Draft Position (ADP) is 24 making him a late second or early third round pick.
Duncan Keith, Chicago - His game took a giant leap forward, posting 25 points more than his previous career best and winning the 2009-10 Norris Trophy. I'm expecting another 60+ point season, but he'll likely level off at this height. His plus/minus rating is good, but well below that of Green which is why he's only No.2.
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles - He's beginning his third season at the ripe old age of 20 years and 10 months which means things should only get better. And they're already very good. Doughty finished his second season as the No.3 defensive scorer (behind Green and Keith) posting 16 goals and 43 assists and could easily rise to No.2 this year. He'll likely be selected around the fourth round.
Dan Boyle, San Jose - The elite offensive defenseman has posted around 60 points in three of the last four seasons and should continue at that pace in 2010-11. What prevents him from being a top-three fantasy candidate is a mediocre plus/minus rating. It's been just +6 the past two seasons after three years in the negative numbers. It will be interesting to see what effect the change at goaltender (Evgeni Nabokov is now in the KHL) to Antti Niemi and Antero Niittymaki will have on his numbers.
Chris Pronger, Philadelphia - In his first year as a Philadelphia Flyers defenseman, Pronger did everything the team and fantasy owners could want. His point total (55) was the best in three years as was his plus/minus rating. The big question is are those statistics repeatable? Pronger will be 37 in October and coming off knee surgery. If you choose him, don't do it before the sixth round.
Zdeno Chara, Boston - Although his goal scoring suffered in 2009 (9 goals), the rest of his game was in excellent shape. He's a fantasy leader among defensemen in assists, plus/minus, PIM and No.1 in shots with 242. If Chara can return to his 16 goals-per-year average from 2003-2008, then he'll once again be a top-five fantasy defender.
Tyler Myers, Buffalo - The NHL's Calder Trophy winner led all rookie defensemen with 11 goals, 37 assists and 48 points. He'll get even more ice time this season, particularly on the power play, which should increase his production even further.
Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit - In his best years (read 2005-2007), there was nobody who you would rather have on your blue line. Lidstrom averaged 70+ points and an astronomical plus/minus rating of 46. Now in his 19th season, the Red Wings star has slowed a bit, but is still a top-10 defenseman. The former second-round fantasy superstar can be picked around the eighth round.
Tobias Enstrom, Atlanta - The Thrashers' defenseman reached the 50-point mark for the first time in his career, but it won't be the last. He'll need to put the puck in the net a few more times and improve his plus/minus rating, but he has too much talent to let fall much past the eighth round. Grab him before someone else does.
Dion Phaneuf, Toronto - A two-time All-Star, Phaneuf arrive in Toronto after 55 games in Calgary and eventually his offensive game will show up too. After averaging more than 50-points per year from 2005-2008, Phaneuf could only manage 12 goals and 20 assists last season. We think he will return to form as the Maple Leafs' new captain. Throw in 100+ PIM and 200+ shots and he could once again help your fantasy blue line.