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You didn't think we'd forget about the NHL defensemen, did you?
In the final installment of our postseason fantasy rankings, we evaluate the Top 10 defensemen in hockey. No, this group isn't as prolific as the centers or the wings, but they still have a lot of fantasy value.
Let's start the countdown to No. 1:
10. Dion Phaneuf, Toronto Maple Leafs: After having his past three fantasy campaigns derailed by injuries, Phaneuf suited up for all 82 of Toronto's contests in 2011-12. The result was his most productive scoring season since 2008-2009. Only five defenders tallied more goals than Phaneuf's 12 and his 32 assists were the most he has had in any of his three seasons as a Maple Leaf. The only downside of owning Phaneuf in fantasy is that his team doesn't score many goals, making him a bit of a liability in the plus/minus category (-10 for the year).
9. Alexander Edler, Vancouver Canucks: The 26-year-old defender from Sweden was more active on the offensive end this season than he had been in any of his previous five seasons. Not only did he reach a career high in points (49 points, sixth-best among NHL defensemen) but he also fired a career-best 228 shots on goal. He was especially aggressive in Vancouver's playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings, notching two goals on 12 shots.
8. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets: It's pronounced Buff-linn for those of you unfamiliar with the former Chicago Blackhawk. Byfuglien, who hails from Minneapolis, didn't match the 20 goals he posted with the Thrashers in 2010-11, but he made up for it by dishing out a career-high 41 assists this season. Byfuglien could have made an even bigger impact on fantasy if a mid-season knee injury hadn't caused him to miss 16 games. He also was slowed by a "lower body bone bruise" near the end of the season.
7. P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens: Subban's stat line wasn't flashy (seven goals and 29 assists) in 2011-12, but he was dominant in one key fantasy category: penalty minutes. Subban spent 119 minutes in the penalty box this past season, more than any other defenseman in the NHL. The 22-year-old from Toronto also collected a career high in plus/minus rating this season (+9).
6. Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues: Shattenkirk didn't light up the stat sheet in any one area, but it would be tough to find a more balanced fantasy defenseman than the 23-year-old Connecticut native. He was a dependable scorer (9 goals, 34 assists), finished the season with an outstanding plus/minus (+20) and Shattenkirk even registered enough penalty minutes (60) to be relevant in that category, too. Shattenkirk hasn't even entered his prime yet, so you should be able to count on him for even more production next season.
5. Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks: At age 35, Boyle should be entering the twilight of his career. But if his performance this season was any indication, Boyle looks like he still has plenty left in the tank. His 48 points ranked eighth among defensemen and only Erik Karlsson of Ottawa took more shots on goal than the 13-year veteran. Only nine of those 252 shots ended up in the net, so there is still room for improvement. Either way, Boyle should be good for another 45- point, 50-penalty-minute campaign in 2012-13.
4. Alex Pietranglo, St. Louis Blues: It didn't take Pietranglo long to make his mark on the world of fantasy hockey. In just his second full season in the league, the 22-year-old Ontarian finished tied for sixth among defenders in goals (12), sixth (39) in assists and fifth in points (51). His three assists in the first round of the playoffs helped the Blue eliminate San Jose in five games. Pietranglo also has notched an assist in each of the two second-round games he has played in against Los Angeles (he missed Game 2 with a lower body injury).
3. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators: As if Weber's 19 goals (tied for first amongst defensemen) and 30 assists weren't impressive enough, he also had to go and embarrass opposing goalies by scoring 10 power-play goals, the most of any defender. Weber's plus/minus rating also kept fantasy owners happy: it was a nifty +21 for the season. The 6-foot-4 British Columbia product should be a fantasy powerhouse for years to come.
2. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins: You knew Chara would show up somewhere on this list. Chara, recently named a finalist for the Norris Trophy (along with Weber and Karlsson), produced his finest offensive season as a pro in 2011-12, contributing 12 goals and 40 assists. His amazing +33 was best amongst NHL defensemen and third-highest in the entire NHL. He's 35, but don't expect Chara slowing down any time soon and definitely not next season.
1. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators: Karlsson is a no-brainer at No. 1. Maybe he's not as well-rounded as Chara, but from an offensive standpoint, Karlsson's ability is unmatched. Karlsson finished 25 points clear of Byfuglien and Brian Campbell for the NHL lead in points among defensemen, and his 59 assists was the third-highest total in the NHL this season behind only Henrik Sedin and Claude Giroux. That's some elite company. It would be shocking if Karlsson, who finished the season 10th in Yahoo's fantasy hockey rankings, doesn't take home the Norris Trophy June 20 when the league hands out its postseason awards.
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