Eastern Edge: Defencemen to target in fantasy drafts
This week we’ll talk about a few defensemen that you should be targeting in your fantasy hockey drafts. Follow me on Twitter @BrennanDeSouza and let me know your thoughts!
The Nashville Predators had the worst power-play success rate in the league last year; they scored on just 12.9% of their opportunities. As you might imagine, Subban’s power-play production suffered as a result – he managed just 10 PPP in 63 games. That translates to 13 power-play points over a full season – the lowest PP output of his career. He saw fewer than 23 minutes of ice-time per game last season – the lowest total since his 2010-2011 rookie campaign. Now that he’s escaped Nashville’s star-studded blue line, I’m excited to see what Subban can do as the undisputed number-one defenseman in New Jersey. Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Nikita Gusev, Kyle Palmieri and Wayne Simmonds make up a talented top-six that Subban should thrive alongside.
Subban is being drafted with a top-50 pick in the average Yahoo league, so he’s not really being undervalued. However, there’s definitely a significant portion of the fantasy hockey community that will avoid drafting Subban because of his status as a band-aid boy – he’s played fewer than 70 games in three of the past four seasons. In my opinion, you should only consider injury history when drafting a player if their style of play makes them more susceptible to injury or if a particular injury has been an issue for them on multiple occasions. For example, with all due respect to Bobby Ryan, his hands are made of glass. So, you can expect him to miss a portion of the season with some sort of hand injury. There are probably some cases where certain players are more prone to injury due to their biological makeup or fitness – but as fans I don’t think we have all the information to make those judgements. If you injured your leg last year because you got in a car accident, and you injured your arm this year after slipping on a sheet of ice, do your past injuries increase the likelihood of you suffering a serious injury next year? Probably not, right? Hockey is such a fast-paced sport of randomness; anything can happen at any given time. A completely bizarre and unlikely sequence of events can result in a player being injured through no fault of their own. With all this being said, I don’t think Subban’s injury history tells the tale of a player who suffers from poor health and is likely to miss significant time this season. So, if he’s falling in your draft because your fellow managers are weary of his injury history, don’t be afraid to catch him.
Am I crazy to think that Morgan Rielly is a top-3 fantasy hockey defenseman? This guy put up 72 points last year! I feel like Tyson Barrie’s arrival in Toronto has dropped Rielly’s fantasy stock a lot more than it should have. The way I see it, Barrie will simply fill the hole that Jake Gardiner created when he left for Carolina. Sure, Barrie might challenge Rielly a little more than Gardiner did, but Rielly’s production last year wasn’t a product of inflated ice-time. Rielly averaged about two and a half minutes of power-play time and 23 minutes overall during the 2018-2019 campaign; I don’t see why those numbers would change drastically this season. It is worth mentioning that Rielly scored on nine percent of his shots last year, when his shooting percentage has hovered between three to five-percent in recent seasons. With that being said, Toronto’s offense was slightly limited last year with Auston Matthews’ injury and William Nylander’s absence due to contract negotiations. If the Leafs are firing on all cylinders this year, I think the increased offensive output of the team will help offset some of the individual regression that Morgan Rielly might face. I’ve read the Tea Leafs and Rielly has a 65 to 70-point season ahead of him.
The 24-year-old defenseman has about two full seasons of NHL experience under his belt and is on the verge of a breakout. At first glance, the 37 points he tallied last year seem quite underwhelming but bear with me for a second. Let’s step back and look at the full picture. Pulock was able to produce offensively despite being placed in a defense-first role. He started a sizeable majority of his shifts in the defensive zone and played well against high-quality opponents. His offensive output came with a limited power-play role as Nick Leddy manned the point on New York’s first PP unit. I should also mention that Devon Toews emerged as a real asset on the PP during the playoffs and it’s possible that he usurps Leddy and takes even more PP time away from Pulock this season. Point production aside, Pulock is such a valuable fantasy hockey asset because he contributes to multiple categories. Among all defensemen last year, Pulock was ranked 19th in shots with 180, 21st in blocks with 148, and 31st in hits with 143. Not often do we see such a well-rounded player with so much untapped offensive potential. Pulock has an extremely powerful shot that could be lethal if properly incorporated into the Islanders’ power play. Considering he’s being drafted outside the top-125 in the average Yahoo league, I think Pulock makes a great low-risk/high-reward pick.
For years, there were rumblings that Jacob Trouba wasn’t happy in Winnipeg. Now we know that his fiancée’s career played a significant role in his desire to leave, as she wanted to pursue medicine in the United States. Now, some of you might buy into the narrative that Trouba’s on-ice performance is bound to improve now that his personal life is in a better place. Others might scoff at that idea and demand more concrete reasoning – fear not, I’m getting to it. Trouba leaves a situation in Winnipeg that saw him play second fiddle to Dustin Byfuglien. In New York, he’s the undisputed number-one defenseman. It doesn’t matter than Anthony DeAngelo has the offensive abilities to challenge him, because DeAngelo is not being paid $8-million a year. Trouba’s contract will give him every opportunity to succeed; you can’t justify paying a guy that much money if he’s not a big part of your plan. Not only will his ice-time increase this year, but he’s going to see significant minutes with Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Kaapo Kakko. All three of those players possess an abundance of offensive talent. However, you might be apprehensive because Trouba’s offensive output has been pretty underwhelming throughout his career. Ignoring last year’s 50-point showing, he’s been a relatively consistent 30-point player. But you have to remember that this role in New York is completely different from the one he had in Winnipeg. Trouba has shown us he can score when given the opportunity; he tallied 32 points in the final 41 games of the 2018-2019 campaign. Expect that momentum to carry into this upcoming season. Aside from point production, Trouba also blocked 171 shots last year – only five players in the league had more blocks.
In his rookie season, Ghost Bear managed 46 points in 64 games – a 59-point-pace! He followed that up with an underwhelming 42-point-pace during his sophomore campaign of 2016-2017. As many youngsters do, he bounced back from that sophomore slump with an impressive 65-point showing in 2017-2018. Again, he raised our expectations only to let us down, tallying just 37 points in 78 games last year. If I’m following this pattern correctly, Gostisbehere is going to have an outstanding performance in 2019-2020, right? Seriously though, he has displayed enough offensive talent over his career to enter this season as the team’s best scoring threat from the blue line – but he has a lot of competition. Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov and Matt Niskanen are all capable of eating into Gostisbehere’s offensive minutes, so if he doesn’t make the most of his opportunities, his role will be reduced. I will say that the Flyers had a lackluster power play last year, scoring on just 17.1% of their chances. This definitely hurt Gostisbehere’s production as he tallied a career-low 14 points with the man advantage. With the likes of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier and James van Riemsdyk, the team’s PP is capable of scoring on at least 20% of their opportunities. In the average Yahoo fantasy league, Gostisbehere is being select outside of the top-140. Imagine snagging a 50 to 60-point defenseman that late in your draft…
How do you win your fantasy hockey draft? Select good players on bad teams in the later rounds. Filip Hronek is a good player. Detroit is a bad team. The 180th pick falls extremely late in the draft (if your draft even goes that long). In Yahoo fantasy hockey leagues, Hronek’s average draft position is 183.6. The 21-year-old defenseman is coming of a rookie campaign that saw him tally 23 points in 46 games. What’s even more encouraging is that 16 of those points came in his final 28 games. Look, I know I said Detroit is a bad team, but I didn’t really mean it. They’re a young team. There are plenty of outstanding offensive options on the roster, including Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Andreas Athanasiou. With that being said, Detroit’s defensive corps is pretty weak. Aside from Mike Green, no one else fits into the top power-play like Filip Hronek. Mike Green is quite a bit older now and has suffered many injuries throughout his career. At this stage, management would be wise to side with youth and give Hronek every opportunity to develop his game – including a spot on the top PP. He’s probably not even being drafted in some fantasy leagues, but this guy has real potential to contribute to your fantasy hockey success this season.
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