Capped: Cheap defencemen to target in cap leagues
In the second half of answering Alx Lussier's question from last week, we look into some defencemen that may be able to help you out in fantasy next year.
Any of these NCAA and KHL signees worth a pickup in points only league, say 1 to 3 year window? If needed, say 12 teams, deep bench?
Any under 1M D under the radar that could reach 25-30 pts next year?
— Alx Lussier (@lusshouse) May 12, 2020
Personally, I think breakout defencemen are the most important part of success in a dynasty and/or cap league team. There are always plenty of forward options, and a lot of turnover every year. In net, goalie values fluctuate to the point of it being next to impossible to predict even the top tiers, let alone breakout options. In general, forwards and goaltenders have reached a plateau in terms of value in fantasy leagues as well, where most GMs know exactly how much to value these players. Defencemen evaluations always seem to vary from one GM to the next, and this is where we can take advantage of the biggest market inefficiencies.
In the 2019-2020 season, only 10 defencemen with a cap hit under $1M hit the 30-point plateau (with only three more on pace to hit the mark if all 82 games were to be played). With an average of 7.5 hitting the mark in the four seasons prior, it is not a common feat, and a benchmark we can use to mark the players that will really have an impact on fantasy teams. To add another layer, only one of last year's sub $1 million, 30-point producing defenceman was not on an entry level contract, so finding non-rookie players who can hit our benchmarks is very rare. Anthony DeAngelo signed a one-year bridge contract to show what he was capable of and then rocketed past all expectations – he is the exception and not the rule.
Moving into next year, we all expect Cale Makar, Quinn Hughes, Rasmus Dahlin, and other super-rookies to be able to hit the 30-point benchmark without breaking sweat, they managed it last year, and it likely won't change next season. As a result, we won't go into any defenceman that hit the 30-point mark in a previous season in order to find some players that we can buy-in on in the offseason before they become one of those precious productive and cheap defencemen.
I also excluded players such as Philipe Myers and Ethan Bear whom I think will hit the 30-point mark for the first time, but they are due new contracts in the offseason that will likely be worth above $1 million annually.
Here are my top 10 outlined in three groups.
Talent, opportunity, and track record are all working in their favour:
John Marino (D) – Pittsburgh Penguins
Cap Hit: $925,000 – RFA in July 2021
It may be cheating to include John Marino as he came so close last year with 26 points through 56 games last season. However, him not managing to hit the mark this past season may mean you can still acquire him for pennies on the dollar. As a bonus, if Kris Letang is out for any length of time, Marino should be next in line for top power-play duties.
Adam Boqvist (D) – Chicago Blackhawks
Cap Hit: $894,167 – RFA in 2022
With a half-season trial run, Adam Boqvist showed some flashes of offensive ability, while managing to hold his own as an average player on the defensive end. With Erik Gustafsson gone, the top power-play gig is Boqvist's to lose. If Boqvist indeed ends up running the top powerplay for a full season, we may see him breeze past 30 points before the trade deadline.
Rasmus Sandin (D) – Toronto Maple Leafs
Cap Hit: $894,167 – RFA in 2022
Rasmus Sandin, like Boqvist, is a young, skilled defenceman who is just itching to be let loose with a top power-play unit. The Leafs are likely to lose Tyson Barrie to free agency, and the powerplay units should be split between Morgan Rielly and Sandin. Sandin could hit 30 points even without top powerplay time, but with it, he could be one of the best fantasy assets to own on the back-end next year. There is a risk though that due to the Leafs' depth on the left side, Sandin is sent back to the AHL despite showing his NHL readiness.
Upside coupled with uncertainty:
Scott Perunovich (D) – St. Louis Blues
Cap Hit: $925,000 – RFA in 2022
The Blues have enviable depth on the right side of their blueline, even if Alex Pietrangelo were to walk via free-agency. However, the left side of their defence leaves a lot to be desired. This is where Scott Perunovich comes in as a player that can help balance the attack and move the puck on the left side of the ice. He put up extremely impressive numbers in college, and will be looking to bring that right into the NHL. A good first impression will go a long way towards making or breaking his season for next year.
Kale Clague (D) – Los Angeles Kings
Cap Hit: $761,666 – RFA in 2021
There isn't a whole lot on the back end in LA right now, so there could be some room for Kale Clague to step in and soak up some of the offensive zone starts for a team without a real offence-oriented defenceman. However, with only four NHL games under his belt, there is risk here that another season in the AHL is deemed the best option for his development.
Mikko Lehtonen (D) – Toronto Maple Leafs
Cap Hit: $925,000 – UFA in 2021
As a highly sought-after free agent from the KHL, Mikko Lehtonen may have put himself in an excellent position to succeed. He thrives on being able to make the simple and smart plays to exit the zone, be it with a pass or by skating the puck out himself. On a Toronto team that really just needs defencemen to get the puck up to the forwards, Lehtonen could pick up a lot of secondary assists off of zone exits. He also put up 17 goals in 60 KHL games last season, so his shot is an added weapon in the arsenal. The risk comes in his ability to transition to the NHL, as well as with the depth of the Toronto blueline, as mentioned above with Sandin.
Ty Smith (D) – New Jersey Devils
Cap Hit: $894,167 – RFA in 2022
Smith would have been one of my favourite names on this list last year, however the Devils decided one more season of seasoning in the Junior ranks wouldn't hurt. It didn't hurt for Smith, but it probably hurt their NHL team, as they could have used someone on the back end with Smith's skillset. He certainly has nothing left to prove in Junior, and the Devils haven't had anyone stake a realistic claim to the top offensive deployment. That works well for Smith, and for your fantasy leagues too. Smith hasn't been hyped as much that I have seen in fantasy circles, but his upside is as high as anyone else's on this list.
Have the talent, but need a few things to break in their favour:
Josh Mahura (D) – Anaheim Ducks
Cap Hit: $745,000 – RFA in 2021
Josh Mahura scored four points in an 11-game run with the big club this season. Between him and Christian Djoos, one of the two should see some sheltered offensive minutes this upcoming season. Being an Anaheim draft pick, and a marginally smaller contract, Maruha has a small edge over Djoos for both playing time in Anaheim and on your fantasy teams.
Jusso Valimaki (D) – Calgary Flames
Cap Hit: $894,167 – RFA in 2021
After not playing at all in 2019-2020 due to a knee injury, Valimaki was back skating before everything was shut down as a result of the worldwide pandemic. His return is therefore going to fly under the radar, and as one of the top prospect defencemen in both NHL and fantasy hockey circles, now would be the time to look to buy in on the 2017 first round pick. He showed well in 2018-2019 with his 24 games for the Flames, and put up some solid numbers in the AHL as well that year. There should be room on the third pairing for him next season, it is just the lingering injury concerns at this point that will hold his value down.
Jake Bean (D) – Carolina Hurricanes
Cap Hit: $863,333 – RFA in 2021
It seems as though we have been waiting on Jake Bean to break through for years now, but he is still only 21 years old. With two excellent AHL seasons under his belt, and a possible spot opening up for Bean due to a set of expiring contracts on the back-end in Carolina, Bean's time could be upon us. However, even if Bean were to make the team, he will have to contend with Dougie Hamilton's offensive prowess, and the apparent need to shelter Jake Gardiner as well. This may make for a tough transition, and suppress Bean's numbers out of the gate.
Stay safe everyone, and if you have any article topics you are hoping to read about, give me a shout! You can find me on Twitter @alexdmaclean for questions, comments, or article requests.
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