Eastern Conference Defensive Specialists

by Eric Daoust on March 15, 2016

Looking at how some defensive specialists have added fantasy value to offensive players in the Eastern Conference.

The contract extension signed by Marcus Kruger (covered this week in Wild West) with Chicago has next to no direct impact in fantasy leagues. After all, he has just one point in 33 games this year and his career-high is just 27 points. However, defensive specialists of his ilk can make a huge difference indirectly. Their heavy minutes in difficult situations allow the team’s more skilled players to play greater roles in offensive situations. While zone starts are far from the only factor determining a player’s success, it can help squeeze a few extra points out of players and can lead to much more for players on lines with great chemistry.

Today we will cover several teams in the Eastern Conference where those playing tough defensive roles are helping fantasy-relevant offensive players by pinning them in more sheltered roles. While many of them do not offer much production-wise, you should still be mindful of their presence as it can offer a boost to their teammates that many rival GMs in your fantasy leagues will be overlooking.


While by no means pure defensive specialists themselves, the two-way ability of Patrice Bergeron (42 percent off. zone starts) and David Krejci (48 percent off. zone starts) has aided 24-year-old Ryan Spooner (54 percent off. zone starts) in having a breakout year in his first full NHL campaign. In fact, the former two have seen a heavier proportion of defensive zone starts than in recent years. Meanwhile, Spooner has been able to achieve 46 points in 69 games despite an average ice time of just 15:19.

On the back end, Zdeno Chara has historically started well over half of his shifts in the defensive zone. His talents along with the Bruins having a strong club played a great role in the development of Torey Krug who has become a perennial 40-point threat. This year, Colin Miller was the benefactor of a sheltered offensive role and was a solid depth option in fantasy leagues until things went downhill in December.


With a high of just 21 points since 2010, McClement’s bread and butter is clearly defensive assignments and killing penalties. This year he is dead-last on the Hurricanes with just 43 percent of his starts coming in the offensive zone. At the other end of the spectrum, Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask lead the way among full-time forwards at 61 and 59 percent, respectively. For both, their zone starts are up significantly from last year and their production has also seen significant increases.

Skinner has had an up-and-down career after getting 63 points as a rookie back in 2011, in part due to injuries. With captain Eric Staal and fellow winger Kris Versteeg moved at the deadline, Skinner will be relied on more heavily to provide offense moving forward and has responded well so far with eight points in his last six games.

Rask is a far more interesting case to follow. He is on pace to challenge for 50 points in his sophomore campaign and has also been red-hot of late. He is logging more minutes since the Staal trade which is obviously the result of an increased opportunity. However, it remains to be seen how he performs in the long run as a more focal point of the opposition’s defensive schemes.


The Red Wings own a pair of forwards in Luke Glendening (34 percent) and Darren Helm (42 percent) who have led the way playing tough defensive minutes. With a few other forwards under the 50-percent mark, the Wings have been able to start some of their top scorers in the offensive zone for 60 percent or more of their shifts, including Dylan Larkin, Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Tatar and Pavel Datsyuk. While this lineup, ranked 23rd in goals, has disappointed for the most part, we might be in for better results down the road if this pattern of zone starts remains intact. That is, provided Datsyuk and Zetterberg are able to get back on track after showing signs of decline this year.

New Jersey

The Devils have several forwards with their zone-start percentage around 40, with the most notable name being Travis Zajac. This has allowed the team to rely heavily on its top scoring line of Mike Cammalleri (62 percent), Adam Henrique (54 percent) and Lee Stempniak (53 percent) which showed great chemistry before the trade deadline. Cammalleri has been especially good as his 38 points in 42 games representing the 17th-highest points-per-game mark in the league.

On the blueline, both Adam Larsson and Andy Greene sit at 33 percent offensive zone starts which is incredibly low given they have shown an ability to put up points in the NHL. The main benefactors have been David Schlemko and Damon Severson, both at 58 percent. Schlemko’s 19 points are already a career-best while Severson’s 16 points are just one short of his rookie total from last year.

New York Rangers

For the third straight year, Dominic Moore is starting less than 28 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone. With that said this year’s 21 percent marks a career-low and his 13 points is a career-low. This helps many of the Rangers’ forwards play very sheltered roles, with five of them starting 60 percent or more of their shifts at the offensive end. Heading this group is Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello who both sit at 61 percent. With 50 and 53 points respectively, the two are closing in on their career-best totals.


It should not be a surprise that Matt Cullen and Eric Fehr are among the players getting the most defensive-zone assignments. After all, the two are playing bottom-six roles on a team loaded with star power up front. More interesting is the team showing its satisfaction with Bryan Rust and Tom Kuhnhackl playing similar roles by signing them to two-year contract extensions.

Meanwhile some of the Penguins’ top offensive players are getting very sheltered roles, including Evgeny Malkin (65 percent) and Phil Kessel (62 percent). With Malkin out for up to eight weeks, look for Sidney Crosby (currently at 52 percent) and his linemates to see his offensive zone starts increase significantly in the last few weeks.


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