Geek of the Week: D-Men To Target In Later Rounds

by Ben Burnett on September 8, 2019

Fantasy drafts can feel like one big race against the clock. As your draft progresses, it’s important to keep each position well-stocked. But your league mates have the same goal, and often defense or goalie runs can blow the best-laid draft strategies out of the water. So while drafting the best player available is usually the best plan, positional scarcity can upend that strategy quickly.

With defensemen, there’s an obvious drop off after the first 15-20 guys off the board. You have the elite tier (Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, Victor Hedman), your elite with question mark tier (Kris Letang, Morgan Rielly, Dustin Byfuglien), the good player, good team tier (Keith Yandle, Torey Krug, P.K. Subban), and then the players who are PP1 locks but have question marks about team quality or recent production (Thomas Chabot, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Drew Doughty).

While the late rounds are an excellent place to draft high-upside skaters, it’s not as easy to find elite scoring potential among defensemen later in your draft. According to Yahoo, that tier of Chabot, OEL, and Doughty are going right around picks 90-100, making them sixth or seventh round picks in 12- and 14-team leagues. So if most defensemen who offer offensive upside are gone by pick 100, what value is available to poolies who are looking to stock their depth in most leagues?

To find the most valuable defensemen available after pick 100, I used Dobber’s Fantasy Hockey Geek tool. By looking at Dobber’s 2019-20 projections, FHG gives me a value for each player in a category league that uses goals, assists, shots, penalty minutes, hits, and blocks. This list will show you where some of the greatest value lies between a player’s average draft position (ADP) and what that player is likely to contribute to your team.

Darnell Nurse

Yahoo ADP: 171, 70th defenseman off the board

Fantasy Hockey Geek rank: 13th overall, 2nd defenseman

The FHG projections have Darnell Nurse on Edmonton’s first power-play unit, and if that bears out he will be a must-own in multi-category leagues. In addition to being a peripheral category monster, if you can get exposure to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the powerplay you should probably do that. Especially if you can make that pick in the 12th round of a 14-team league. An ADP of 171 means in some 10-team leagues, Nurse isn’t even being drafted.

Last year Nurse finished with 41 points, a respectable total for a defenseman, but the real money came from his peripherals. He finished with 87 penalty minutes (tied for 15th in the league), 146 blocks (23rd), and 162 hits (T-52nd). Along with Ryan Pulock (who comes with a higher ADP of 138), Nurse is one of only two players to surpass 140 shots, blocks, and hits last year. 

I am personally tempering my expectations on the PP1 usage front, just because Nurse lost that spot to Oscar Klefbom towards the end of last season, and who knows what Dave Tippett has in mind for that unit. But if you choose to grab Nurse anywhere after pick 120 you’ll be getting a player who is likely to drastically outperform that draft slot, regardless of powerplay usage.

Dougie Hamilton

Yahoo ADP: 102, 24th defenseman off the board

Fantasy Hockey Geek rank: 24th overall, 5th defenseman

The interesting thing about Hamilton’s ranking on FHG is it presupposes he gets a role on Carolina’s top power-play unit. Is it possible poolies get what they’ve been asking for since Hamilton was dealt to Carolina at the 2018 draft? Well, Justin Williams’ non-retirement retirement leaves a hole on that top unit. After the Canes added Jake Gardiner in free agency this week, Elliotte Friedman among other NHL reporters once again floated the possibility that  Justin Faulk may be on his way out. 

Now, Faulk has been on the trade block for an eternity, so I’d understand skepticism on that front. But regardless, based on play alone, it would seem obvious Hamilton is a better fit on PP1 than Faulk taking toothless shots from the point a few times a game. If Hamilton can make it on that top unit he has a legit chance at breaking 20 goals and 60 points.

Regardless of whether or not he receives elite deployment, you can count on Hamilton to provide you with elite coverage in a number of categories. Last season, among defensemen, he finished second in goals (with 18), third in shots (259), 24th in hits (160), just outside the top 30 in PIMs (with 54), and a respectable 91 blocks. Save for assists, he was lethal in every category, and he just might finally get that shot at top powerplay usage. Don’t sleep.  

Jeff Petry

Yahoo Average Draft Position: 165, 57th defenseman off the board.

Fantasy Hockey Geek rank: 84th overall, 25th defenseman

There are two outcomes for a Jeff Petry season: either Shea Weber stays healthy, and Petry scores 25-35 points from the second powerplay unit, or Weber, who has averaged 54 games played per season since his trade to Montreal, misses significant time, leaving Petry a top powerplay job. Either way, Petry will still produce for whichever team lands him in the draft.

Petry is actually going a little earlier than Nurse on Yahoo, despite a more obvious block to his top end deployment. The defensemen going right after him (Erik Cernak, Will Butcher, Ryan Murray) all represent a real drop in tier relative to Petry.

While Petry doesn’t quite offer the same PIM upside as Nurse or Hamilton (he’s averaged 26 penalty minutes over the past three seasons), he has averaged 175 shots, 177 hits, and 136 blocks per 82 games over the same time frame. He will contribute to a few categories every single time Montreal hits the ice. Definitely a valuable player in your lineup whether or not Weber misses time once again.

Other players I like to out-perform their ADP: 

Jake Muzzin (ADP 138, FHG rank 77) is a player that is worth grabbing as your fourth defenseman. With the addition of Tyson Barrie to the Leafs, Muzzin is unlikely to get the powerplay time he saw last year, but shouldn’t be forgotten in multi-cat leagues after putting up 141 shots, 172 hits, and 134 blocks in 80 games last year.

Radko Gudas (ADP 170, FHG rank 76) is a name all bangers league veterans should be familiar with. Over the past three years, Gudas has provided a very elite 3.3 hits per game. What sets him apart from other elite hit providers, is he puts up a decent level of shots (136 last year) and blocks (133 last year) as well. Those numbers are enough to separate Gudas from the pure hit category streamers like Matt Martin, or Mark Borowiecki. Last year was also the first season Gudas didn’t top the one PIM/game mark, which suggests he could be due for a bounce back in penalty minutes in 2019-20.

Alexander Edler (ADP 160, FHG rank 97) is a difference-maker in bangers leagues every matchup that he’s healthy. However, a little bit of the sheen has worn off with Quinn Hughes coming to town. Edler used to offer decent offensive production as the PP1 defenseman, but that seems less likely with both Hughes and shiny new toy Tyler Myers in town. Regardless, if Edler can stay healthy, he should be good for 30+ points and a ton of peripherals. Last year he led the league with nearly three blocks per game, good for almost half a block per game better than the next best player. That’s production that doesn’t require first powerplay deployment to maintain.

Thanks for reading my first Geek of the Week column. Next week I’ll take a look at left wingers who are being similarly undervalued in drafts.