Fantasy hockey defenseman rankings: Six players expected to rise

Sean Couturier wins it in OT for Flyers (0:50)

Sean Couturier wins it in OT for Flyers (0:50)

After an exercise exploring the fantasy defense rankings very early this season, I promised we'd come back to the concept at the end of November.

Here we are... or, close enough to it anyway.

On Oct. 24, I did a dive into how rankings tend to unfold over a season, using defense to drive the narrative. At that time, I went over how, after less than a month of hockey in the 2022-23 campaign, 11 of the top 25 fantasy defenders ended up staying in the top 25 by the end of the season. I also noted that, at the end of November in that season, 16 of the top 25 fantasy blue-liners were established and would stay there.

I used that information to look at the top 25 fantasy defensemen at the time and take a guess at how things might unfold from there in the current season.

A quick recap of how the top 25 fantasy defense looked just over two weeks into this season, including their Oct. 24 ranking (then), their current ranking (now) and their projected ranking (later) at the end of the campaign (which factors in remaining games).

At the time in October, I guessed Slavin, Theodore, Provorov, Chychrun, McNabb, Hamilton, Walman, Weegar, Skjei, DeMelo and Jake Middleton would drop out of the top 25 by the end of the season. They could always fight their way back, but at this stage Slavin, Theodore, Provorov, Hamilton, Skjei, Demelo and Middleton have dropped out, while Chychrun, McNabb, Walman and Weegar and still going strong.

Also dropping off the pace, even though we guessed they wouldn't, are Gostisbehere, Carrier and Sergachev.

The suggestion, at the time in October, was that the likes of Roman Josi, Erik Karlsson, Adam Fox, Pietrangelo, Charlie McAvoy, Miro Heiskanen, Quinn Hughes and Zach Werenski would be among the top 25 by this time.

Current projected top 25 D

So let's actually see the current top 25 projected fantasy D by the end of the season (FYI, nothing fancy about the projections for this ranking; it's just FPPG multiplied by remaining games). Included is their current ranking among their fellow defenders for blocked shots and their current ranking for total power-play time.

  • 1. Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche (blocks rank: 58; PP time rank: 3)

  • 2. Noah Dobson, D, New York Islanders (blocks rank: 9; PP time rank: 28)

  • 3. Jacob Trouba, D, New York Rangers (blocks rank: 2; PP time rank: 110)

  • 4. Quinn Hughes, D, Vancouver Canucks (blocks rank: 174; PP time rank: 2)

  • 5. Moritz Seider, D, Detroit Red Wings (blocks rank: 18; PP time rank: 20)

  • 6. Charlie McAvoy, D, Boston Bruins (blocks rank: 38; PP time rank: 23)

  • 7. Mike Matheson, D, Montréal Canadiens (blocks rank: 23; PP time rank: 4)

  • 8. Evan Bouchard, D, Edmonton Oilers (blocks rank: 110; PP time rank: 13)

  • 9. Jake Walman, D, Detroit Red Wings (blocks rank: 8; PP time rank: 53)

  • 10. Rasmus Dahlin, D, Buffalo Sabres (blocks rank: 34; PP time rank: 15)

  • 11. MacKenzie Weegar, D, Calgary Flames (blocks rank: 18; PP time rank: 61)

  • 12. Roman Josi, D, Nashville Predators (blocks rank: 58; PP time rank: 1)

  • 13. Morgan Rielly, D, Toronto Maple Leafs (blocks rank: 38; PP time rank: 46)

  • 14. Alex Pietrangelo, D, Vegas Golden Knights (blocks rank: 12; PP time rank: 50)

  • 15. Adam Fox, D, New York Rangers (blocks rank: 189; PP time rank: 49)

  • 16. Josh Morrissey, D, Winnipeg Jets (blocks rank: 97; PP time rank: 9)

  • 17. Brayden McNabb, D, Vegas Golden Knights (blocks rank: 1; PP time rank: 213)

  • 18. John Carlson, D, Washington Capitals (blocks rank: 34; PP time rank: 12)

  • 19. Jake Sanderson, D, Ottawa Senators (blocks rank: 58; PP time rank: 29)

  • 20. Jakob Chychrun, D, Ottawa Senators (blocks rank: 102; PP time rank: 30)

  • 21. Sean Durzi, D, Arizona Coyotes (blocks rank: 28; PP time rank: 10)

  • 22. Victor Hedman, D, Tampa Bay Lightning (blocks rank: 126; PP time rank: 7)

  • 23. Darnell Nurse, D, Edmonton Oilers (blocks rank: 38; PP time rank: 67)

  • 24. Kaiden Guhle, D, Montréal Canadiens (blocks rank: 14; PP time rank: 124)

  • 25. Filip Hronek, D, Vancouver Canucks (blocks rank: 114; PP time rank: 38)

True to form, Josi, Quinn Hughes, Fox, Pietrangelo and McAvoy have battled their way into the mix. As expected, most defense that makes this list is good at blocking shots or gets a ton of time on the power play -- or both.

Remember, by this time last season, 16 of the final top 25 were already among the top 25. In addition, at this time in the 2022-23 campaign, six of the top 10 defense would stay there and nine of the top 10 D would stay in the top 25.

Who's out

Just for fun, if we propose that history will repeat itself, who are the nine names that fall off this list by the end of the season? Who are the four that drop out of the top 10, including one that drops right out of the top 25?

You make your picks, and I'll tell you mine.

Makar, Dobson, Seider, McAvoy, Bouchard and Dahlin are my six top-10 locks.

Walman would be my current top 10 to drop right off the list. I love the breakout being fueled by his defense partner, Seider, but there just isn't enough track record here to think he can definitely keep it up to the end of the season -- at least, not when weighed against the others currently in the top 10. While Matheson may also lack the top-tier history, he at least has more room to breathe on the Canadiens blue line.

I still have to pick eight more to slip? Sorry, but I feel pretty good about most of the names hanging around here. I'll give you five more at risk.

Morgan Rielly has never blocked more than 122 shots in a season but is currently on pace for 175. Let's see how committed he is to the bit.

I don't think both Sanderson and Chychrun can make room to be top 25, so I'll take Chychrun winning out in the long run and Sanderson slipping.

Guhle and Hronek are easy slips, as they are on the back end of the list to begin with and have one-dimensional profiles (Guhle blocks, Hronek PP).

But who is the last one out?

If I'm forced to pick one more player lower down on this list, it's actually going to be Hedman. He turns 33 in a couple of weeks and clearly is a step down in his physical play this season. Right now, Hedman is on pace for 90 blocked shots and 30 hits. He still has the scoring touch, but Hedman may be borderline for the top 25 D without those counting stats at least hitting the league average.

Who's in

Finally, who isn't in the top 25 but could push their way there by the season's end? Remember, I only get six choices as that's what we excised from the list above.

Erik Karlsson, Rasmus Andersson and Miro Heiskanen are an easy three choices. Some power-play luck flowing their way and they could be among the top 25 in a week's time.

I do think Travis Sanheim is going to use his leadership role on the Philadelphia Flyers blue line to nudge his way into this conversation by the end of the season. He currently has a nice combo going, sitting 43rd among D in blocked shots and 21st in total power-play time.

He's way behind the others after missing almost two months of the campaign, but I think Brandon Montour gets here eventually.

And my last choice will be a wild-card candidate: Brandt Clarke. The Los Angeles Kings prospect leads all AHL defense in scoring with five goals and 20 points across 20 games. If the Kings have a single weak spot this season, it's Drew Doughty sitting 11th among all defense for power-play time, but having only three power-play points. In fact, the Kings only have six power-play points from their entire blue-line group all season (Quinn Hughes calls that a Tuesday). If the Kings get an excuse to promote Clarke, he might be here to stay.

We'll run this exercise with the defense rankings one more time in April to see how it worked over the course of the season.