TORONTO - Continuing with our extended pre-camp forecasts — The Lockout Edition — we move up-ice to the defencemen. Who, based on last year’s production, could make a significant jump in fantasy value? Which ones might slide back? Who are the youngsters (one year or less) worth watching?
Erik Karlsson emerged as the surprise scoring leader among NHL defenceman last season with 78 points, a whopping 25 more than Dustin Byfuglien and Brian Campbell. Alex Pietrangelo (51 points, plus-16) finally made his leap into the upper echelon. But it was Bruins’ Zdeno Chara (52 points) who kept his status as the No. 1 fantasy rearguard, thanks to those 86 penalty minutes and a plus-33.
We can see Karlsson becoming only the second player since 1997 to repeat as defence points leader (Mike Green was the other in 2008-10) but not without a fight.
Note: Any stats projections below are based on a full 82-game schedule, which, in the wake of the belaboured labour negotiations, of course, won’t be happening.
Niklas Kronwall DET: Underrated veteran should finally emerge from the shadows of retired Nicklas Lidstrom. At least, he will be given that opportunity as the Red Wings’ go-to rearguard. His minus-2 last year was the first of his career, but he could be looking at 20 goals and 50 points.
Kris Letang PIT: Pro-rate his stats over a full 82 games last year and he would have racked up 67 points and a plus-34 — and that was with Sidney Crosby missing half the season.
Drew Doughty LA: Sunk to a holdout-induced 36 points and minus-2 last year, a lot of that contributing to Kings’ early-season scoring woes. He’s better than that and will show it.
Mike Green WAS: Finished last season with an unbelievable one point in 24 games under Dale Hunter’s defensive stylings. But new head coach Adam Oates has promised a more up-tempo style this year which fits right into Green’s strengths.
Tom Gilbert MIN: Will likely man the right point, opposite newcomer Gary Suter, on what should be a vastly improved Wild power-play.
Andrei Markov MTL: Remember him? Limited to just 13 games last season following knee surgery, it’s all systems go for him to resume his role as one of the Habs’ power-play fixtures.
Jack Johnson CLB: Following his trade from the eventual Stanley Cup champions to the NHL’s worst team, his offensive production (14 points over the final 21 games) actually improved. He’ll get a ton of ice time.
Luke Schenn PHIL: This could be the ultimate change-of-scenery boost on NHL blue lines this year. He was just starting to show some puck creativity with the Leafs before he and the team lost their way.
Ryan Whitney EDM: Injuries and their residual effects rendered him a fantasy dud for the second year in a row. But, if he somehow can remain upright, he should benefit from ’keeper Devan Dubnyk and those young Oilers forwards being a year older and wiser.
Joni Pitkanen CAR: Looking for a big rebound after a concussion-plagued 2011-12 and the Hurricanes figure to be greatly improved offensively with their off-season additions.
Also: Cam Fowler ANA, Mark Giordano, CAL, Lubomir Visnovsky NYI, Victor Hedman TB, Mark Staal, NYR, Christian Ehrhoff BUF, John-Michael Liles TOR, Tobias Enstrom WPG, John Carlson WAS
P.K. Subban MTL: The package is all there — the speed, the shot, the physical play, the ice time — but he can’t seem to avoid shooting himself, and his fantasy value, in the skate boot. Return of Andrei Markov will likely hurt his stock, too.
Keith Yandle PHX: A personal favourite, but without former defence partner Adrian Aucoin to mind the shop and offence perhaps even harder to come by with Ray Whitney gone, he could have trouble topping last year’s 43 points.
Filip Kuba FLA: Won’t have the advantage of playing every shift with Karlsson this season and Florida, again, doesn’t figure to score as much as the Sens did.
Ian White DET: Not saying he isn’t a viable fantasy D-man on his own, but being on the ice with Lidstrom most of the time did have its advantages.
Dan Hamhuis VAN: Enjoyed his best year since 2006 as a Predator, but the arrival of Jason Garrison will seriously cut into his power-play time.
Also: Daniel Girardi NYR, Tomas Kaberle MTL, Willie Mitchell LA, Jay Bouwmeester CAL
TEN KIDS WHO COULD
Young defencemen worth stashing at the end of your reserve list:
Slava Voynov LA
Philip Larsen DAL
Simon Despres PIT
Adam Larsson, NJ
Jake Gardiner TOR
Erik Gudbranson FLA
Brendan Smith DET
Justin Schultz EDM
Dougie Hamilton BOS
Jared Cowen OTT