By Kyle Riley, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Although assembling a group of high-scoring forwards is always an exciting prospect on draft day, having a strong group of blueliners who can chip in offensively while not being a liability in the defensive categories is equally important.
Here’s a preview of this year’s fantasy defensemen broken into tiers based on expected value/draft position. These tiers are based on Yahoo’s standard scoring settings.
Tier 1 – The Makar Tier
Although the gap between him and the other top options at his position may have narrowed slightly over the past year, Makar should still be the first defender taken off the board in nearly all fantasy formats this season. Despite missing 22 regular-season contests due to injury last year, Makar finished the campaign with excellent totals across the board, tallying 17 goals, 66 points, 30 power-play points, 176 shots on net and a respectable plus-16 rating.
If he’s able to stay healthy, the 24-year-old rearguard could approach and potentially even eclipse the 100-point mark in 2023-24. That sort of upside is worth gambling on in the early rounds of this year’s fantasy drafts.
Tier 2 – The Elite No. 1s
While these players may not have quite as much upside as Makar, they’re all poised to serve as high-end No. 1 fantasy defensemen this year.
After racking up an eye-popping 96 points in 80 games in 2021-22, Josi took a bit of a step back with 59 points in 67 games last year. That’s obviously nothing to sniff at, and if he’s able to stay healthy, he should be able to produce around a point per game while threatening the 20-goal mark this year.
Seventy-plus points, high-end power-play production and an admirable plus-minus rating is essentially a sure thing for Fox this season.
Dahlin is coming off a career year (15 goals, 73 points in 78 games) and should only continue to improve in his age-23 season in 2023-24.
Hamilton bounced back in a major way last season with 22 goals and 74 points in 82 contests. His goal scoring may dip a bit this year, but his production should remain strong for a Devils team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
Karlsson took home the Norris Trophy last season following a 25-goal, 101-point performance. Health is always a concern for the 33-year-old Swede, but the upside is worth the risk here, especially since he’ll be playing with an improved supporting cast in Pittsburgh.
Tier 3 – Solid No. 1 Options
Heiskanen, Montour and Morrissey all had massive breakout seasons in 2022-23, with each essentially doubling their offensive output from the previous campaign. The good news is each of their breakouts was partly fueled by a significant increase in power-play usage and a corresponding surge in power-play production, and all three of these skaters’ roles with their respective team’s No. 1 power-play unit appear secure, which should mitigate concerns about potential regression in 2023-24. However, Morrissey’s breakout occurred in his age-27 season and Montour’s occurred in his age-28 season, whereas Heiskanen will be just 24 when the puck drops on Opening Night in October, making the young Star the most trustworthy option of this trio.
McAvoy has yet to put up gaudy offensive numbers through the first six years of his career — he posted seven goals and 52 points through 67 contests last season. However, he’s been highly dependable with at least 50 points in each of the last two campaigns, and there’s probably still room for growth in his offensive game entering his age-25 season in 2023-24.
Hughes, who was just named the 15th captain in Canucks history, should continue to put up a ton of points this season — he had 76 points in 78 games last season. However, his hit and block totals will likely continue to remain pedestrian.
Hedman fell off in a major way last season with 49 points in 76 games after racking up 85 points in 82 appearances the year prior. Losing power-play time to Mikhail Sergachev remains a major concern for Hedman, but those banking on a bounce-back season from the 32-year-old Swede shouldn’t hesitate to snatch him to serve as their No. 1 blueliner on draft day.
Tier 4 – High-end No. 2s
Brent Burns, Mikhail Sergachev, Alex Pietrangelo, Devon Toews, Evan Bouchard, John Carlson
Although they may not provide quite the high level of production expected from the players in Tiers 1 through 3, all six of these blueliners should serve as high-end secondary options throughout the 2023-24 season.
At 38 years old, Burns’ decline will almost certainly begin soon, but there just isn’t much to support him taking a step back this year. In 82 games last season, Burns racked up 18 goals, 61 points and 255 shots (third amongst all defenders) while not missing a single contest for a third straight campaign. His consistent high-level production and his exceptional durability make him worth betting on despite his advanced age.
Sergachev broke out with 10 goals and 64 points last year, but with Hedman still in the fold, Sergy’s upside will remain capped.
Pietrangelo and Toews are in a similar boat as Sergachev, as their upside will also be capped by the presence of standout defenders in Makar and Shea Theodore, both of whom will see plenty of time with the man advantage.
Bouchard has yet to truly break out offensively, but that could happen during his age-23 season this year.
Carlson was limited to just 40 games due to injury last campaign, picking up 29 points over that span, but he’s locked into a top-pairing role and a featured spot on the Capitals’ No. 1 power-play unit, so a return to form is likely on the horizon for the 33-year-old vet.
Tier 5 – Upside and Uncertainty
Moritz Seider, Vince Dunn, Jakob Chychrun, Drew Doughty, Noah Dobson, Shea Theodore, Morgan Rielly, Kris Letang, Justin Faulk, Hampus Lindholm, Owen Power, Luke Hughes
This tier is largely comprised of a mix of youngsters with untapped potential/upside and veterans with some question marks regarding their health, age, team situation/role or their ability to repeat a breakout campaign.
Either way, at a minimum, all these skaters should serve as solid No. 2 fantasy options when in the lineup in 2023-24.
Tier 6 – Steady Freddy
Darnell Nurse, Seth Jones, Rasmus Andersson, Zach Werenski, Aaron Ekblad, MacKenzie Weegar, Tyson Barrie, Bowen Byram, Mattias Ekholm, Thomas Chabot, K’Andre Miller, Gustav Forsling
While there isn’t a ton of upside to be had here, all the players in Tier 6 should provide reliable production from the No. 3 spot in your fantasy defensemen group in 2023-24.
Tier 7 – Depth Pieces
Filip Hronek, Dmitry Orlov, Adam Larsson, Jake Sanderson, Sean Durzi, Jared Spurgeon, Jacob Trouba, Noah Hanifin, Brady Skjei, John Klingberg, Rasmus Sandin, Shayne Gostisbehere
This tier is largely comprised of players with years of proven production under their belt as well as players joining new teams, making their fantasy outlook a little uncertain heading into 2023-24. Your level of risk tolerance will determine which of those options you target when adding defensemen to your bench in the latter stages of your fantasy draft.
Tier 8 – Other Players to Consider in Final Rounds
Samuel Girard, Mike Matheson, Tony Deangelo, Cam Fowler, Calen Addison, Torey Krug, Jeff Petry, Colton Parayko, Jamie Drysdale, Jaccob Slavin
While it’s unlikely any of these skaters will blow you away with their production, they should serve as fine fill-in options when injuries inevitably strike your blue-line corps in 2023-24.