Taking a look back to April, 2010, at the Top NHL Prospect Defensemen
The old adage in hockey is that “defensemen always take longer to develop than forwards.” The thinking is that a blueliner has to learn more subtle nuances, things that a left or right winger would never have to manage. As a result, the acclimatization period to pro-hockey can be lengthier.
In fantasy pools I would think it goes something like “you are more likely to be struck by lightning than properly project a defenseman's future production.” Ok, that might be a bit exaggerating it a tad, but it’s fair to say that predicting their success is not easy.
The question is what makes it so tough? I think there are a couple underlying issues. Firstly, a defenseman will be forced to adhere to a particular coaching system that may or may not play to his strengths. When evaluating a young player in junior or the minor leagues he is more often than not playing in a system tailored to his skill set. Once in the NHL, many players will be asked to take on different roles. Gone is the first line power play time, or the freedom to jump in on the offensive rush.
A perfect example of this in today’s game is Drew Doughty. In 2009-10 he showcased himself as a burgeoning fantasy superstar. Able to put up elite point totals and support them with steady peripheral numbers. The arrival of Darryl Sutter and his defensive mindedness has all but eroded Doughty’s fantasy cache. He’s now been reduced to a good but not great 40 point producer. I have no doubt he is still the same player, and should rightfully be mentioned with Karlsson and Subban atop the rankings. Sadly, it is not the case.
Secondly, there is impact a defenseman's teammates can have on his production. In many cases a blueliner is only helping to facilitate offence, he isn’t necessarily the one scoring goals. Therefore, a team’s total offence can have a real impact on fantasy relevance. In 2011-12 the top scoring team, Pittsburg, finished with 273 goals, while last place Minnesota ended with 166. That is a difference of 107. Even if a defenseman only factored in on 15% of his team’s production, that is still a swing of 16 points. Not to mention the possible implications to plus minus.
As I was sifting through some past rankings, I came across the defensive prospect rankings from April of 2010. This group seems to really exemplify the theme above – unpredictability. We’re only three years removed from when these were released and already a number of players have seen massive swings in value.
Let’s take a look at some of the more notable names…
1. Erik Karlsson
6. Alex Pietrangelo
9. P.K. Subban
Karlsson turned out to be one of those can’t miss prospects that actually couldn’t miss. I can count on one hand the number of defensemen who have the ability to break 70 points in a given year, and he is one. While the penalty minutes and hits may never be there, his elite power play and shot (240+) production more than make up for it.
Subban is an interesting case, and better exemplifies how difficult it can be to project defensemen. Only three years ago he was considered ninth in the rankings, behind a lot of more highly coveted young players. In his first few seasons the peripheral stats were there, a rare combination of 100 penalty minutes and over 200 shots on net. What changed the past two years was his role on the team. As he became the focal point of the power play and Montreal’s premier offensive threat his point totals exploded. Another reminder of just how important a player’s role and how he is utilized on a team can impact fantasy value.
2. John Carlson
13. Brendan Smith
22. Ryan Ellis
I read an article two or three years ago that went on about how John Carlson had officially unseeded Mike Green as the Capitals first option. Today we’re still waiting for that to happen, as Carlson has remained (unless you are in a deep pool) largely irrelevant in fantasy. Although 35 points and over 150 shots is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but it’s well below the expectations poolies would have had when he was number two on this list.
Ok, I’ll admit it, I sort of fell for the whole “Brendan Smith is the future of Detroit’s blue line now that Lidstrom is gone” thing. Granted, he is still only 24, so there is plenty of time for his fantasy career to take off. However, his career 20 points and 1.0 shots per game leave a lot to be desired. If he’s ever going to arrive you would have to think it would be sometime in the next two or three seasons. Here's the list:
|24||Calvin de Haan||NYI|
Ultimately what does this list tell us about projecting defensive prospects?
There is a little bit of everything here – the surefire superstar, fantasy franchise cornerstone in Karlsson – the rise to prominence of a prospect listed further down the rankings in Subban – a number of highly touted offensive defensemen who we’re still waiting to make a fantasy impact in Carlson and Smith. The main lesson I take from this is tread carefully with defensemen; allowing them to reach 22 or 23 years of age before putting any major trade or draft investment in them. Of course, if you were the manager lucky enough to nab Subban or Karlsson two years ago you probably don’t read Dobber Hockey – far too busy getting all of your fantasy trophies engraved year over year.
Darren is a fantasy hockey writer for DobberHockey. You can follow him @FantasyHockeyDK
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