Hello and welcome in for the second installment in this series in which I break down my top 20 defensemen for fantasy hockey in 2020/21. You can find my previous article on ranks 16-20 here. These projections and rankings may vary over time as the draft/free agency/coaching changes come down, but at least this should give everyone a place to start. Let’s kick it off with #15:
Rasmus Dahlin is my 15th ranked defensemen for 2020/21, an up-and-coming star who just turned 20 in April with two NHL seasons already under his belt. I have mixed feelings about Dahlin, who oozes #1 defenseman potential and has recorded 40+ points in both of his first two seasons as a teenager. That’s because while all the things I just stated are true, the stats say that Dahlin actually performed worse in 2019/20 than his rookie season and that he’s due for a regression. Dahlin had the second-highest IPP in the league among defensemen, trailing only the league’s leading scorer among defensemen in John Carlson. Dahlin was also relegated to 19:17 of ice time/game, and still failed to improve his underlying stats despite the reduced workload against secondary competition. I’m willing to bet that Dahlin gets back to the 21-minute range next year, but even at that range he projects to barely crack 50 points. I’ve seen people ready to bet on Dahlin exceeding 60 points in 2020/21, and while I wouldn’t say that’s impossible Dahlin would have to take a quantum leap forward in order to reach that level.
Brent Burns follows up in the #14 slot, coming off a disappointing 2019/20 San Jose Sharks season that saw him drop from a 1.01 PPG rate to 0.64. The warning signs were apparent after that magnificent 2018/19 season, as both his individual and team chances for rates dropped off his 2017/18 levels. Unfortunately, Burns took another step in the wrong direction in 2019/20 in that regard, posting declining underlying stats once again. It’s very possible Burns is reaching the end of his rope as he goes into his age-35 season. That being said, Burns did experience an uncharacteristic drop in IPP and remains a shot producing machine (fourth among all defensemen in individual chances for) who will also contribute in bangers categories. While I’m not projecting it for this season, there is a danger that if Burns’ play drops off even more early in 2020/21 that his role could be reduced from the 25+ min/game minute muncher that he has been the past three seasons. I view Burns as a probable 50+ point defenseman with some danger of age-based regression and a reduced 5v5 role.
Tyson Barrie occupies my #13 spot, another offensively talented defenseman who had a subpar 2019/20 season by his standards. Barrie was misused early in the season by former Leafs’ bench boss Mike Babcock, but rebounded under Sheldon Keefe to produce at the level we are accustomed to seeing from him. As a UFA it remains to be seen where Barrie will sign, but it can be safely assumed that whoever pays him will be looking for a PP1 quarterback to skate 20-21 minutes and maybe even a little more. Barrie has two major signs for positive regression: a 3% shooting percentage in 2019/20 after averaging over 7% across the previous two seasons, and a 42% IPP after back to back seasons of 54%-plus. Barrie’s individual chances for stats took a small hit but his on-ice underlying stats were largely unchanged from his Colorado days and I fully expect to see him post a bounce-back season next year regardless of landing spot.
Torey Krug slots in at #12 in these rankings despite uncertainty over his UFA status. I personally believe there’s slim chance Krug signs anywhere other than Boston (even if only on a 1-year deal), and I have projected Krug as if he will remain the Bruins’ PP1 quarterback in 2020/21. This is a player with top 3 on-ice chances for and scoring chances for rates among all defensemen, and whether you believe that Krug is just that talented or he is a product of the Bruins’ potent offense, the fact is that when Krug is on the ice, the Bruins are generating chances and scoring goals. While Krug’s individual chances for rates have declined for two straight seasons, his IPP has remained consistent throughout the past four years. As long as he remains tied to the Boston power play, Krug will push 60 points a season.
Kris Letang closes out this group at #11, one of the most consistent point-scoring defensemen of the past decade (six straight seasons of a 50+ point pace). Letang has always been an injury risk and he missed time in 2019/20 as well, but the 60+ point upside he offers is so rare that fantasy managers keep coming back year after year. Letang has produced remarkably consistent individual chances for rates for the better part of a decade, and while his 2019/20 IPP split the difference between the two seasons prior, he may actually be in line for a positive regression of sorts. Letang’s on-ice xGF improved in 2019/20 while his actual GF declined, usually a sign that he was a little unlucky in terms of the Penguins actually converting the chances they had while he was on the ice. Letang is a high-risk, high-reward option for 2020/21 who provides value in every peripheral category as well as his elite point production.
Now that defensemen 11-15 have been revealed, let’s put them side by side and I’ll explain the rankings a little bit:
Dahlin is clearly below the other four in my mind until he proves otherwise. The career and point production of a defenseman is seldom a linear arc and there are enough troubling signs with Dahlin that I can’t project a jump to bonafide #1 defenseman status in 2020/21. Burns and Barrie had some similarities in their disappointing seasons, but while Burns looks to be a player starting an age-related decline, Barrie seemed to be particularly unlucky and should rebound nicely independent of landing spot. Krug seems like a safe bet but has had his own fair share of minor injury issues and while Letang is a constant injury risk, his upside far outscales Krug’s best possible outcome.
Stay tuned for ranks 6-10!
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