Hello and welcome in for the fourth and final 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 6-10 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 #5:
Shea Theodore steps into the top 5 after a breakout 2019/20 campaign that saw him produce at a 50+ point pace for the first time in his career. So how does he end up ranked above the more established Rielly and Hedman that we saw at ranks 6 & 7, respectively? Consider this: Theodore led all NHL defensemen in on-ice CF/60 and SCF/60, and ranked third in the league in individual CF/60 and SCF/60. What’s more, his IPP and S% were essentially unchanged from 2018/19 and he took major steps in improving his underlying stats in both 18/19 and 19/20. Heading into his age-25 season, it’s hard to imagine Theodore suddenly taking a step back. Theodore was frankly incredibly unlucky in terms of team scoring while he was on the ice considering his elite level of play; he is the only defenseman among the top 10 in xGF/60 whose xGF/60 was actually lower than his GF/60. The other 9 defensemen averaged 0.61 more GF/60 than xGF/60; Theodore’s GF/60 was 0.21 lower than his xGF/60. In the amount of minutes I have him projected to skate in 2020/21, that difference would amount to nearly 25 more goals scored with him on the ice, and likely 12 more points given his sturdy IPP. I’m a big believer in Theodore’s 2020/21 prospects.
Cale Makar gets the #4 slot after an unbelievable rookie season that garnered a tremendous amount of national attention (and for good reason). Makar had an unsustainably high S% in 2019/20, but it’s hard to bet against a player that ranked fourth in iSCF/60 and second in iHDCF/60 in his rookie season. Makar also ranked in the top 5 of nearly every on-ice chances for metric, and anyone who has watched him play can recognize how he employs his tremendous skating ability to surprise and beat defenders to scoring areas, as well as open up teammates for further opportunities. Makar’s IPP ranked in the top 10 among defensemen so there is certainly a possibility of regression there, but considering he was top-5 defenseman in nearly every underlying stat imaginable it’s hard to see Makar taking a significant hit to his production, especially considering his place amid a top-5 NHL offense.
Dougie Hamilton gets the “top fantasy defenseman not named Josi or Carlson” award this year, sticking at #3. After multiple seasons in the 40-50 point range and teasing the 60+ point ability many saw in him, Hamilton was well on his way to a top-five fantasy finish when he broke his left fibula in early January. Hamilton has all the on-ice chances for stats you look for: fourth in CF/60, sixth in SCF/60, second in HDCF/60, but it is his individual stats that jump off the page. Hamilton led all NHL defensemen in basically every individual chances for rate imaginable and is your best bet for a 20-goal defenseman in 2020/21. Remarkably, this was Hamilton’s third-best season in terms of individual chances for rates, but Carolina’s offense took the jump to a top-10 unit in 2019/20 and Hamilton reaped the benefits. His S% will almost certainly regress a little next season, but Hamilton is also the only defenseman I have projected to take over 300 shots, a mammoth total. Hamilton’s IPP also falls in line with his production and I have no qualms about recommending him as a top-5 fantasy option in 2020/21.
Roman Josi is my runner up after perhaps his best offensive season to date in 2019/20. Josi doesn’t rank at the absolute top of the on-ice chances for leaderboards, but he was second to only Hamilton in individual CF/60 and SCF/60. What elevates Josi to the next level is his usage: he was third in the league in ATOI behind only Thomas Chabot and Drew Doughty. For him to produce top 10 chances for rates at that level of usage is a recipe for fantasy dominance, which is exactly what happened in 2019/20. Josi’s IPP was higher than his career average in 19/20 and will come back somewhat, but betting against Josi in 2020/21 is a fool’s errand and I can’t imagine a healthy Josi producing less than a top-5 fantasy finish.
John Carlson is the unquestioned #1 fantasy defenseman for 2020/21. No one came close to producing at the PPG+ level Carlson maintained for 69 games in 2019/20, and as a PP specialist alongside Alex Ovechkin, Carlson keeps a high production floor. Carlson’s IPP climbed to a league-leading 61% and married that with a career high S%, but this is a defenseman who has maintained his underlying rates for the past three seasons and averaged over 70 points per season in those three years. Perhaps the most impressive stat I can offer is this: Carlson could shave off 8 points off my projection for him next year and still be my projection for the top scorer among all defensemen. Carlson remains the safest and most impressive point producer at his position for the 2020/21 season.
Now that defensemen 1-5 have been revealed, let’s put them side by side and I’ll explain the rankings a little bit:
Theodore will have to “prove it” at a 60ish point level before he ascends beyond the others on this list. Makar is simply Carlson’s heir apparent as the future #1 fantasy defenseman and it’s hard to envision him taking a step back in 2020/21 even if his IPP and S% regress to more sustainable levels. Hamilton looks like a more bankable option than Makar for 20/21 with more usage and better peripherals including that insane shot total projection. Add in that projection for 20+ goals and Hamilton offers something that is likely out of reach for every other defenseman below him on these rankings. Josi and Carlson are the indisputable 1-2 punch in my opinion, workhorses who don’t appear to have obvious obstacles to repeating as #1 and #2 in 2020/21. Carlson is simply in a category of his own after that PPG+ season and I would be surprised at this point to see anyone usurp his throne in 2020/21.
Stay tuned for more content coming your way soon!
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