Fantasy Hockey: 2001-2002 Defenseman

By Curtis Allen

In today’s NHL, every team’s blueprint for success includes a puck-moving defenseman. It’s no different in fantasy hockey. A mobile, offensive defenseman can add a whole new dimension to your team, bringing offense from a traditionally unexpected source.

You will find a noticeable lack of young defensemen among my top 20. Defensemen usually take more time to develop, and the present guard is lasting longer than ever (see Bourque, Ray) and contributing regularly in the offensive zone. The only rookie to make the list is Columbus wonder kid Rusty Klesla, and he’s pretty far down the list. Most players who are top offensive defensemen have honed their craft for several seasons.

Since there are so many defensemen available, I expanded my list to include the top 40. Enjoy.

1.Niklas Lidstrom, Detroit
Bar none, the NHL’s premier offensive defensemen. He’s the cog that gets the Wings’ transition game going, and with Scotty Bowman planning to adopt the attacking Torpedo style offensive scheme, his point totals could increase. As if he needs any more motivation, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent after this year.

2. Chris Pronger, St.Louis

His points per game have risen every year. An absolute workhorse who will log a ton of ice time again this season. Amazingly enough, he’s still one of the more underrated offensive defensemen in the game. The addition of Doug Weight, and Tkachuk’s PP ability will improve Prongers numbers even more. If he stays free of injury, he could lead all defensemen in scoring.

3. Rob Blake, Colorado

With Ray Bourque’s retirement, Blake takes over as the Avs’ #1 defensemen for all situations. And he is capable. Man is he capable. Amazing combination of brawn and offensive ability. Don’t count on him being healthy for a full season though. His physical play takes its toll, and he seems to annually miss 10-15 games. The recent loss of Peter Forsberg to a hiatus makes Blake’s offensive role on the PP even more vital.

4. Brian Leetch, New York Rangers

Came back with a vengeance after a couple of substandard years. He appeared relieved that buddy Mark Messier took the captaincy back, and was able to focus on the things he does so well: slick skating, those breathtaking rushes and perfect tape-to-tape passes. Had a difficult second half of the season, as the Rangers’ PP effectiveness declined sharply. There are still many questions about Fleury’s recovery, Lindros’ health, and Messier’s age. If the Rangers don’t have good answers to those questions, don’t expect a repeat of last year’s numbers. But Leetch is the Rangers’ constant, and he should be productive for years to come.

5. Oleg Tverdovsky, Anaheim

Has transformed himself from a flashy, unpredictable hotshot to one of the NHL’s most reliable young defensemen. Durability is a definite plus, he has played the entire 82 game schedules for the last three years. His point totals only increased by 2 last year, but when you factor in the lack of depth on the Ducks’ roster, he really had a better year. A supreme skater and passer, Anaheim will be counting on him to provide the offensive spark they so desperately need.

6.Al MacInnis, St. Louis

You might hesitate to draft him considering his age, and the fact he’s missed 20 or so games the last couple of seasons. Now here’s why you should draft him: he’s in great physical shape, and his legendary slapshot hasn’t slowed a bit. He’ll anchor what could be the NHL’s best power play. At 38, he’ll be a Norris trophy candidate again.

7.Sandis Ozolinsh, Carolina

The wildcard of the top offensive defensemen, Ozolinsh dazzles with his skills, and infuriates with his inconsistent and sometimes apathetic play. He could score 40 points or 70 points. Came to life in the second half of last year, and showed a rare burst of passion when he took on Scott Stevens in a fight. It says here that Ozo will realize his role as bona fide offensive leader for the Canes, and will look more comfortable in a Canes uniform.

8.Roman Hamrlik, New York Islanders

As the Islanders PP chief, his prospects for a career offensive season seem very good with the Isles’ summer acquisitions of Yashin, Peca, and Adrian Aucoin. Might start a bit slowly, as everyone is getting used to each other’s tendencies. Will definitely benefit from Yashin’s creative abilities, as well as Aucoin’s heavy slapshot. Knowing that the opposition’s top penalty killers aren’t focused solely on him will free him up to use his abilities even more.

9.Sergei Gonchar, Washington

If you think Ozolinsh is an enigma, this guy will drive you nuts. He’ll spend 20 games floating in space, collecting the random assist, and then he’ll get it together and pump out 30 points in the next 20. An impressive physical package with skating ability, he owns a very heavy shot that will be put to good use on the PP. The presence of Jagr will open up more room for him. But for all his offensive abilities, the Caps are still a defense-first team, and his lapses and uninspired play in his own zone cut into his playtime with the puck.

10.Sergei Zubov, Dallas

The Stars’ most talented offensive defensemen, Zubov will likely benefit most from coach Ken Hitchcock’s plans to loosen up the offense. A durable player, he doesn’t miss many games. Likely he’ll never put up the kind of numbers he did in his stops in New York and Pittsburgh, but remains a talented skater and shooter who has adjusted his game to fit the Stars’ system.

11.Brian Rafalski, New Jersey

Another gem unearthed by the New Jersey scouts, Rafalski burst onto the NHL scene two seasons ago, and has showed no signs of slowing down. Has supplanted Scott Niedermayer as the #1 option on offense, and his combination of smarts and skill is rare. Has a great point shot. Proved he’s a pressure player, as he had a great playoff, finishing a close 2nd in defensemen scoring.

12. Janne Niinimaa, Edmonton

Another young defensemen who has matured from several season of unfulfilled potential to a bona fide anchor for the Oilers. They know it, and locked him into a 3 year contract. Has developed a serviceable defensive conscience, and has earned all the opportunities to produce points he gets. He is the Oilers’ #1 option to run the PP. Showed up at camp with a sore back, but count on him being around for 75 games this year if the problem doesn’t persist.

13.Tomas Kaberle, Toronto

Kaberle has emerged as a consistent performer from the Maple Leafs’ blue line. Remarkably consistent, he played all 82 games the last two seasons, and has matured into a keeper; someone the Leafs do not want to trade. Not a prototype PP quarterback, but will benefit from the Leafs acquisitions of Mogilny, Renberg, Reichel, etc. Is a contract holdout presently, and is threatening to play in Europe this season. It’s hard to imagine the Leafs paying big bucks to the forwards, and not taking care of one of their best defensemen. Count on him being there this year.

14.Martin Skoula, Colorado

A fine young offensive talent, Skoula has been brought along slowly by the Avs, and he should reward their patience this year with a breakout season. When he was drafted, management thought they had nabbed the heir apparent to Ozolinsh. He brings a lot of similar gifts to the table: lightning quick acceleration, great on-ice vision, and a cool demeanor that belies his youth. The Avs are counting on him to fill Ray Bourque’s PP shoes, and you know what that means.

15.Eric Desjardins, Philadelphia

Perhaps the games best 2nd tier defensemen, Desjardins doesn’t do one thing greatly, but he does many things well. A rock solid team player, the Flyers seem to on from his energy and momentum. A lock for 45-55 points.

16.Scott Niedermayer, New Jersey

Niedermayer was last year’s participant in New Jersey’s annual “Let’s See Who Can Blink First” negotiation process, and it cost him his spot as the team’s top offensive defensemen. But he’s not far behind Rafalski, so let’s call Niedermayer their #1A option. Will be hungry to have a great year, and with the Devils’ offense being unbalanced by the loss of Mogilny, he’ll get plenty of chances to stake his claim. Seems primed for a career offensive year, but beware, most of us have been saying that for a long time.

17.Derek Morris, Calgary

As ready as any defensemen for a breakout year, Morris has all the tools to be an All-Star for years. Has gained the Flames management’s confidence as a bona fide offensive player, so much so they’re considering not bringing Phil Housley back. At only 23, he’s in his 5th NHL season, and should benefit from a full training camp. One of the Flames’ few bright spots, he will be a Norris trophy candidate soon.

18.Tom Poti, Edmonton

Talk about your bad years. First, he struggled with teams keying on him, and did not develop into the nightly offensive threat the Oilers thought he would be. Then he was leap-frogged on the depth chart by the rising Eric Brewer, who subsequently signed a new deal and was invited to the Olympic tryout camp. Lastly, the Oilers management is being tight in negotiations for a new contract. How will Poti respond to these difficulties? If he thickens his skin and finds a way to take his game to the next level, he could in time live up to the comparisons he garnered in college to a young Brian Leetch.

19.Darryl Sydor, Dallas

One of the most overlooked defensemen in the NHL, all he does is show up nightly, team with Zubov on the PP, and put up his 40-47 points. Has earned a trusted spot on the Stars’ depth chart, and should not lose any ice time to the newly acquired Jyrki Lumme.

20.Wade Redden, Ottawa

One of the games great young defensemen, Redden has increased his point totals every year. There’s no reason to believe that won’t happen again this year. Won’t make anyone forget about Bobby Orr, but there isn’t a coach alive that wouldn’t love to have Redden patrolling the blueline. Had a bad playoff last year, will look to make amends this year.

21.Ed Jovanovski, Vancouver
Had a breakout year, makes Bure trade much more palatable. Good PP point man.

22.Jyrki Lumme, Dallas
Chance to win a Stanley Cup will motivate him to perform. Health is a concern.

23.Patrice Brisebois, Montreal
Terrible defensively, but the Habs need all the offense they can get. Don’t expect a point increase.

24.David Tanabe, Carolina
A rising young talent, this kid looks like a player. Give him time, he’ll be a keeper.

25.Dan McGillis, Philadelphia
Not your prototype offensive defenseman, McGillis may have topped out. May have PP time reduced.

26.Deron Quint, Columbus
Alcohol problems kept this talented guy from sticking with any team. Columbus gave him a shot, and he finally demonstrated some ability in the NHL. Quint responded by holding out and demanding more money. Smart.

27.Teppo Numminen, Phoenix
Steady defensemen concentrated on defensive duties too much last year, Coyotes need him to step up offensively.

28.Jonathan Girard, Boston
Point man for Bruins’ PP this year, he’ll get a chance to show what he can do. Reliable scorer in the QMJHL and AHL.

29.Rostislav Klesla, Columbus
Jackets did the right thing in sending him back to junior for one more year. Expected to man the point on PP this year with Quint. Early Calder candidate, he can do it all, but don’t expect 60 points anytime soon.

30.Robert Svehla, Florida
Had a career-low points year, and lost PP time. A rebound is likely, beware of putting too much faith in him.

31.Brad Stuart, San Jose
Sharks brought Suter back, signaling they’re not yet confident enough in Stuart to give him the reins. But make no mistake, he’ll be a stud offensive defensemen soon.

32.Matthias Ohlund, Vancouver
We have yet to see what this guy can really do, here’s hoping for a full season this year so we can enjoy the talents of this special player.

33.Adrian Aucoin, New York Islanders
This guy does one thing: shoot, shoot, shoot.

34.Pavel Kubina, Tampa Bay
Numbers will get better when talented forward corps develops.

35.Alexei Zhitnik, Buffalo
Had a good rebound year after a horrible season two years ago. With a defensively sound partner, he could produce 45 points.

36.Jaroslav Spacek, Chicago
Turned it on after being traded to the Hawks. Should see lots of PP time this year.

37.Lubomir Visnovsky, Los Angeles
A pleasant surprise for the Kings, made trading Rob Blake easier. Great vision, will get more PP time.

38.Frederick Olausson, Detroit
Never known for his defensive gifts, the Wings brought him in to do one thing: move the puck.

39.Kimmo Timmonen, Nashville
Predators’ best offensive defenseman. That isn’t saying a lot. But when they get better, his numbers will improve.

40.Sami Salo, Ottawa/Vladimir Malakhov New York Rangers
Both of these talented but often injured players tease fantasy players year in and year out.