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Yahoo Fantasy Hockey: Breaking down the best studs and sleepers at defense

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Yahoo Fantasy Hockey is open for the 2013-14 season. To help give you a better chance to win your league, our pals at Dobber Hockey are returning for another season. They'll be breaking down the top forwards, defense and goalies, and also giving you some sleepers to keep an eye on. Today, it's defensemen.

by Steve Laidlaw

The King

Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators – Karlsson is the best defenseman in fantasy hockey. It’s not up for debate. Yes, he has only flashed one transcendent season and yes he is coming off of a sliced Achilles but that doesn’t matter because no one is as good as he is, period.

Two Princes

Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins – Letang’s production is more the result of optimal surroundings. He gets to skate with two of the absolute best in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. In fantasy hockey you don’t fault him for that. You do, however, fault him for being injury prone and rest assured - Letang is a Band-Aid Boy extraordinaire. If he could skate for 82 games in a season he could contend with Karlsson but since he can’t, he can’t.

P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens – Backed up his contract demands with a breakout season in 2013 tying for the league lead in (defensemen) scoring with 38 points in 42 games. No one questions his talent but can he bring that sort of consistency for 82 games?

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The Court Jester

Mike Green, Washington Capitals – Green is in a class of his own in fantasy hockey because there is no telling what he’ll do from week to week, let alone season to season. We know his talent is immense but he’s so injury prone that even when he’s in the lineup he might still be hurt. Take him too early and he could sink your team. Wait too late to grab him and you could be letting a top five defenseman slip away.

The Stars

Time to do away with the royal court theme. These next few players are the rest of the true fantasy stars on defense.

Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets – Big Buff has apparently taken to off-season fitness this summer. That could mean restaurant bankruptcies big things for an already productive defenseman. Don’t rule out a move back to forward either, which would be of added bonus for Byfuglien.

Keith Yandle, Phoenix Coyotes – Oliver Ekman-Larsson has overtaken Yandle as the top defenseman in Phoenix but Yandle is still the more dynamic offensive defenseman. There’s no reason to believe Yandle won’t continue to be a top blueliner.

Shea Weber, Nashville Predators – Didn’t miss a beat last season following the departure of Ryan Suter to Minnesota. Weber is as steady as they come.

Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks – The top defenseman on Chicago’s loaded roster? Yes please.

Christian Ehrhoff, Buffalo Sabres – It would be easy to crap on Ehrhoff for being a key part of the Sabres’ failed spending spree of 2011 but he is the lone player who has really worked out for the Sabres. He won’t blow you away but he’s a smart playmaker and capable power-play quarterback.

Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild – No one skated more minutes than Ryan Suter last season. His offensive breakout was certainly a reflection of this.

Brian Campbell, Florida Panthers – A proven and capable scoring defenseman who will get a load of minutes yet again for the Panthers. No reason to expect he won’t be productive once again.

Dion Phaneuf, Toronto Maple Leafs – Phaneuf is a lightning rod for media criticism but that really doesn’t matter for fantasy hockey. What matters is that Phaneuf skates big minutes for the Leafs and has a cannon of a shot that he unleashes more than but a handful of other defensemen in the NHL.

Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings – No longer in the shadow of the great Nick Lidstrom, Kronwall is now the top defenseman on the Red Wings and producing like it.

Tobias Enstrom, Winnipeg Jets – If fantasy hockey were more forgiving it would be understandable if you had forgotten about Enstrom. But fantasy hockey is definitely not forgiving. Enstrom has been banged up for much of the past two seasons but prior to that he recorded back-to-back 50-point efforts. The talent is still there. Look for him to bounce back with a healthy year.

Alex Edler, Vancouver Canucks – The most productive defenseman in Vancouver over the past few years, even the arrival of a new coach shouldn’t dissuade you from taking the Canucks top defenseman.

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Getty ImagesThe Veterans

Don’t sleep on these next few guys. They may be old but they still have a lot to offer your fantasy team.

Mark Streit, Philadelphia Flyers – Moving to Philadelphia from Long Island really won’t affect Streit all that much. He’s still a top notch fantasy defenseman.

Kimmo Timonen, Philadelphia Flyers – At his age Timonen should probably be in decline, just don’t tell him that. With 29 points in 45 games last season, Timonen put in another ageless effort. Streit’s arrival could knock him down a peg or two, though.

Sergei Gonchar, Dallas Stars – Gonchar still has some gas left in the tank but does he have enough to play 82 games? Keep in mind he will also likely be playing a number of games for Russia at the Olympics, which could wear him out.

Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks – Boyle’s minutes took a significant dive last season as the Sharks looked to keep him well rested for the playoffs. Fortunately, for Boyle a significant drop in minutes can still mean he sees well over 20 minutes per game. He’s still very smart and very talented and definitely the Sharks’ best defenseman.

Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins – Took a bit of a step back last season, which could be a sign that he’s in decline. More likely that’s just a blip on the radar and he’ll be back to his 40-point ways.

Lubomir Visnovsky, New York Islanders – Three seasons ago Visnovsky led all NHL defensemen in scoring. He may have slowed down but he still has a lot of talent. With the departure of Mark Streit this offseason Visnovsky is now the undisputed top defenseman on Long Island, which could be a very productive position.

Ascendant Youngsters

These guys are well on their way to becoming perennial top defensemen in fantasy hockey, all they need to do is prove to us they can do it year after year.

Justin Schultz, Edmonton Oilers – Schultz is already a star finishing tied for 12th in defensemen scoring last season but he has potential for so much more going into his sophomore campaign. He could be a top five scorer if all goes well.

Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings – Doughty plays too big a role to get back to the 59-point level that he achieved in his sophomore season. Still, he’s one of the best all-around defensemen in the NHL and is still productive year after year even if he’s not the scoring star we thought he was.

Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues – Pietrangelo is dangerously close to becoming Doughty 2.0 in that he has loads of natural ability but is too important to his team to completely bust out. He has all the talent in the world but may never reach his upside.

Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues – Shattenkirk has the benefit of playing with a complete defenseman like Pietrangelo because it allows him to focus on the offensive side of things. The Blues don’t score nearly enough for Shattenkirk to reach his upside but 50 points is a definite possibility.

Slava Voynov, Los Angeles Kings – He has already passed Drew Doughty as the top offensive defenseman in Los Angeles and has a brand new contract to show for it. The Kings believe in him and you should too.

Michael Del Zotto, New York Rangers – MDZ is the incumbent top offensive defenseman on the Rangers with a history of solid offensive production. His youth offers optimism for more but even without more he’s still a fine producer.

Alex Goligoski, Dallas Stars – Quietly put together a very productive season after being benched for one game last year. He has loads of talent but consistency is an issue. With a revamped roster and some help on the blue line this could be Goligoski’s breakout year.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix Coyotes – Already the best defenseman on the Coyotes roster we are still finding out just how much potential OEL has. Temper your expectations for now but realize he has tremendous upside.

Dukes of Mediocrity

Okay, so we are going to dip back into the royal theme once more. These guys are good, just not stars.

Dennis Wideman, Calgary Flames – Wideman is hardly a great NHL defenseman but he is a journeyman who keeps hanging around. He has proven at every stop in his career that when given the opportunity he can produce points. Wideman definitely has the opportunity to do so for Calgary.

Matt Carle, Tampa Bay Lightning – It may be unfortunate but Carle is the Lightning’s top defenseman and will receive big time minutes in all situations. He is probably no better than a 40-point guy but there is still value in knowing that he will be an average producer for your team.

Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks – Capable of producing serious fantasy numbers because he plays on such a stacked team, Seabrook is more of a stay-at-home type with limited upside.

Jack Johnson, Columbus Blue Jackets – Leading candidate for captain of the “Good Stats/Terrible Player” team, Johnson is most certainly a liability for his squad. Fortunately for you this is fantasy and you only care about the good stats. Johnson has proven himself a capable 35-point scorer with upside for more.

Dan Hamhuis, Vancouver Canucks – More of a defensive defenseman, was never the less the Canucks’ highest scoring defenseman last season. Hamhuis doesn’t have a lot of upside but he is dialed in for at least 30 points.

John Carlson, Washington Capitals – It is always funny when a player produces at a perfectly acceptable clip for an average player but is seen as a disappointment because he has so much more potential. Carlson has produced at around a 35-point pace through his first three NHL seasons but could do so much better. He is easily the Capitals’ best defenseman, which forces him to play tough minutes and bumps down his offensive production. He has potential to improve his numbers but probably won’t.

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