2016-17 Fantasy Defenseman Primer: Rookies
It can be tough to predict which defensemen will make a fantasy impact in their first season. Defensemen take much longer to develop than forwards, and usually don't even make the NHL straight out of the draft - even if they were a top-10 pick. Nobody saw Shayne Gostisbehere coming out of nowhere last season, but the next Ghost Bear may be among the following players:
Julius Honka, Stars
Honka doesn't have explosive speed like other undersized offensive defensemen (5-foot-11, 185 pounds), but his lateral movement and ability to elude defenders with the puck on his stick is very impressive. The Fin seems to have an advanced hockey IQ and has an absolute rocket of a one-timer. It's no surprise why Dallas selected him 14th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft.
Honka tore up the AHL last season, scoring 11 goals and adding 33 assists in 73 games.
Considering Dallas is arguably the league's top offensive team, it wouldn't be surprising to see Honka make an immediate fantasy impact, much like Klingberg did in his rookie season. If you're going to draft one rookie defenseman, it should no doubt be Honka.
Anthony DeAngelo, Coyotes
DeAngelo has lightning-like speed, so it's not surprising he was taken 20th overall by Tampa Bay in the first round of the 2014 draft. However, DeAngelo was dealt to Arizona at this year's draft for the 37th overall pick - an interesting move by Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.
DeAngelo is a true offensive defenseman. After a productive OHL career with Sarnia and Sault Ste. Marie, the New Jersey native had no problem adjusting to the pros, tallying 43 points in 69 games with the AHL's Syracuse Crunch in 2015-16.
Arizona's top six seems to be set in place with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Michael Stone, Zbynek Michalek, Connor Murphy and Luke Schenn. However, if DeAngelo wows at training camp, he could see regular ice time over Schenn. Regardless, he will certainly be up at some point this season once injuries occur.
Here is a brief display DeAngelo's skill, creativity and offensive instincts during his time in the OHL with the Sting:
DeAngelo has plenty of upside and a clear path to meaningful playing time with the Coyotes in rebuilding mode. Draft him in the final rounds in keeper leagues.
Ville Pokka, Blackhawks
Pokka, a second-round pick of the Islanders in 2012, has gradually become one of Chicago's top prospects. He scored 10 goals and added 35 assists in 76 games with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs last season. Hockey's Future named Pokka the best defensive prospect in the organization, and also awarded him the hardest shot. He led Rockford in shots on goal.
Chicago's top-five defense corps of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brian Campbell and Trevor van Riemsdyk are essentially etched in stone, but the No. 6 spot is up for grabs. If Pokka cracks the squad, he would likely play on the second power-play unit, where his heavy shot could become a major factor.
Target Pokka in the last round of a keeper league draft, or drafts where you have to have a rookie. Otherwise, monitor his performance early on; if he makes the team, scoop him off the waiver wire.
Josh Morrissey, Jets
After an extremely successful WHL career, Morrissey, the 13th overall pick in 2013, had a stellar rookie year in the AHL, tallying 22 points in 57 games.
Morrissey is a smooth skater and a great passer with outstanding instincts in the offensive zone. This should translate to offensive production once he cracks the NHL full time.
Brandon Montour, Ducks
Montour finished second in AHL defenseman scoring with 57 points in just 68 games last season, but unlike most players in this article, he took the road less traveled to the top of the prospect heap.
The 6-foot, 192-pound blueliner was drafted by the Ducks in the second round in 2014 as a 20-year-old; most players are drafted at 18. Instead of playing major junior, he spent two years in the USHL, followed by a stop at UMass-Amherst before turning pro in 2014-15.
The Ducks' top-5 defensemen are set, so Montour would need to beat out Clayton Stoner and Korbinian Holzer for the sixth spot. With Anaheim already boasting adequate puck movers in Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm and Cam Fowler in their top-4, it would be surprising to see Montour make the team.
Montour can be drafted, but only if you have an open N/A spot. Otherwise, keep your eye on him for when he gets called up.