Scouting defenseman is one of the most difficult tasks a fantasy hockey manager has each season. The reasoning is pretty simple: an average defenseman will never be as productive for your fantasy squad as the typical forward in terms of goals and assists. Does one risk a high draft pick on a blueliner who might score 70 points or take a forward instead who will likely score 90? I don’t know the answer to this question (and even if I did I probably wouldn’t post it) but I do know that Dion Phaneuf is possibly the top fantasy defenseman in hockey, after only playing 1 season in the NHL.First off, I have to state, for the record, that I am a serious Canucks fan. Therefore, I despise the Flames, Oilers, Avalanche, Wild and Red Wings (its a good thing my own team preferences don’t affect my draft choices more, or my fantasy teams would be pretty horrible). Anyway, I feel it is time to give Dion Phaneuf the immense respect he is due, at least from a fantasy hockey point of view. I am not suggesting Dion is currently the best blueliner in hockey today (Nick Lidstrom is the obvious winner here), but when you look at the numbers from the top defensemen in hockey from last year, Dion is right up there with him.
Let me state for the record I am basing this article off of a standard Yahoo league, where goals, assists, plus/minus, penalty minutes and powerplay points are the offensive categories. According to Yahoo’s rankings from last year (which take all of these categories equally into account), Dion was the 4th best fantasy defenseman behind McCabe, Lidstrom and Schneider while finishing ahead of such all-stars as Redden, Pronger, Niedermayer and Chara. Again, I want to clarify these are rankings for fantasy hockey and I am not telling you Brian McCabe is the best defenseman in hockey, I am not that crazy.
Last season, Phaneuf scored 20 goals and finished second among blueliners in that category (Schneider besed him by one) and 7 of those tallies were game winners, tops among fellow d-men. Guys like Kaberle, Pronger and Lidstrom all had many more assists than Phaneuf, but I expect Dion to pick up more helpers with increased playing time and experience. Did I mention last year was Phaneuf’s ROOKIE SEASON? In addition, with Leopold now in Denver, Dion will get more ice time and certainly additional minutes with the man advantage. Although Phaneuf will not be able to compete with Lidstrom or Redden in plus/minus, he should certainly stay on the positive end of the scale, which will give him a fantasy advantage over players such as McCabe and Gonchar. Furthermore, Dion knows how to play physical and drop the gloves when needed and as such 100+ penalty minutes is a very reasonable expectation for next year.
My projections for Dion are as follows, assuming he plays at least 75 games and stays healthy throughout the campaign: 25 goals, 40 assists, +10, 105 PM, 40 power play points and 6 game winning goals. If he can accomplish that, it will be very hard for another blueliner to top Dion Phaneuf as the best fantasy player at that position next year. And even if Lidstrom or McCabe beats Phaneuf 6-category totals, the 21 year old will certainly be a later draft pick and thus a better bargain come draft day.
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