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Fantasy Hockey: High-Upside Sleeper Defensemen

Defense can be a volatile position from year to year. Highly correlated to ice time and power play minutes, defense is a position where careers years can quickly become distant memories. Of course we know who the staples are, however who can we look at to provide our fantasy hockey team’s back end with some production and upside? Make sure to take these guys into serious consideration on draft day.

Nathan Beaulieu (BUF)

Last season (Montreal Canadiens, NHL): 74 GP, 4 G, 24 A, +8, 118 SOG

A change of scenery could be the ticket to fantasy relevance for Nathan Beaulieu. By no means was he terrible in Montreal last season as he managed to rank 7th on the team in assists, had just one less helper than Shea Weber and finished the season with as many points as centerman Tomas Plekanec. While he received some increased minutes when Andrei Markov went down with an injury, Beaulieu mostly played third pairing minutes and some second unit power play minutes as well. While Rasmus Ristolainen is top dog in Buffalo on the blue line and will be the lone defenseman on the Sabres’ top power play unit, there is little doubt Beaulieu is in for an expanded role in Buffalo. He will likely line up on the second pairing at even strength and will also likely see an increase on his 1:39 of average power play ice time per game as well. He is an offensively-gifted defenseman as he recorded 52 points in 53 games in his last season of junior hockey back in 11’/12′ and has plenty of room to grow in this area at just 24 years old. He is in a prime spot to take a step forward on a Sabres’ defensive group that lacks a true number two behind Ristolainen.

Brandon Montour (ANA)

Last season (San Diego Gulls, AHL): 36 GP, 13 G, 19 A, +17, 148 SOG
(Anaheim Ducks, NHL): 27 GP, 2 G, 4 A, +11, 50 SOG

Montour won’t be considered a rookie at the NHL level this season as his 27 games played with Anaheim crossed the 25-game rookie threshold, but he will essentially be getting his first full taste of the NHL this season. Montour has nothing left to prove at the AHL level as he posted 32 points across 36 games there last year while he posted almost three shots per game as well. If your league counts shots, great. But the shots are there to show you that this is an offensively-minded rear guard. With Shea Theodore having been plucked by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, Montour has shed a big competitor for minutes on the Ducks’ blueline and should settle into a second pairing as well as second unit power play minutes this season. Once Sami Vatanen returns from injury a couple months into the season, Montour may be pushed back into a bottom pairing, but the power play minutes could very well remain unaffected. At 23 years of age Montour’s offensive ability is ready to make a full-time jump into the NHL so make sure to have this youngster on your fantasy radar come draft day.

Shea Theodore (VGK)

Last season: (San Diego Gulls, AHL): 26 GP, 5 G, 15 A, +11, 90 SOG
(Anaheim Ducks, NHL): 34 GP, 2 G, 7 A, -6, 60 SOG

As mentioned, Theodore was taken by the Golden Knights in the expansion draft but he is caught in a very interesting case of roster management. The Golden Knights currently have a glut of defensemen in camp as a result of the deals they made during the expansion draft process, and because Theodore doesn’t require waivers to be sent down to the AHL, he could be demoted to continue his development at the AHL level until Vegas can move contracts and bodies out the door to open a spot for him. However, if Vegas accomplishes this prior to opening night or they simply decide to expose a defenseman on a one-way contract to waivers and ultimately lose him or send him to the AHL, Theodore would play a very prominent role on the Golden Knights’ blueline. The 22-year-old Theodore has tallied 68 points over his last 85 AHL contests and certainly has the offensive ability to contribute if given a chance in the NHL. He recorded 127 points across his final 113 games with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL, ending his junior career in ’14/’15. With Vegas, there is a very real possibility that he would command top pairing minutes as well as first unit power play minutes. In all honesty Vegas is likely looking at this upcoming season as a developmental season for their young players as they are, by all accounts, a significant ways away from competing. This is good news for the young blueliner and it would be wise to use his opportunity to your fantasy hockey team’s advantage should he end up on the NHL roster come opening night.

Christian Djoos (WAS)

Last season (Hershey Bears, AHL): 66 GP, 13 G, 45 A, +9, 85 SOG

This one is a very big sleeper, but given his AHL production and the fact he has already played two full seasons of North American hockey after coming over from Sweden, Djoos could be ready to make the step up into the NHL. The Capitals lost Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt from their defensive corps last season, so there are spots to be had for up and coming blueliners in Washington. That said, power play time could be an issue here. With John Carlson all but locked into the lone defenseman spot on the Caps’ top power play unit, Djoos will be in a fight for second unit minutes along with Matt Niskanen and Dmitri Orlov, both of whom likely have the upper hand. That said, Barry Trotz is certainly going to go with the hot hand at a time when the Capitals’ window to remain a powerhouse in the Eastern Conference is closing. The 23-year-old Djoos already has five seasons of professional hockey under his belt between the AHL and the Swedish Hockey League (formerly the Swedish Elite League), and with spots open for the first time in a long time on the Capitals blueline, he has an opportunity to translate his AHL success into NHL success this season. Don’t reach for Djoos before you need to, but this is a situation to monitor as we approach draft day and into the regular season as a potential early season waiver wire add should he produce in the early going.

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