Special to Yahoo Sports
Fantasy hockey analyst Jon Litterine outlines his draft tiers for 2022-23. First up, the defensemen.
TIER 1 – THE BEST THERE IS
The Skinny: The unquestioned best defenseman in the NHL.
Makar is easily the most talented defender in the league and arguably a top-five player overall regardless of position. He led all rearguards in goals last season with 28 while averaging more than a point-per-game (86 in 77 games) en route to winning the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman. He's probably the only defender worth taking in the first round of fantasy drafts.
TIER 2 – THREE OTHER ELITE OPTIONS
The Skinny: Legitimate top-tier weapons that can anchor any fantasy team.
Victor Hedman, Adam Fox, Roman Josi
Arrange these three in any order you'd like. Hedman's reported demise was much exaggerated ahead of the 2021-22 campaign. The Swedish defender set career-high marks in goals (20) and points (85) last season while also finishing with an admirable plus-26 rating.
Fox has racked up 121 points (including 56 with the man advantage) in 133 games over the past two campaigns. Josi almost certainly won't come close to matching the 96 points he posted a season ago in 2022-23, but he's displayed zero signs of slowing down at age 32. He could drop to the 70-point mark this year and remain a fantasy stud.
TIER 3 – LEGIT LINEUP BUILDING BLOCKS
The Skinny: Legitimate No. 1 fantasy defenders with both a solid floor and real upside.
John Carlson, Quinn Hughes, Aaron Ekblad, Kris Letang, Moritz Seider
Carlson has posted 70-plus points in three of his past four campaigns, a remarkable stat for a defenseman. Hughes had 60 assists last season including 31 with the man advantage. He's just 23 years old, so his best is likely still to come. Ekblad has been banged up over the past few years, but as the unquestioned power-play quarterback on a loaded Panthers team, his fantasy value remains high. Letang is 35 years old, but he displayed no signs of slowing down last season with 68 points in 78 games. Seider won the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year last season. He posted 50 points (21 on the power play) in 82 games, adding 151 hits and 161 blocks. The German blueliner is only 21 years old.
TIER 4 – THE UPSIDE PLAYS
The Skinny: Players with high ceilings but lower floors.
Brent Burns, Thomas Chabot, Morgan Rielly, Miro Heiskanen, Dougie Hamilton, Shea Theodore
I'm all in on Burns following his trade from San Jose to Carolina this offseason. His age (38 next April) is a concern, but I think he has at least one more big year left in him. Chabot's usage is among the best in the league and Ottawa should be much improved in 2022-23. Rielly is the power-play quarterback on a Toronto team with Auston Matthews. Enough said.
The departure of John Klingberg to Anaheim in free agency should lead to Heiskanen's offensive breakout in Dallas. Hamilton was hurt and relatively ineffective (30 points in 62 games) during his first season with the Devils in 2021-22, but his massive contract should ensure he'll get a chance to rebound this year. Theodore's ceiling is slightly hampered by the presence of Alex Pietrangelo. That said, the expected return of Jack Eichel and Mark Stone to full health should help the Golden Knights' power play rebound this season.
TIER 5 – THE BEST OF THE REST
The Skinny: High-end No. 2 fantasy defenders.
Drew Doughty, Rasmus Dahlin, Zach Werenski, Torey Krug, Noah Dobson
Doughty will be 33 years old in December and played just 39 games in 2021-22 due to a wrist issue, but he's been exceedingly durable in the past and his usage should be among the best in the league this season. Dahlin had 53 points in 80 games last year despite playing nearly the entire season at the ripe age of 21. He's posted a minus-58 rating over the past two campaigns combined, but I expect improvement in that area this year.
Werenski is a sneaky bounce-back candidate following Columbus' surprise addition of Johnny Gaudreau in free agency. Injuries limited Krug to 64 games a year ago. However, his role as St. Louis' power-play quarterback should go unchallenged, health permitting. Dobson is the Islanders' best rearguard and probably the team's most valuable skater. However, he plays on a team that struggles to score goals — I love the player, but I'm concerned about his upside.
TIER 6 – POINTS. BUT WHAT ELSE?
The Skinny: Veteran defenders whose value primarily lies in their point totals.
Devon Toews, Tony DeAngelo, John Klingberg, Erik Karlsson
Toews is the one exception in terms of "The Skinny" for this group. Cale Makar's presence will forever limit Toews' power-play production, but 45 points and an elite plus-minus are within the range of outcomes for the 28-year-old defender. DeAngelo (Philadelphia) and Klingberg (Anaheim) are both joining new teams. The point production should be there for both players, but I expect struggles elsewhere.
I'm giving Karlsson one final chance with Brent Burns headed to Carolina. I still wouldn't overpay for the oft-injured blueliner.
TIER 7 – MORE REASONABLE OPTIONS
The Skinny: Potential value plays and positional battles.
Seth Jones, Evan Bouchard, Tyson Barrie, Jacob Trouba, Darnell Nurse, MacKenzie Weegar, Rasmus Andersson, Charlie McAvoy (shoulder), Hampus Lindholm, Alex Pietrangelo, Bowen Byram, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba, Jakob Chychrun, Shayne Gostisbehere, Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk, Vince Dunn
Jones is a Tier 4 guy for me if your league doesn't count plus-minus rating. If it does, he's borderline unusable. Bouchard and Barrie will battle to quarterback Edmonton's elite power play this year. Bouchard is younger, but Barrie has a big contract on his side. Trouba and Nurse are two-way veterans who add some scoring while also helping with hits and blocks.
McAvoy is scheduled to miss the first part of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery in June, opening the door for Lindholm to take on a larger role. Pietrangelo is more floor than ceiling at this stage in his career. Byram is a high-end keeper/dynasty asset, but his re-draft value is limited. Spurgeon and Dumba (Minnesota), Chychrun and Gostisbehere (Arizona) and Morrissey and Pionk (Winnipeg) will battle for power-play time with their respective clubs. Dunn should step in as Seattle's No. 1 defender this season with Mark Giordano off to Toronto.
TIER 8 – OTHERS TO CONSIDER
The Skinny: Steady, but with limited upside.