2017 Outlook: If you're searching for the first blueliner off the board, look no further. The Swede has recorded 65-plus points in four of the past five seasons while staying exceptionally healthy despite being so heavily leaned on by the Senators. The 26-year-old exploded for a historic season in 2015-16, scoring 16 times and tacking on a whopping 66 assists, not to mention 175 blocked shots. It should come as no surprise, then, that he was also prolific with the man advantage with a goal and 25 helpers in 4:39 per game, numbers that are actually set to improve as Ottawa figures out its 29th-ranked power play under new head coach Guy Boucher. If your league counts shots on goal, the case could be made for Brent Burns (353 SOG plus seven power-play goals last year) to supplant Karlsson (248 SOG) as the No. 1 fantasy rearguard. At the end of the day, though, the Sens' captain is pure fantasy gold and any owner would be lucky to build their squad around him.
2017 Outlook: If you're looking for an all-around fantasy stud on the blue line, Burns is your guy. The 6-foot-5 rearguard has established himself as one of the most coveted fantasy commodities with his dynamic offensive talents and fearless playing style. Burns finished the 2015-16 campaign with 75 points and just missed cracking the top-10 in NHL scoring. The 31-year-old continued his success in the postseason where he produced at a point-per-game rate, helping San Jose reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history. The workhorse logs heavy minutes in all situations and led all defensemen with 30 power-play points last season. The talented Sharks roster from 2015-16 remains largely intact and Burns will continue to lead the charge on the blue line. He is always willing to jump into the play while still delivering hits and earning penalty minutes. Burns should be in for another productive campaign in 2016-17.
2017 Outlook: For years, Byfuglien has been the rock on Winnipeg's blue line and the hard place for opposing players who absorb his vicious hits and shots. He's the complete package, a consistent (from season to season, if not always from game to game) performer who's on a streak of three straight campaigns with 18-plus goals, 45-plus points and 200-plus hits from the back end. Big Buff has also ramped up his PIM over the past two seasons, making him incredibly valuable in leagues that count that particular stat. A defenseman turned forward turned defenseman, Byfuglien was the subject of much trade speculation last season, but the Jets put an end to that by signing him to a five-year contract extension in February (and subsequently dealing away captain Andrew Ladd), so the hulking 31-year-old will continue bullying Winnipeg's opponents into the next decade. He's not likely to have forward eligibility in too many leagues anymore, but he still makes for one of the most valuable fantasy defensemen around.
2017 Outlook: OEL is no longer a well-kept secret. In fact, he is now widely regarded as one of the best offensive defensemen in the NHL after posting 21 goals and 34 assists as part of a career-best 55-point season. Ekman-Larsson is most dangerous on the club's improving power play, where he found the net 12 times, tops among NHL rearguards. He also led the team with eight game-winning markers. Part of the reason why he scored so often was his affinity for getting pucks to the net, as his 228 shots on goal led the Coyotes. The good news for the Swede is that Arizona is widely regarded as having one of the deeper pools of young talent in the league, so as they continue to hit their stride in the NHL, his production should increase by association, as well. All in all, Ekman-Larsson is big, mobile, still only 25 years old, and he is signed to the club for two more years. We probably haven't seen the best of him yet in Arizona.
2017 Outlook: Subban's straight-up trade from Montreal to Nashville for Shea Weber was the shocker of the offseason, and it may ultimately prove to be the worst trade in the Canadiens' lengthy history. The Habs' loss is the Preds' gain, as Subban is one of the game's elite blueliners and smack in the middle of his prime at age 27. He has exceeded 50 points in three straight campaigns, even though a late-season neck injury limited him to 68 games last season. Other than that, Subban's health has traditionally been excellent, and he projects to skate alongside a similarly durable and offensively talented partner in Roman Josi on Nashville's top defensive pairing. A huge year should be in the cards considering the upgrade Subban has seen to his supporting cast. This is especially true on the power play, where he'll have the luxury of hitting the ice with guys like Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and James Neal.
2017 Outlook: Doughty finished 10th in scoring among defensemen with 14 goals and 51 points in 82 games but still won the Norris Trophy, a testament to the impact he has on the ice that isn't always reflected in the stats. His 14 goals are the most he has scored in six seasons, easily accomplished with a 7.1 shooting percentage that more than doubled his mark of 3.2 from the previous season. His usage remains sky-high at 28 minutes per game, putting him among the league's leaders every season, though it seems like he never gets tired and plays harder when the games get longer. However, Doughty has cracked the 50-point mark just twice, and will face a challenge doing so again given how the Kings' offense is not expected to improve very much, if at all. Despite his nine power-play markers, Doughty scored just four goals at even strength, which ranks outside the league's top 50 among defensemen. The emergence of Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez helps lessen the load on Doughty as they continually earn the trust of head coach Darryl Sutter, which may in turn allow Doughty a little more offensive freedom.
2017 Outlook: Arguably one of the best scorers from the blue line, Letang was third in the league among defenseman in points (67) last season behind only Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns. With the man advantage, the 29-year-old racked up five goals and 22 assists while averaging an astonishing 5:09 per game in power-play ice time. The defenseman has been hampered by recent concussions, but when healthy, fantasy owners are treated to an elite-level point producer on the back end who is going to be on the ice for at least an entire period. If there is a knock on Letang, it would be his defensive irresponsibility, as he is prone to making avoidable mistakes while taking risks. But his offensive talents and skating ability -- not to mention the plethora of stud scorers on the Penguins -- help him keep a positive plus/minus. Look for the Montreal native to be taken among the top five defensemen in most formats, and be prepared to reach for him if you want No. 58 to anchor your fantasy blue line.
2017 Outlook: His long association with Shea Weber on the Preds' top defensive pairing has aided Josi's growth curve, which has seen him evolve into one of the best all-around defensemen in the NHL. He actually outscored Weber by 10 points (61) last season, which undoubtedly aided in Nashville's decision to break them up over the summer and bring in P.K. Subban from Montreal in exchange for Weber. Subban is no slouch, of course, but Josi will be expected to anchor the Predators' blue line as a responsible offensive force to allow for Subban to play his typical high-risk game. Last season, Josi led Nashville in ice time (25:29) and assists (47), and was second in power-play points (24). Going back further, the Swiss blueliner has recorded 156 points over the past three seasons -- missing only 12 games during that span. Now that he is out of the shadow of his former team captain, Josi should finally get the credit he deserves as a superstar rearguard capable of carrying his team in all situations. Furthermore, as long as Subban steps in capably for Weber, Josi should get his 55-plus points yet again in 2016-17.
2017 Outlook: Giordano reversed his recent trend of injury woes last season, putting in a full 82-game campaign and setting new career highs in goals (21), points (56) and shots (212). He missed at least 18 games in each of the prior three non-lockout-shortened NHL seasons, but bounced back by showing both durability and star power despite the Flames missing the playoffs. Indeed, the Flames have enjoyed a massive windfall from signing Giordano as an undrafted free agent out of juniors, as he has risen to be their captain and most relied-upon blueliner. Now he gets a major goalie upgrade with Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson having been imported to replace Calgary's miserable production in net last season, which should help him improve upon that minus-5 rating. Giordano has spent his whole career with the Flames, and having signed a contract extension in August of 2015, he'll keep doing his thing in Cowtown into the next decade.
2017 Outlook: After spending the first 11 years of his career in Tennessee, Weber is about to lace up for one of sports' most storied franchises in Montreal. Dealt in the offseason in a blockbuster trade for fellow Canadian defenseman P.K. Subban, Weber joins the Habs coming off a 51-point season that featured 20 goals -- 14 of which came on the power play, a career high. Many have been clamoring that the Canadiens came away the loser in this deal given that Subban is four years younger and has higher upside than the former Preds captain, but we wouldn't be so sure. Weber has one of the most feared shots in the league, is usually good for 45-plus points and around 200 shots on goal, and plays a dominating physical game. Plus, his 96 points over the past two seasons came while splitting the pie with fellow blueliner Roman Josi, who piled up 116 points of his own during that span. Weber is going to be relied upon heavily in Montreal and encouraged to get involved offensively as much as he wants, so go ahead and draft him as the stud that he still is when building your fantasy defense.
2017 Outlook: Klingberg has beguin his NHL career with two impressive seasons. After breaking in with a stunning 40-point rookie campaign in 2014-15, he established himself as one of the NHL's top defensemen by racking up 58 points and a plus-22 rating in his sophomore campaign in 2015-16. The Swedish blueliner's shot rate spiked, his power-play production grew, and he took fewer penalties, all while moving the puck out of his zone and onto the sticks of the Stars' other two stars, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. However, he'll have to adjust to life with a new defense partner this season, as Alex Goligoski moved on to Arizona, meaning Klingberg probably will skate alongside Johnny Oduya on the Stars' top pairing. That said, Oduya's stay-at-home style might suit Klingberg well, allowing the uber-talented 24-year-old to take more risks offensively and perhaps clear 60 points for the first time.
2017 Outlook: Flyers fans knew Gostisbehere was going to be good, but no one predicted just how good he would be after getting called up in mid-November. At the time, the Flyers had won only five of their 16 games, but the addition of Ghost jumpstarted their offense, ultimately leading to a playoff berth. He set a new NHL record for rookie blueliners by putting up a ridiculous 15-game point streak as part of a 17-goal, 46-point rookie season. Now comes the hard part: the encore. Expectations are high for the 23-year-old entering the new season, but even if he sees some goal-scoring regression, Gostisbehere should have no problem hitting 50 points with a full season of NHL action. After all, he's set to enjoy tons of power-play time alongside star center Claude Giroux and net-front presence Wayne Simmonds. He did have hip and abdomen surgery in May, but that isn't expected to impact his status for this season.
2017 Outlook: Workhorse defensemen who log heavy minutes and play on the top power-play unit are as valuable as they come in fantasy. Keith is one of them. The 33-year-old put together another impressive campaign in 2015-16, recording nine goals and 43 points in 67 games. While the Chicago rearguard has cracked 60 points twice in his career, he's now put up 40-45 points in all but one of his last five full seasons. You know what you're getting with Keith, who isn't afraid to jump into the play, but is also a rock defensively, as demonstrated by his plus-13 rating in 2015-16. The veteran is a top-pairing blueliner and power-play quarterback who can be counted on to produce offense at a consistent rate.
2017 Outlook: Owning Shattenkirk is both a dream and a nightmare. The dream is his talent with the puck, as he's an offensive whiz who's all but guaranteed to deliver 45 points, including copious amounts on the power play. But on the other hand, his great overall numbers disguise stunningly sluggish second-half performances. Shattenkirk is solid in his own zone and drives possession, making him a key cog in the Blues' attack, which means he's due for a massive bump from his current $4.25 million salary next summer. The Blues probably won't be able to afford Shattenkirk, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him end up on the trade block at some point this season. That said, go ahead and draft Shattenkirk as your top defender and wring everything you can out of him by Christmas. Then use his gaudy numbers to sell high on the American rearguard before his inevitable dip in production in the new year.
2017 Outlook: Markov may have lost his defensive partner P.K. Subban over the offseason, but the veteran remains a solid offensive producer and power-play quarterback. The 37-year-old managed to stay productive in a disappointing season for the Habs, racking up 44 points in 82 games. He'll continue to log heavy minutes, but it's unknown if Markov will still be operating on the first power-play unit, as newcomers Shea Weber and Alexander Radulov are both projected to slot in on the man advantage. What we do know about Markov is he's consistent. The veteran has stayed healthy for three straight seasons and has posted point totals in the 40-50 point range, so you know what you're getting.