2017 Outlook: Ristolainen is a power-play quarterback on the rise. Last season was just his second as a full-timer in the NHL, yet he proceeded to drop in nine goals and 32 helpers in total, with 21 points coming on the man advantage. Fantasy owners were turned off by his minus-21 rating in the most recent campaign, but help is on the way. Scoring winger Kyle Okposo was acquired in free agency and the Sabres will have a more experienced phenom in Jack Eichel; that should lead to an increase in goal support for Ristolainen while having the puck away from the defensive zone on a more frequent basis.
2017 Outlook: Vlasic had one of his best seasons as a pro in 2015-16, setting career highs in assists (31) and points (39) while maintaining a respectable plus-15 rating in 67 games. Brent Burns is generally tasked with leading the attack from the back end for the Sharks, but Vlasic is a perfect complement to Burns' hyper-aggressive style of play, playing a more reserved two-way game while skating alongside Justin Braun on San Jose's second pairing. Vlasic is also a key contributor on the Sharks' second power-play unit, and should once again post somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 points on the man advantage in 2016-17, giving him added value in leagues that award bonuses for power-play points.
2017 Outlook: McDonagh is fresh off his third straight campaign of 30-plus points, with his bread and butter commonly served with an abundance of apples -- in the past three seasons, the Blueshirt blueliner has set up 79 scores. Perhaps even more impressive is his productivity within the defensive zone, having posted positive plus-minus totals in each of the six seasons that he's been in the NHL. It was revealed that McDonagh had played through a broken bone in his pointer finger in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs, limiting him to three games against the Penguins, and while that shouldn't be an issue moving forward, it serves as a reminder that the rearguard just cannot seem to stay completely healthy. If you're a conservative fantasy owner, it's recommended that you steer clear of McDonagh due to the injury concerns.
2017 Outlook: Faulk was an absolute beast with the man advantage last season. The Minnesota native finished second among all defensemen with 12 power-play goals in 2015-16, and he probably would have bested Shea Weber's 14 if he wasn't forced to miss 18 games due to injury. Unfortunately, Faulk plays on one of the league's most underwhelming teams in Carolina, but he has a 49-point season under his belt (2014-15) and has scored at a rate of 0.59 points per game during the past two seasons. That's approaching "elite" status in the world of fantasy blueliners, but his value takes a hit if your league counts plus-minus, given his dreadful minus-41 rating during that same two-season span.
2017 Outlook: Hamilton quietly notched a second straight 40-point season in 2015-16. After arriving from Boston with much fanfare as an elite offensive defenseman, Hamilton averaged less than 20 minutes of ice time and couldn't quite manage to maintain his spot among the team's top-four rearguards. His 12 goals, including seven on the power play, came as advertised, but he also finished with a minus-14 rating, the worst mark of his career. He certainly dedicated himself to the team's philosophy of blocking shots, with 106, double his previous season's total of 53, but that could be more a reflection of the team's inability to drive puck possession. It's important to keep in mind, though, that Hamilton is only 23 years old, and that his best campaigns are still well ahead of him. Playing on a team with a great blue line means Hamilton will have to share the spotlight, but Hamilton will be counted on to help improve the Flames' 22nd-ranked power play behind Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie.
2017 Outlook: Brodie had a sluggish start to 2015-16, scoring only seven points through the first stretch of the season before catching fire and scoring 33 points in 38 games, and ultimately finishing with his second consecutive 40-point campaign. While doubters pointed out that Brodie played his best alongside Mark Giordano, he spent much of the season with Dougie Hamilton and still performed admirably; a slight dip in goals and plus-minus was expected due to the team's broader struggles. In fact, Brodie led all Flames defensemen in ice time, the only one to average more than 25 minutes per game and the team's first choice on the penalty kill. Even with a new head coach in Glen Gulutzan, Brodie's skill is apparent and his role is unlikely to change as the No. 2 go-to defenseman in Calgary.
2017 Outlook: Point-packing defenders come at a premium in fantasy leagues, and Jones fits that description. As the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, the 21-year-old blueliner is naturally gifted with off-the-charts athleticism. Last season, Jones was traded from the Predators, the team that made him the fourth overall pick in 2013. He adjusted quickly to his new digs in Columbus, snatching a pair of goals and bagging 18 assists in 41 games. As a right-handed shot on the first power-play unit, Jones has the potential for liftoff in 2016-17. Draft him accordingly.
2017 Outlook: Green's first season with the Red Wings brought with it a continuation of the decline he'd started in Washington. Although he remained quite useful on the power play, hitting 20 points with the man advantage for the first time since his glory days in 2009-10, his overall point total dropped by 10, highlighting just how much Green struggled to produce at even strength. The Calgary native will turn 31 on opening night, but all the injuries he suffered in his 20s have taken a toll on his body, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see him continue trailing off gradually.
2017 Outlook: Ekholm enjoyed a breakout in 2015-16, notching eight goals and 35 points in 82 games. The 26-year-old averaged 20:15 of ice time per game, and spent some time with the second power-play unit. While Nashville lost Shea Weber over the offseason, they now have the talented P.K. Subban to anchor the top power-play unit with Roman Josi, so it's unlikely Ekholm ever sees a spot on that lethal first unit. However, the Predators are on the rise and Ekholm is a solid second-pairing defenseman who isn't afraid to join the rush, so he should put forth another productive campaign skating alongside Ryan Ellis.
2017 Outlook: The Senators courted the big-bodied Phaneuf at the trade deadline last February, pulling him away from a lousy Maple Leafs team, albeit one laying the foundation for a significant rebuild. The Buds adding renowned bench boss Mike Babcock invigorated the hulky blueliner as he maintained a half-point per game pace through 51 contests last season. With the Sens, another rebuilding franchise, coach Dave Cameron sang Phaneuf's praises, noting that he's a top-four defenseman who acts like a coach. Ultimately, a lower-body injury cut his season short in late March when it was clear Ottawa's playoff hopes were dashed. While Phaneuf owners would've liked to have seen him show better chemistry with Cody Ceci on the second pairing (eight points and a minus-3 rating), a full season working with the young talent in Ottawa should do wonders for the veteran.
2017 Outlook: About to hit the ice for his third season in Washington, Niskanen has been solid in his first two campaigns with the Caps, skating in all 82 games both times while recording 31 and 32 points, respectively. It's clear that the former Penguin's eye-popping 46-point, plus-33 showing from 2013-14 isn't likely to be repeated, at least as long as stud blueliner John Carlson is in town to eat up all that juicy man-advantage time next to Alex Ovechkin on one of the league's most potent power-play units. However, Niskanen makes up for the decreased scoring production in other ways, as his real value lies in his triple-digit hit (157 in 2015-16) and blocked shot (145) totals.
2017 Outlook: Now 31, Goligoski is bound for the desert after inking a five-year, $27.375 million deal with the Coyotes this offseason. The American defenseman was a model of consistency in his five full campaigns in Dallas after starting his career in Pittsburgh, quietly scoring at a clip of 0.48 points per game. His power-play time has decreased over the years (4:09 per game in 2010-11 to 2:09 in 2015-16), which isn't likely to see a spike anytime soon, since fantasy stud Oliver Ekman-Larsson has the Arizona blue line locked down. However, as his role with the man advantage has diminished, his hit and block totals have increased to the point where he recorded triple digits in both categories in each of the last two seasons. As a 30-plus-point rearguard with the ability to rack up 100 or so hits and 150-plus blocked shots, there's real value here as Goligoski joins a young, rapidly improving core of Coyotes ready to take a leap forward in 2016-17.