Keeping with the same criteria used for the forwards, here are some of the top potential sleepers and busts at defense for this upcoming season.
Zach Bogosian, ATL – Bogosian missed significant time with a broken leg, but played very well when given the chance. He finished the season with 11 points in 16 games. Over a full season, he should be a solid producer on the Thrashers blueline.
Jack Johnson, LA – Johnson is at a bit of a crossroads in his NHL career, and the time for him to breakout is now. He has the offensive tools to be a stud, and his improvement or lack thereof will go a long way towards determining what kind of team the Kings are going to be this year.
Anton Babchuk, CAR – A late season surge from the 25 year old suggests he might be ready to break through over a full season.
James Wisniewski, ANA – Put up a very respectable 24 points in just 48 games last year. The departure of Chris Pronger opens the door for him to see more playing time with the Ducks this year.
Matt Niskanen, DAL – Niskanen’s offensive numbers have jumped over each of his two full seasons in the NHL. If he turns around his +/-, which dropped from +22 as a rookie to -11 last year, his fantasy value will increase even more.
Denis Grebeshkov, EDM – Grebeshkov posted a very solid 27 points in the latter half of last season. He should see solid ice time on what should be an improved Oilers power play.
Tomas Kaberle, TOR – The Leafs revamped their defensive corps, providing Kaberle with some much needed help. If he can stay healthy, Kaberle could post numbers worthy of top 10 fantasy defenseman status.
Lubomir Visnovsky, EDM – Visnovsky followed up a poor 2007-2008 season with a 2008-2009 campaign in which he missed 32 games, yet still put up 31 points. Over a full season, Visnovsky can still be an efficient puck mover and fantasy contributor.
Erik Johnson, STL – Johnson’s coming out party was supposed to happen last year, before a freak accident ruined his season. He will be ready to go this year, and help anchor what should be an exciting Blues’ power play.
Rob Blake, SJ – Blake seemed rejuvenated in San Jose last year, but he’s 39 years old and has become somewhat injury prone later in his career. He still has big name recognition, and someone will take him too high on draft day.
Mathieu Schneider, VAN – Another aging defenseman who underwent a rejuvenation of sorts after his trade to Montreal. Schneider will be pushed hard for power play time by Alexander Edler, Kevin Bieksa, and Christian Ehrhoff. At this stage in his career, be careful not to expect too much from him.
Kimmo Timonen, PHI – Timonen’s ice time, particularly on the power play, will be affected by the arrival of Chris Pronger. He should still post decent numbers on a solid Flyers team, but he might not hit last year’s totals.
Brian Campbell, CHI – Campbell’s ice time could be adversely affected by the development of the likes of Cam Barker, Brent Seabrook, and Duncan Keith. He should still be a solid fantasy contributor, just not the stud fantasy defenseman many seem to project him to be.
John-Michael Liles, COL – The Avalanche power play should be dismal this season, and the arrival of Kyle Quincey means more competition for Liles.
Tom Gilbert, EDM – Don’t draft him expecting either the 13 goals he posted in 2007-2008, or the 45 points from 2008-2009. A healthy Lubomir Visnovsky and emerging Denis Grebeshkov should cost Gilbert some power play time. Goal totals under 10 and point totals in the high thirties seem more reasonable.