As we come to the last section of skaters, we are also coming to the less-heralded section in fantasy circles. Sure, there are some that argue that defense should be drafted early and often (ahem, Blog Cosby), and I think there's a little bit of merit there. The key is looking at what you're drafting as compared to the average player in each position. Mike Green, without a doubt, is worth an early pick; he is a point-per-game player, capable of scoring 30 goals. He is light years above any other defensemen, a gap worthy of waiting another round for a forward. Beyond Green, I have a hard time seeing the value of drafting defensemen high, for the simple fact that most of the top tier are subject to change from year-to-year (think Dion Phaneuf the last couple of years and Zdeno Chara last year). I could have drafted Phaneuf's or Chara's production in the last round (Stephane Robidas or Erik Johnson). The point is, given the volatility of defense production, the players beyond Mike Green will fluctuate between 35-60 points, and in any given year you can find 40-50 point defensemen on the waiver wire. Given how early you'd be drafting for potential 50-60 point defensemen (typically 3rd and 4th round), you'd be passing on a number of potential point-per-game wingers.
With that in mind, I'm devoting this sleeper section to one guy that has slipped a bit (undeservedly) and three D that can be had in the late or final rounds of your draft.
P.S. I am using Yahoo Sports 2010 fantasy draft rankings and positions in the mostly standard Yahoo 12-team format.
Shea Weber - Nashville Predators
Average draft position: 69th pick
Could easily match the production of: Dion Phaneuf (51st pick) and Chris Pronger (44th pick)
Weber was a popular early pick in last year's draft, so I think his draft position this year might be a vindictive one. Yes, he didn't crack 20 goals as he had the year before, but no defensemen topped 20, and Weber's 16 were good enough to tie Drew Doughty for 3rd best among defensemen. Weber's numbers suffered after some dings late in the year, but he still managed a +/- of 0 on a defensively-mediocre Nashville squad. Those injuries, mostly to the "upper body", affected his shot, which was used 30 fewer times last year than in 08-09. A healthy Weber still has a booming shot, and should still be considered capable of scoring 20 goals. It might not be Mike Green territory, but he is slipping in a lot of drafts, and if you can get him in the 6th or later round you could be getting great value. Those concerned about his PIM dropoff, I can assure you Weber's game will not often net him around 30 PIM per year. He booms too much for that. 80 PIM is a bit optimistic, though, because his value as a shooter means Trotz won't want him getting into fights or taking dumb penalties.
2010-11 prediction: 82 games, 22 goals, 32 assists, 54 points, +2, 22 PP points, 255 shots, 58 PIM
Pavel Kubina - Tampa Bay Lightning
Average draft position: 136th pick
Could easily match the production of: Erik Johnson (72nd pick) and Zdeno Chara (57th pick)
One of the more consistent heavy-shot defensemen of the 2000s, Kubina has always been valued a bit high in the past. After last year, though, he has dropped significantly on many draft cheat sheets, to the point of almost not being drafted. That is a serious mistake when you take into account his numbers and situation. Kubina has moved away from the sinking Thrashers to the surging Lightning, a team that has one of the best powerplays in the league. Kubina automatically becomes the quarterback for that powerplay, and his shot from the point will be ably screened by their big-bodied forwards (Lecavalier, Malone) and rebounded by their skilled snipers (Stamkos, St. Louis, Gagne). Recall, also, that his shooting % last year was about half his career %, so he is bound to get back to 7-8% shooting. His +/- will be tempered by a Tampa defense that is still finding itself, but expect Kubina's shots, goals, assists, and PP points to climb.
2010-11 prediction: 80 games, 13 goals, 39 assists, 52 points, +1, 28 PP points, 178 shots, 85 PIM
John Carlson - Washington Capitals
Average draft position: 157th pick
I think this one is straightforward: Carlson is young blood, and the Capitals want to make him part of the powerplay (possibly the only PP unit better than Tampa Bay's). He had a strong showing in the playoffs and his 22 game trial last year, so this kid has great potential. Keep in mind, though, that he's not a big shooter right now, so he won't be a monster in the goals and shooting categories. An added bonus? He's been chippy in the past (over 1 PIM/G in the USHL & OHL).
2010-11 prediction: 72 games, 8 goals, 40 assists, 48 points, +15, 26 PP points, 125 shots, 72 PIM
Jamie McBain - Carolina Hurricanes
Average draft position: 180th pick
Could easily match the production of: Alex Goligoski (94th pick)
McBain was given a trial-by-fire last season, not only playing the 'Canes final 14 games, but averaging almost 26 minutes per game. He played on the powerplay, the penalty kill, and even-strength, and how'd he do? Just 3 goals and 7 assists (4 PP points). No biggie. Seriously though, McBain passed his test with flying colors, and it wasn't an anomaly; he has stormed through every level starting with NCAA hockey in 08-09 (37 points in 40 games) and continuing through the AHL in 09-10 (40 points in 68 games). The only question is situational: can the Hurricanes move aside some of their stiffs on the blue line (Corvo, Gleason) to give McBain a larger role? He's almost certain to slot into the powerplay, but if he can get top-pairing minutes he'll make a few people very happy as a last-round fantasy pick.
2010-11 prediction: 77 games, 10 goals, 35 assists, 45 points, -5, 22 PP points, 154 shots, 30 PIM
As you can see, the projections for these players are cautious, but could easily match some of the higher-profile names we're seeing drafted in the middle rounds. If you're confident your defensive draft pick can significantly outperform the second tier, by all means pick him early. If not, keep this list in mind.