When building out your fantasy hockey roster next year, there’s always some big names who go first at the draft. Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, etc., etc. But next year, consider someone new. Someone like Brent Burns.
Burns was the fourth most valuable player in standard scoring categories thanks in large part to the 353 shots he put on net that resulted in 27 goals. Burns had six more goals than Mark Giordano and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who finished tied for second among NHL defenseman in goals scored.
Burns’ shot rate truly set him apart from the other elite fantasy hockey defensemen. He had over 100 more shots than both Erik Karlsson and Dustin Byfuglien, who finished second and third among blue liners. But he didn’t just out-shoot his fellow defenders: only Ovechkin put more rubber on net than Burns did last season.
The notoriously bearded San Jose Shark had 75 points this season, including 30 on the power play. Despite that monstrous production he finished the season with a minus-5 plus-minus rating, but that wasn’t enough to keep him from being the most valuable defenseman in fantasy hockey.
This season, Burns scored ten more goals and 15 more points than he did in 2014-15. His play two years ago was enough to have him projected as a top-50 fantasy skater, but few anticipated his finish in fantasy hockey’s top five most valuable players.
A quick look at generalfanager.com reveals that San Jose’s entire talented but aging core, including Burns, is under contract for at least one more season, which is good news for his fantasy value. If he can come close to repeating his amazing 2015-16 season next year, the list of skaters that will have better seasons than him will be a very short one.
Defensemen often get overlooked on draft day because, in general, they don’t put up the numbers that forwards are capable of. Burns is clearly one of the biggest, if not the biggest, exception.
He also has added value in fantasy leagues that make him eligible to be played at both right wing in defense, a trait that he shares with Byfuglien which enables him to optimize your lineup throughout the season.
Now, much like it is foolhardy to expect Kane to score 106 points in Chicago next year, expecting Burns to replicate his exceptional 2015-16 season could be a dangerous gamble. Steady statistical growth over three straight seasons is no guarantee that the 32 year old Burns has not hit a ceiling in his productivity.
As the fall approaches and mock drafts begin in earnest, where and when Karlsson, Kris Letang, and P.K. Subban are being drafted will greatly influence whether or not Burns is worth taking first overall. There are few players who have been as impressive per-game as Letang or Subban, but both come with considerable injury concerns.
Karlsson’s 82 point, 66 assist season is impossible to overlook. Playing nearly 29 minutes a night and finishing 11th in standard scoring categories makes him a close second to Burns among the most valuable fantasy defensemen.
If Karlsson can be had after the beginning of the second round, passing over Burns in order to get a stud forward and Karlsson with your second pick is likely the best route to take.
With injuries, the unexpected unraveling of teams (looking at you, Montreal), and the ups and downs that come with any hockey season, there is no pick in fantasy hockey that is totally safe.
Taking Burns first overall on draft day is gambling on the heaviest-shooting and best goal scoring defenseman in hockey, which will all but guarantee an entertaining and successful fantasy season.