Slapshot Fantasy

Three of fantasy hockey’s best defensemen on bad teams

05 April 2016: Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk (27) [7843] takes a shot from the blue line. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Boston Bruins 2-1 (SO) in a regular season NHL game at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photograph by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

Earlier on Today’s Slapshot we examined three of fantasy hockey’s best forwards on bad teams that had their value dragged down by their plus-minus rating.

This time around we’ll be looking at three young blue liners who had their fantasy ranking sabotaged by their plus-minus rating, but still proved to be valuable assets during the 2015-16 season.

Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo Sabres

Those that didn’t know Ristolainen’s name before this season certainly do now. Ristolainen scored over 20 more points and registered over 80 more shots this season than he did in 2014-15. The 21-year-old Finn had over 200 shots, 41 points, and 21 power play points as the cornerstone of the Sabres’ blue line in his second full season.

Buffalo’s struggles as a team were reflected in Ristolainen’s minus-21 plus-minus rating, but he was still one of fantasy hockey’s biggest breakout defensive stars this season. Ristolainen averaged over 25 minutes of ice per game in his third year in the NHL and there is good reason to believe he will improve on his impressive individual statistics next season as the best player on Buffalo’s blue line.

The young core in Buffalo that includes stars like Jack Eichel, Evander Kane, and Ryan O’Reilly is all the reason anyone should need for drafting Ristolainen in the fall. Ristolainen will likely be a big part of the solution as things slowly begin to get better in Buffalo.

Tyson Barrie, Colorado Avalanche

March 29, 2016: Colorado Avalanche Defenseman Tyson Barrie (4) [7306] skates with the puck while St. Louis Blues Right Wing Troy Brouwer (36) [4523] pursues him during the third period of a NHL game between the Colorado Avalanche and the St. Louis Blues. The Blues defeated the Avalanche 3-1 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, MO. (Photo by Tim Spyers/Icon Sportswire)

March 29, 2016: Colorado Avalanche Defenseman Tyson Barrie (4) skates with the puck while St. Louis Blues Right Wing Troy Brouwer (36) pursues him. (Photo by Tim Spyers/Icon Sportswire)

Barrie’s production dropped a little this season as the blue line quarterback for the disappointing Avalanche, but he still put up solid numbers. Colorado as a team struggled at even strength, but Barrie found the back of the net from the blue line nine times at even strength.

Despite his goal scoring, Barrie’s fantasy value was dragged down by his minus-16 plus-minus rating. In the last 16 games of the season, Barrie scored just four points while the Avalanche fizzled and finished outside of the playoff picture.

The 24-year-old defender picked up 18 power play assists this season in addition to the 172 shots he put on net. Barrie may not have lived up to the expectations of being a top-100 fantasy player that many fantasy experts projected him to be, but he was still a dangerous player for the Avalanche.

Given Barrie’s age, potential, history of power play production, and the significant role he plays for the Avalanche, he remains a valuable defenseman to target on draft day and could prove to be a mid-round steal.

Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes

A minus-22 plus-minus rating and 18 games missed due to injury helped to drag Faulk’s fantasy rank far from what it was projected to be. The star defender will likely be undervalued on draft day because of how many fantasy managers he disappointed this year, but make no mistake — Faulk is a special player.

In just 64 games Faulk scored 16 goals, including 12 on the power play, and registered 184 shots. Missing nearly a quarter of the season wasn’t enough to stop Faulk from setting a career high in goals and continuing to establish himself as one of the NHL’s best offensive defenders.

When Faulk was healthy he was a force to be reckoned with on Carolina’s power play. If not for Carolina’s even strength struggles and his injury woes, Faulk likely would have finished the season as a top-100 fantasy player because of his power play production alone.

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