2013 Outlook: As reigning king blueliner of the NHL's fantasy empire, Erik Karlsson is the undisputed top-ranked defenseman ahead of 2012-13. Racking up 78 points (plus-16), the young lad didn't endure even one mediocre week through all of last year. And we don't expect Karlsson to succumb to the pressure of following up such a brilliant campaign ' he's just too easygoing and chill. Occasionally accused of playing his position like a forward, the 22-year-old is primed to near his jaw-dropping pace from 2011-12 ' as long as he continues to shoot the puck with great frequency.
2013 Outlook: The No. 1 defenseman for the Pittsburgh Penguins is nearing the cusp of his playing prime at 25 years of age. Scoring 10 goals and 32 assists on 142 shots, Letang wrapped up this past season at plus-21 ' despite missing 31 games due to concussion complications. Well, he's healthy again, as is fellow top power-play performer Sidney Crosby. So, along with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, Crosby and Letang are situated to make a whole lot of goal-scoring noise ' particularly with the man advantage. If anyone is to challenge Erik Karlsson for the defensive scoring title, our money is on Letang.
2013 Outlook: A formidable fantasy force since 2002-03, Zdeno Chara shows no indication of slowing down. The 35-year-old actually eclipsed his former personal-best points total with 52 this past campaign. A top contributor in all relevant categories, Chara led blueliners in plus/minus, sporting a plus-33 for the second straight season. The stamina/health combo isn't too heavy of a concern, as the veteran D-man's commitment to nutrition and fitness is considered a deviation from common rule. Rumor has it 'Big Z' ate a chicken wing ' once.
2013 Outlook: Despite offseason legal issues and weight-gain concerns, Dustin Byfuglien still managed to pull off an admirable 2011-12 campaign. Collecting 53 points (223 shots) in only 66 contests, Big Buff provided a teasing hint of what he's capable of with the Winnipeg Jets. We might find out the answer this shortened season, as Byfuglien is said to be in decent physical condition. Just don't hold your breath for a quality plus/minus rating.
2013 Outlook: In 2011-12, Brian Campbell attracted gobs of attention by adapting quickly and enjoying a 53-points season with his new squad, the Florida Panthers. And there's no cause to believe Campbell can't be as productive this year. When healthy, the 33-year-old is simply one of the best puck-moving D-men in the biz. Just don't ask for penalty minutes or too pleasant a plus/minus.
2013 Outlook: Entering his 15th season, the veteran blueliner shows zero sign of slowing down. Recording a career number of shots (252) and averaging well more than 25 minutes per game this past campaign, Dan Boyle is embedded as a top-10 fantasy defenseman as long as he stays healthy. If Boyle doesn't hit the 30-point mark in a 48-game season with the San Jose Sharks, he should near it.
2013 Outlook: Whatever advantage Ryan Suter loses by way of Shea Weber breakup is regained (and then some) through playing with a stronger corps of scoring forwards with the Minnesota Wild. The organization's No. 1 defenseman (by a country mile) is in position to quarterback a power play including a choice of Zach Parise, Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen, etc. The current crop of Nashville top-six forwards is simply not of the same caliber. At age 27, Suter could be in for an outlandishly successful season ' just months after enjoying a 46-point campaign.
2013 Outlook: We can't wait to see what Alex Pietrangelo has up his sleeve for an encore with the St. Louis Blues. A league standout this past season, the top defenseman was one of several players who blossomed handsomely under coach Ken Hitchcock. Encouraged to shoot more, Pietrangelo totaled 51 points, nearly half of which counted on the power play. And missing just one regular-season contest, the former Barrie Colt is clearly durable.
2013 Outlook: Blessed with a kajillion-dollar, nearly forever contract with the Nashville Predators (hat-tip to the Philadelphia Flyers for moving that process along), captain Shea Weber doesn't need Ryan Suter to continue doing what he does best (Roman Josi will serve as a suitable sub). That is: shoot, score, play mega-minutes in all situations and rack up a pretty-enough plus/minus rating. If only he would get into more penalty trouble.As it stands, Weber is a solid top-10 fantasy option; top-five, if the Preds were to ever add some truly dynamic firepower up front.
2013 Outlook: Embracing his role as captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Dion Phaneuf brought a renewed sense of intensity to the ice in 2011-12. It paid off. Notching 44 points ' including 22 with the extra skater ' and collecting 92 penalty minutes, Phaneuf averaged more than 25 minutes per game without missing a single contest. A similar performance is anticipated for this season, as is (unfortunately) a less-than-sparkling plus/minus rating. Unless another figure is brought in, the Maple Leafs have questionable goaltending (James Reimer, Ben Scrivens) at best.
2013 Outlook: Love him or loathe him, P.K. Subban is one of the more titillating blue-line fantasy options at present. Capable of satisfying several relevant categories ' power-play points, shots, penalty minutes, time on ice ' the 23-year-old is still growing as a player. A gem in keeper leagues, Subban is expected to rate as a top-10 option for many years to come. And we can't wait to see him perform with a (finally) healthy Andrei Markov, game in and game out.
2013 Outlook: Following a very successful 2011-12 campaign, Michael Del Zotto is inarguably established as the top offensive defenseman for the New York Rangers ' a nice turnaround from the drama-riddled roller-coaster ride that was 2010-11. A fixture on the Rangers' primary power-play unit, Del Zotto tallied 41 points in his third NHL season. But coach John Tortorella will be most pleased with a much-ameliorated plus-20 ' reflecting the 22-year-old's improved sense of defensive responsibility.
2013 Outlook: Signed to a five-year, $28.75 million extension with the Jets, Tobias Enstrom is starting to reap the benefits of performing at a consistently high level. When healthy, the diminutive, playmaking blueliner serves as an ideal complement to his steady partner, Dustin Byfuglien. When those two are on, they are extremely dangerous and make up one of the more potent defensive pairings in all the NHL. You won't get a lot of shots out of Enstrom, but his power-play assists and average of 24 minutes per game more than compensate.
2013 Outlook: One of the few 'feel-good' stories during an otherwise disastrous campaign for the Columbus Blue Jackets, defenseman Jack Johnson is ready to pick up where he left off in 2011-12. Notching 14 points in 21 contests following his trade from the Los Angeles Kings, Johnson ' and the rest of the Blue Jackets' blue line, for that matter ' can't wait for the fresh start of a new season. The (rumored) future captain of this evolving Columbus squad will lead by example as he attempts to enjoy a career year from a production standpoint. Straight up? A 30-point shortened season wouldn't surprise us in the slightest. And the nearly 26-year-old (Jan. 13) can be counted on to occasionally skate nearly half of a game.
2013 Outlook: The subject of offseason trade rumors, Keith Yandle would likely become more valuable if dealt to another NHL club. As it stands, the cherished blueliner with the Phoenix Coyotes remains capable of amassing 50 points during a normal NHL season despite a serious absence of weapons up front. Plus, one of the sturdier players overall, Yandle hasn't missed a single regular-season game in three years.