By Kyle Riley, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
The top-two options at defense this year stand head and shoulders above the rest, but if you miss out on both of them during your draft, there's no need to fret, as there will still be a plethora of high-end (and in some cases borderline-elite) blue-liners available after the first few rounds.
Here's a preview of this year's class of defensemen, ranked by tier.
TIER 1 - An elite blue-line duo
Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson
Burns eclipsed the 75-point mark for the third time in four seasons in 2018-19, notching 16 goals and 83 points while firing 300 shots on net in 82 appearances. He remains the No. 1 fantasy option at his position heading in 2019-20. He's played all 82 games in five consecutive campaigns and has shown no signs of slowing down entering his age-34 season.
Karlsson possesses similarly elite upside, but questions surrounding his health make him a significantly more risky pick. The 29 year old Swede was limited to just 53 games last campaign due to injury, but he still managed three goals and 45 points over that span. He underwent surgery to repair his injured groin in June and is expected to be ready for training camp, which should quell some of the concern regarding his health.
TIER 2 - Secondary options if you miss out on Big 2
Victor Hedman, John Carlson, Torey Krug, Roman Josi, Dustin Byfuglien, Mark Giordano, Kris Letang, Seth Jones, John Klingberg, P.K. Subban, Morgan Rielly, Tyson Barrie
If you miss out on the top-two blue-liners during the first few rounds of your draft, there's no shame in entering the season with one of these skaters as your No. 1 option. Hedman took a small step backward in terms of offensive production last year, notching 12 goals and 54 points in 70 games after totaling 17 goals and 63 points during the previous season, but if he's able to stay healthy, he should be able to return to his 60-plus point form in 2019-20. Carlson has firmly established himself as a borderline elite fantasy option, racking up double-digit goals and 65-plus points in back-to-back campaigns, and could creep into the top tier if he's able to match that production for a third straight season.
The rest of the players that appear in this tier all possess double-digit goal and 50-plus point upside, making them rock-solid No. 1 fantasy options as long as they're paired with a high-end No. 2.
TIER 3 - Exciting youthful options
Thomas Chabot, Rasmus Dahlin, Miro Heiskanen, Erik Gustafsson, Keith Yandle, Shea Weber, Alex Pietrangelo
This tier features a trio of exciting youngsters in Chabot, Dahlin, and Heiskanen who will enter the 2019-20 campaign as their team's No. 1 defender. Chabot is a little more proven than the other two, having racked up 14 goals and 55 points in 70 games last season, but all three will possess similar offensive upside this year. Gustafsson broke out to the tune of 17 goals and 60 points in 2018-19, but his lack of a track record makes him much more of a gamble than the three skaters that appear before him in this tier. Yandle, Weber, and Pietrangelo are all proven commodities at this stage of their careers and should be good for 50-plus points this season, but they don't have quite as much upside as the rest of the players in this grouping.
TIER 4 - Solid floors available
Dougie Hamilton, Mathew Dumba, Cale Makar, Quinn Hughes, Drew Doughty, Jacob Trouba, Zach Werenski, Charlie McAvoy, Aaron Ekblad
Hamilton isn't exactly a sexy pick, but he's scored at least 17 goals and 39 points in back-to-back seasons, making him a reliable No. 3 fantasy option. Dumba, on the other hand, was playing like a man possessed prior to suffering a season-ending injury last year, racking up 12 goals and 22 points in the first 32 games of the campaign. He could break out in a big way in 2019-20 if he's able to stay healthy. Makar and Hughes are similar to the trio of youngsters that appear in Tier 3 in terms of raw talent, but they both have extremely limited experience at the NHL level, making them hard to fully trust. The rest of the skaters in this tier are all pretty well established and should be good for at least 40 points in 2019-20 barring injury, but anything more than that is far from a guarantee.
TIER 5 - Production begins to decline
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Shea Theodore, Ryan Suter, Shayne Gostisbehere, Ryan Ellis, Josh Morrissey, Rasmus Ristolainen, Ryan Pulock, Mattias Ekholm
Each of the skaters listed in Tier 5 should finish the season in the 35-to-45 point range, but 45 points should be viewed as the ceiling for this group rather than an easily attainable mark. Players participating in leagues that use the plus-minus category should drop Ristolainen by at least one tier, as he's registered an atrocious minus-66 rating in 151 games over the last two campaigns.
TIER 6 - Risky options aplenty
Vince Dunn, Jared Spurgeon, Ivan Provorov, Ryan McDonagh, Justin Faulk, Jake Muzzin, Alexander Edler, Mikhail Sergachev, Jeff Petry, Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, Colton Parayko
There isn't much separating the players that appear in Tier 6 from those listed in Tier 5, but the skaters included in this grouping all come with a little more baggage than the blueliners found in the previous bunch, including questions about consistency, health, and track record, all of which make them slightly more risky ventures.
TIER 7 - Not much upside, but not without potential
Devon Toews, Filip Hronek, Noah Hanifin, Samuel Girard, Jake Gardiner, Esa Lindell, Mike Green, Jaccob Slavin, Travis Sanheim
Tier 7 is headlined by two up-and-coming yet unproven players in Toews and Hronek. Both enjoyed successful rookie campaigns in 2018-19 and appear poised to take a significant step forward during their first full NHL seasons in 2019-20. The rest of this group is composed of established players that should be good for at least 30 points this year, but otherwise don't possess much offensive upside. The exception to that rule is Gardiner, who put up 52 points in 2017-18, but he still remains unsigned at this point, so it's hard to predict what kind of role he'll have this season.
TIER 8 - Late-round fliers with question marks
Adam Fox, Cam Fowler, Colin Miller, Anthony DeAngelo, Damon Severson, Erik Brannstrom, Justin Schultz, Kevin Shattenkirk, Will Butcher, Nate Schmidt
The players listed in Tier 8 will all enter the campaign with questions surrounding their reliability due to health concerns, uncertainty about what kind of role they'll have, consistency, etc. However, they also each possess enough offensive upside to warrant a late-round flier in most fantasy formats.