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On the 'D'-fence: Reflecting on the year that was

Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 12:11 PM
Brian Metzer  - NHL.com Correspondent

Every Tuesday during the season, NHL.com Correspondent Brian Metzer will provide you with an in-depth analysis of fantasy defensemen in our weekly segment: "On the 'D'-fence." From updated defensemen rankings to guys you should keep a close eye on and much more, Metzer will be your fantasy d-man expert all season long.

The NHL season is winding down and the Stanley Cup Playoffs are right around the corner, which means that most fantasy hockey seasons are in the books or are finishing up this week. If you were among the lucky ones to raise a fantasy championship, it is likely that defensemen played a role in securing that victory. Which proves a point we have been trying to make all season long here at "On the 'D'-Fence" -- defensemen can be just as important as any other player on your fantasy hockey team.

Of the top 50 scorers in the League over the past seven days, 12 percent of them were defensemen. Sure, that doesn't sound like a lot, but even in leagues that have just three or four starting positions for defensemen, those additional 4-7 points per player can be very beneficial, especially when you consider the number of those points that come on the power play.

In closing out the season, we wanted to point out a handful of statistics that show the importance of defensemen to your team and why they should get just as much consideration as the other players that comprise your roster.

Our current top-60 defensemen have accounted for 454 goals and 1,575 assists as a group or 7.56 goals and 26.25 assists per player, which means that you should have been able to fill your four starting slots in a Yahoo! Standard league with players that were providing roughly 34 points each or 136 points on the year. Of that group, there are 17 defensemen who have scored 10 or more goals and 21 who have posted 30 or more assists. That production beats a number of mid-tier forwards that have populated rosters throughout the season.

Our top 60 has also provided 8,165 shots on goal or 136.1 per man, while producing 2,295 PIMs or 38.25 on average. Each of these stats could mean the difference between winning and losing on a weekly basis.

Of the 10 league championship series we sampled this past week, six were tied or within two games heading into Sunday's action. Game-winning goals were tied or within one in four of the above-mentioned six. Considering that defensemen have accounted for 162 game-winning goals on the season, the position could have had a significant impact on the outcome of the reviewed matchups.

At the end of the day, forwards and goaltending prove to be vital to fantasy success, but you simply cannot discount the importance of having a strong core of defensemen to flesh out what amounts to 1/3 of your starting lineup on a week-to-week basis.

THE MOST VALUABLE DEFENSEMAN

It is tough to select anyone other than the Landsbro, Sweden native as the "Most Valuable" defenseman of the season. Erik Karlsson rose steadily in our rankings over the first few weeks of the season and broke into the top three on Nov. 1, taking the top spot on Nov. 15. He did slip down to No. 2 on Nov. 29, but has held on to the No. 1 slot in our top 60 ever since -- and for good reason. The 21-year-old has been pure production throughout, posting 19 goals, 58 assists and 77 points, totals that lead each category for his position. His 249 shots on goal pace that category as well, while he is tied for second in game-winning goals with 5 and in sole possession of second place in power-play points with 28. One of the biggest surprises in his game this season has been his decision-making, which is better than it was one year ago. His maturation on both sides of the puck has translated into a robust plus-18 rating. Karlsson, who is tied for 10th in the League's scoring race, will be a fantasy force the rest of the way and moving into the future.

THE BIGGEST SURPRISE

Brian Campbell's success isn't all that big a surprise to us here at "On the 'D'-fence," as he was listed in our "Going Rogue -- Under the Radar Defensemen" section back on Sept. 28. On that balmy fall day we predicted that Campbell could be a 50-plus point producer this season, and he has done just that. He appears here today because many didn't believe the hype, especially after the rear guard posted just 27 points last season in Chicago, but he has a ton of offensive talent and got the chance to quarterback a power play for a playoff team in a fairly weak division. Campbell has been a top-five scorer throughout the season and has posted 4 goals, 47 assists, 51 points and 125 shots on goal. He has notched 30 of his points on the power play and could break the 55-point plateau this week. If there is one drawback to his game, it is his minus-10 rating, but the rest of the picture more than makes up for that.

THE BIGGEST UNDERACHIEVER

If there was ever a case of a player just wanting a season to end, so as to get a fresh start in the next, it is Mike Green. The talented blueliner has been one of the most disappointing fantasy performers on a team that boasts a handful of them. Gone are the back-to-back 70-point seasons that Green put together between 2008 and 2010, and they have been replaced with back-to-back years highlighted by injuries, suspensions and miniscule production. Green has registered just .24 points per game, which is his lowest total since posting .13 and .17 in back-to-back seasons to start his career. His 7 points in 29 games this season looks even worse when you consider the fact he posted 4 of those points in an Oct. 22 game against the Detroit Red Wings -- meaning he has posted 3 points in his other 28 games this season. Green isn't shooting the puck the way he once did and seems to be a completely different player. He will need to prove he's happy, healthy and in shape next season before we can recommend drafting him as anything more than a reserve.

THE ROOKIE STANDOUT

Though Justin Faulk likely won't get consideration as the League's top rookie due to the presence of players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Henrique and Gabriel Landeskog, he is leading all rookie defensemen in scoring. He did have a fairly pedestrian October and November, but has been a great source of complementary production since December. The Minnesota native has notched 8 goals and 14 assists on the season, with 12 of those points coming on the power play. The 20-year-old has 97 shots on goal, is playing over 20 minutes per game and joins Jamie McBain as part of a bright young future on the Hurricane blue line.

THE NEXT BIG SLEEPER

When Nikita Nikitin was traded from the St. Louis Blues to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Kris Russell earlier this season, many thought that it would be a re-birth for Russell. Little did we know that it would actually be Nikitin who would blossom in his new environment and become a very effective fantasy player. The Omsk native has grown into an offensive force for the Jackets and looks like he will form a deadly trio with Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski heading into next season. The 25-year-old has 9 points in his last eight games and now has 31 points -- 13 of which have come on the power play -- in 51 games. He has also posted 3 game-winning goals and 141 shots on goal. Like Grant Clitsome last year, he has given fantasy owners great production down the stretch. We believe that, unlike Clitsome, he will be able to carry it over into next season.

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