On the 'D'-fence: Blue liners can make big difference

Wednesday, 01.23.2013 / 12:00 PM
Brian Metzer  - NHL.com Correspondent

Every Wednesday 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.

It was a long four months, but the National Hockey League season finally kicked off on Saturday with a jam-packed schedule that saw 26 teams in action. What might have gone unnoticed is that those 26 squads weren't the only ones who were dashing off the starting line in what is sure to be a sprint through the shortened 48-game season.

Obviously, the key in any fantasy league is getting the right mixture of players, and as we have made a habit of preaching over the last 15 months, defensemen are a major part of that elixir. This column and each that follow it will help you figure out which blue liners you should be targeting.

Erik Karlsson, who led all defensive scorers last season en route to the Norris Trophy, is again the top dog at the position. He might not average .96 points per game this season, but he is capable of coming close. He has already registered three points (1G, 2A), 10 shots on goal and a plus-3 through the Senators' first two games. He has also blocked four shots, something that might not have been obvious in his game in the past.

If you weren't able to secure Karlsson, there are plenty of other options who are performing well during the early stages of the season. Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo, of the St. Louis Blues, combined for seven points (1G, 6A) over the weekend, which was good enough to place them one and two among defensive scorers as play began on Tuesday night. Sheldon Souray, who seems to be enjoying life skating with those talented Ducks forwards, is again looking as if he sipped from the fountain of youth in picking up three points (1G, 2A) through his first two games.

The good news is that the position offers plenty of depth and there are a number of younger players who are primed to take major steps forward this season. Justin Schultz, who created quite a stir in free agency this summer before landing in Edmonton, was tearing up the American Hockey League prior to joining the Oilers last week. The Kelowna, BC native notched 48 points (18G, 30A) in just 34 games for Oklahoma City, and with the talent that surrounds him in Alberta it's just a matter of time before he is scoring with regularity at the NHL level. He picked up his first career goal on Tuesday night.

Ryan Ellis, Travis Hamonic and Nikita Nikitin all managed to notch at least two points through their first two games for the Predators, Islanders and Blue Jackets respectively, and they should continue to find their way onto the score sheet.

With games being played nightly over the next 90-plus days, productive defensemen could make the difference between winning and losing a close match, so don't forget to focus some attention on that aspect of your lineup.


Paul Martin, Penguins -- Martin, who is currently skating on the Penguins' top pairing with Brooks Orpik, looks like a different player this season. He is handling the puck with confidence and making smart plays that haven't been seen in his game since his days with the New Jersey Devils -- and there could be a good reason for that. Head coach Dan Bylsma has moved him back to the right side after using him on the left for most of his time in Pittsburgh. He was used chiefly on the right side during his time with the Devils, and the change has already resulted in three points (1G, 2A), including a power-play goal. Martin won't produce like teammate Kris Letang, but he could be a great depth play who notches upwards of 20 points this season.

Dmitry Kulikov, Panthers -- Kulikov, who finally inked a contract with the Panthers on Friday, is primed for a big season. He is entering his fourth NHL campaign and no longer has to jockey for power play minutes with Jason Garrison, who signed with Vancouver this summer. Kulikov is one of the craftiest offensive blueliners in the league and will get plenty of time with Brian Campbell on the No. 1 power-play unit. He shouldn't have much rust to shake either, as he spent the lockout playing in the KHL for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Grab him while you can.

Fedor Tyutin, Blue Jackets -- Tyutin will actually be playing in more of a shutdown role this season, but he will be paired with youngster Nikita Nikitin and will pick up more points than some projections give him credit for. He has already picked up three assists through two games and is shooting the puck to the tune of 2.5 shots per game. Most fantasy owners will be grabbing Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski, but there is production to be had in the form of Tyutin. Keep an eye on him.


Jay Bouwmeester, Flames -- The arrival of Dennis Wideman has really put a damper on Bouwmeester's fantasy value. He will get very little time on the power play, and though he'll still play plenty of minutes, they might not come as often with the Flames' top forwards. Bouwmeester is already in a bit of a plus-minus hole after registering a minus-4 over the weekend. Unless he ends up moving to another situation, he will not offer much help to fantasy teams this season.

P.K. Subban, Canadiens -- Big things were expected of Subban this season -- in fact, he ranked 11th in our preseason rankings back in August -- but his extended contract dispute leaves plenty of questions in terms of his productivity this season. He could be a huge asset capable of picking up points in bunches once he finally comes to terms, but unless you are looking to stash him in a keeper or dynasty league, look elsewhere.

Kurtis Foster, Flyers -- Foster was signed to play on the second power-play unit alongside Andrej Meszaros, but is already dealing with soreness. Though the injury is not significant, it is the sort of thing that could limit a player who is already going to play only a handful of minutes per evening. His shot is tantalizing, but there are plenty of other options on the waiver wire.


Patrick Wiercioch, Senators -- This 6-foot-5 puck mover will get every opportunity to earn a regular spot in the Senators lineup. He is currently getting 12:28 TOI per night and has already notched two assists, five shots on goal and one power-play point. Keep an eye on him, as he could find ways to be productive as the opposition focuses on shutting down Karlsson and Sergei Gonchar.

Weekly Rankings:

1. Erik Karlsson, Senators

2. Zdeno Chara, Bruins

3. Shea Weber, Predators

4. Kris Letang, Penguins

5. Alex Pietrangelo, Blues

6. Alexander Edler, Canucks

7. Dustin Byfuglien, Jets

8. Brian Campbell, Panthers

9. Dan Boyle, Sharks

10. Ryan Suter, Wild

11. Kevin Shattenkirk, Blues

12. Dion Phaneuf, Maple Leafs

13. Michael Del Zotto, Rangers

14. Keith Yandle, Coyotes

15. Mark Streit, Islanders

16. Drew Doughty, Kings

17. Niklas Kronwall, Red Wings

18. Jack Johnson, Blue Jackets

19. Kimmo Timonen, Flyers

20. Tobias Enstrom, Jets

21. Duncan Keith, Blackhawks

22. Mark Giordano, Flames

23. Christian Ehrhoff, Sabres

24. Joni Pitkanen, Hurricanes

25. Sergei Gonchar, Senators

26. James Wisniewski, Blue Jackets

27. Justin Schultz, Oilers

28. Dmitry Kulikov, Panthers

29. Dennis Wideman, Flames

30. Ryan Ellis, Predators

31. Alex Goligoski, Stars

32. Tyler Myers, Sabres

33. Ryan Whitney, Oilers

34. Cam Fowler, Ducks

35. Brent Seabrook, Blackhawks

36. Matt Carle, Lightning

37. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Coyotes

38. Jason Garrison, Canucks

39. Andrei Markov, Canadiens

40. Ian White, Red Wings

41. Kevin Bieksa, Canucks

42. Mike Green, Capitals

43. Sheldon Souray, Ducks

44. Ryan McDonagh, Rangers

45. Marek Zidlicky, Devils

46. Travis Hamonic, Islanders

47. John-Michael Liles, Maple Leafs

48. Brendan Smith, Red Wings

49. Dan Girardi, Rangers

50. Paul Martin, Penguins

51. Filip Kuba, Panthers

52. Slava Voynov, Kings

53. Nick Leddy, Blackhawks

54. Jared Spurgeon, Wild

55. Nikita Nikitin, Blue Jackets

56. John Carlson, Capitals

57. Erik Johnson, Avalanche

58. Justin Faulk, Hurricanes

59. Andrej Meszaros, Flyers

60. Victor Hedman, Lightning

Injured: Ryan Murray, Willie Mitchell, Lubomir Visnovsky (suspended), PK Subban (RFA), Brent Burns, Jake Gardiner, Zach Bogosian

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