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On the 'D'-Fence: Letang takes over top spot

Wednesday, 03.06.2013 / 12:30 PM
Brian Metzer  - NHL.com Correspondent

It may be hard to believe, but the Pittsburgh Penguins were able to secure the services of Kris Letang with a third round draft pick in 2005. His offensive skills were evident almost immediately as he went on to score 68 points in just 60 games for the Val-d'Or Foreurs of the QMJHL the year after he was drafted.

The defensive side of his game took a bit longer to mature, but he has spent the past seven seasons becoming one of the finest two-way blueliners in the league.

He skates like the wind, has amazing one-on-one ability, as evidenced by his 16 career shootout goals, and is a crafty playmaker that finds passing lanes that sometimes aren't visible to the naked eye.

Letang might not be as big as Erik Karlsson, or have the booming slap shot of Shea Weber, but he does have the skill and hockey sense to mesh with two former MVPs in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, a 40-goal scorer in James Neal and a host of others in a Penguins' lineup that ranks second in the National Hockey League in goals with 80.

The 25-year-old Letang plays in all situations, spending over 26 minutes on the ice each night. He averages 4:45 of power-play time each game and after picking up six assists in his last two games leads all rearguards in scoring with 21 points.

Letang has that uncanny sixth sense to know when to take a chance and join the rush; he is often seen making plays from below the goal line in the offensive zone, or setting up teammates as he swings into the zone and around the net.

If you see Letang break down the boards, there is a good chance that rush is going to result in a tape-to-tape pass to a shooter in the far circle, as we saw on Crosby's goal against Tampa Bay Monday night.

The Montreal native has seen his points per game steadily rise over the past three seasons. He went from producing .60 points per game in 2010-11 to 1.05 during his first 20 games this season. That is outstanding production for a fantasy defenseman and probably the biggest reason Letang should be on your team.

He averages over two shots per game and is great for getting TOI totals up in leagues that count that statistic.

If there is one area of concern, it is the fact that he ranks seventh in the league in giveaways with 23. There aren't many leagues that penalize for that statistic, but it is worth noting, as it isn't information readily available in Yahoo! Fantasy Hockey leagues.

Overall, when it comes to production in the categories that are most often utilized in fantasy leagues, there aren't many players better than Letang.

TRENDING UPWARD:

Ryan Suter, Wild – Don't look now, but Suter is finally starting to resemble the player he was for the Nashville Predators. The talented rearguard has started to look more comfortable as of late and has recorded five points (one goal) over his last five games. He has also raised his shot total to 40 for the season and launched eight pucks on goal over his last three games. Now might be the time to check in with an owner who may be unaware of his recent surge and is still disappointed in his early season struggles.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Coyotes – Ekman-Larsson has been in this space before during this season, but he keeps getting better. He's inexplicably owned in just 89 percent of Yahoo! Fantasy Hockey leagues, so he may be lurking on the waiver wire in yours. That is unacceptable! Grab him now if you can. The creative rearguard has picked up four points over his last three games, giving him 16 on the season, he has logged 47 shots on goal and is skating upwards of 26 minutes per night. He isn't going to be available for very long.

Brian Campbell, Panthers – Campbell has been in our top 15 since last season, but it is worth noting that he is currently heating up. The 33-year-old has picked up seven points (two goals) over his last five games and seems to be shooting the puck a bit more than usual, logging 13 shots over his last six games. His plus-minus is a bit of a concern, but he is still one of the more productive rearguards in the league.

TRENDING DOWNWARD

Alex Edler, Canucks – We are still fully on board with Alex Edler being a top fantasy defenseman, but he is slumping at the moment. Though he has 12 points for a talented Canucks team, he hasn't picked up a point in six games. The good news is that he is still getting scoring chances, as evidenced by his 14 shots on goal over his last three games. Points will start to come again, but until they do, you may want to use Edler a bit more sparingly.

Christian Ehrhoff, Sabres – Ehrhoff, who hasn't quite looked like the same guy he was in Vancouver since arriving in Buffalo, has not found the score sheet in eight games. He showed signs of waking up right before this slump when he picked up four points over two games, but he has been quiet since. With the fantasy playoffs looming in just over four weeks, there are more productive options available.

Mike Green, Capitals – Sadly, Green is again dealing with an injury. This time around it is a wonky groin that has him on the shelf. That's the type of injury that can linger. He had been slumping prior to the injury, picking up just one point in his previous five games and it is probably time to move on from the struggling rearguard.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Jake Muzzin, Kings – Injuries on the Kings blueline opened up the door for Muzzin and he has run with the opportunity. The 24-year-old, who was drafted in the fifth round by Pittsburgh back in 2007, is quietly having quite a season. He has picked up four points over his last three games, has registered a plus-three on the season and is playing roughly 20 minutes per night. Muzzin is owned in just one percent of Yahoo! Fantasy Hockey leagues and could help your squad while he is playing.

TOP 60 FANTASY DEFENSEMEN

These rankings are based on expectations of the season going forward. The plus or minus for each player is movement based on our most recent rankings -- NR means not ranked in previous rankings. They are based on a standard fantasy league with these offensive categories: G, A, plus/minus, PIMs, PPP, SOG.

1. Kris Letang, Penguins (+1)

2. Kevin Shattenkirk, Blues (-1)

3. Alex Pietrangelo, Blues (+2)

4. Niklas Kronwall, Red Wings (same)

5. Shea Weber, Predators (-2)

6. Kimmo Timonen, Flyers (+2)

7. Zdeno Chara, Bruins (same)

8. Brian Campbell, Panthers (+2)

9. Alexander Edler, Canucks (-3)

10. Dustin Byfuglien, Jets (-1)

11. Keith Yandle, Coyotes (+2)

12. Mark Streit, Islanders (+2)

13. Dion Phaneuf, Maple Leafs (-2)

14. Dan Boyle, Sharks (-2)

15. Ryan Suter, Wild (+2)

16. P.K. Subban, Canadiens (+2)

17. Duncan Keith, Blackhawks (-1)

18. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Coyotes (+2)

19. Michael Del Zotto, Rangers (-4)

20. Andrei Markov, Canadiens (+1)

21. Drew Doughty, Kings (+1)

22. Justin Schultz, Oilers (+2)

23. Christian Ehrhoff, Sabres (-4)

24. Sergei Gonchar, Senators (-1)

25. Marek Zidlicky, Devils (+5)

26. Lubomir Visnovsky, Islanders (-1)

27. Sheldon Souray, Ducks (+2)

28. Slava Voynov, Kings (+6)

29. Paul Martin, Penguins (+4)

30. Matt Carle, Lightning (-3)

31. Dennis Wideman, Flames (-3)

32. Brent Seabrook, Blackhawks (-1)

33. Alex Goligoski, Stars (-1)

34. Dmitry Kulilov, Panthers (+1)

35. Victor Hedman, Lightning (+2)

36. Jason Garrison, Canucks (+2)

37. Justin Faulk, Hurricanes (+3)

38. Cam Fowler, Ducks (+3)

39. Kevin Bieksa, Canucks (-3)

40. John Carlson, Capitals (+5)

41. Dan Hamhuis, Canucks (+5)

42. Mark Giordano, Flames (same)

43. Tyler Myers, Sabres (same)

44. Ryan McDonagh, Rangers (+4)

45. Dougie Hamilton, Bruins (+5)

46. Jack Johnson, Blue Jackets (NR)

47. Travis Hamonic, Islanders (same)

48. Andy Greene, Devils (-4)

49. Francois Beauchemin, Ducks (same)

50. Dan Girardi, Rangers (NR)

51. Cody Franson, Maple Leafs (+1)

52. Stephane Robidas, Stars (+3)

53. Brendan Smith, Red Wings (-2)

54. Nick Leddy, Blackhawks (-1)

55. Matt Niskanen, Penguins (+1)

56. Marc Staal, Rangers (+1)

57. Fedor Tyutin, Blue Jackets (+1)

58. John-Michael Liles, Maple Leafs (-4)

59. Tyson Barrie, Avalanche (same)

60. Jared Spurgeon, Wild (NR)

Players that dropped out of previous rankings: Sami Salo

Injured: Mike Green, Raphael Diaz, Tobias Enstrom, Erik Karlsson, James Wisniewski, Joni Pitkanen, Derek Morris, Jordan Leopold, Ryan Wilson, Erik Johnson, Brent Burns, Andrej Meszaros

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