On the 'D'-fence: Letang starts season on IR

Wednesday, 10.02.2013 / 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.

The preseason is a necessary evil in professional sports. Talent evaluators, coaches and general managers need to take a period of time to study their rosters, tweak them and determine which players give them the best chance to win. There is a drawback to playing as many as eight preseason games and it comes in the form of injuries.

The regular season kicked off Tuesday night with three games, and as the puck dropped there were 98 players listed on NHL injury reports, or roughly 14 percent of all League players. Of those 98, over 30 of them were defensemen suffering from injuries of varying severity. One of those defensemen was Kris Letang, who we already know will miss the Pittsburgh Penguins opener on Thursday night.

Many folks couldn't understand why Letang would only rank third in our preseason rankings, but this validates the positioning. Letang is one of the most productive defensemen a team can have; however, he has played a full season just once over the past five years. That doesn't mean you shouldn't have drafted him, because he will likely finish the season with the highest points per game among all players at his position.

According to coach Dan Bylsma, Letang's injury is not considered to be serious, but the Penguins placed him on seven-day injured reserve. He is not eligible to return until Oct. 8, which means that he will miss at least the first two games of the season. That timeframe should have him on pace to play in the Penguins' game against the Carolina Hurricanes next Tuesday, but it is far from a guarantee.

"The soonest he'd be able to return is the eighth," Bylsma said on Tuesday. "Not saying the length of the injury, the eighth or the ninth or the seventh or the 10th. I don't believe at this point in time that it's a long-term, down-the-road injury."

While Letang is out of the lineup, Paul Martin gets a boost. He might not be able to offset the 1.09 points per game Letang put up last season, but he just might come close. Martin will get the bulk of the power-play time during the first week of the season, plays upwards of 25 minutes per night and has a quality shot from the point that hits the net and translates into plenty of goals and assists.

Surprisingly, Martin is owned in just 39 percent of Yahoo fantasy hockey leagues, which means he is likely available in yours. Grab him, especially if you selected Letang early in your draft.

TRENDING UPWARD

Mike Green, Washington Capitals -- Green closed out last season with 19 points in his final 19 games and looks primed to keep it rolling. He picked up two assists, six shots on goal, two penalty minutes and four blocked shots in 26:48 of ice time during the Capitals' first game. He also logged over six minutes on the power play and just over a minute on the penalty kill. He's playing in all situations and should be playing for you.

Cody Franson, Toronto Maple Leafs -- Franson was unsigned when our preseason ranks went live, but he is back in the fold and looking like he'll be productive. He was second to just Dion Phaneuf in ice time during the Maple Leafs' first game, logging 25:27, and picked up one assist, two shots on goal and four blocked shots over 33 shifts. He could end up being the leading defensive scorer on his team before all is said and done.

Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes -- Faulk is just 21 years old, but he will get the chance to serve as the top offensive catalyst for the Hurricanes due to Joni Pitkanen being out for the season. He has great vision, a nice point shot and isn't afraid to jump up into the play. No reason he can't be an effective No. 2 defenseman for you team.

TRENDING DOWNWARD

Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs -- Fantasy owners -- and the Maple Leafs -- had high hopes for Gardiner this season, but he didn't have a great training camp and the sentiment was echoed by his coach Randy Carlyle. He logged a minus-2 during his first game; proceed with caution.

Joni Pitkanen, Carolina Hurricanes - As mentioned above, he is out for the season and shouldn't be drafted in any format. We have seen him being selected in leagues, so it seemed prudent to include him here. Do not pass go, do not collect $200 dollars.

Simon Despres, Pittsburgh Penguins -- Despres, who has been being drafted in some leagues and is currently owned in one percent of Yahoo fantasy leagues, was reassigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League on Monday. He has little value at the moment unless you are in a keeper or dynasty format.

KEEP AN EYE ON …

Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets -- Trouba finally made his debut with the Jets on Tuesday night and made an immediate impact. The youngster skated a game-high 25:02 and picked up a goal, an assist and four shots on goal in his team's season-opening win.

TOP 60 FANTASY DEFENSEMEN

These rankings are based on expectations of the season going forward. They are based on a standard fantasy league with these offensive categories: G, A, plus/minus, PIMs, PPP, SOG.

1. P.K. Subban, Canadiens

2. Erik Karlsson, Senators

3. Ryan Suter, Wild

4. Shea Weber, Predators

5. Dustin Byfuglien, Jets

6. Alex Pietrangelo, Blues

7. Keith Yandle, Coyotes

8. Duncan Keith, Blackhawks

9. Dion Phaneuf, Maple Leafs

10. Mike Green, Capitals

11. Kevin Shattenkirk, Blues

12. Zdeno Chara, Bruins

13. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Coyotes

14. Tobias Enstrom, Jets

15. Drew Doughty, Kings

16. Niklas Kronwall, Red Wings

17. Mark Streit, Flyers

18. Brian Campbell, Panthers

19. Justin Schultz, Oilers

20. Slava Voynov, Kings

21. Jack Johnson, Blue Jackets

22. John Carlson, Capitals

23. Alex Goligoski, Stars

24. Michael Del Zotto, Rangers

25. Alexander Edler, Canucks

26. Cody Franson, Maple Leafs

27. Kimmo Timonen, Flyers

28. Dan Boyle, Sharks

29. Sergei Gonchar, Stars

30. Andrei Markov, Canadiens

31. Jason Garrison, Canucks

32. Dennis Wideman, Flames

33. Justin Faulk, Hurricanes

34. Brent Seabrook, Blackhawks

35. Christian Ehrhoff, Sabres

36. Paul Martin, Penguins

37. Victor Hedman, Lightning

38. James Wisniewski, Blue Jackets

39. Matt Carle, Lightning

40. Ryan McDonagh, Rangers

41. Francois Beachemin, Ducks

42. Roman Josi, Predators

43. Jonas Brodin, Wild

44. Jake Gardiner, Maple Leafs

45. Cam Fowler, Ducks

46. Dmitry Kulikov, Panthers

47. Lubomir Visnovsky, Islanders

48. Dougie Hamilton, Bruins

49. Tyson Barrie, Avalanche

50. Fedor Tyutin, Blue Jackets

51. Marek Zidlicky, Devils

52. Brenden Smith, Red Wings

53. Mark Giordano, Flames

54.Travis Hamonic, Islanders

55. Zach Bogosian, Jets

56. TJ Brodie, Flames

57. Jay Bouwmeester, Blues

58. Nick Leddy, Blackhawks

59. Jared Spurgeon, Wild

60. Patrick Wiercioch, Senators

Injured: Kris Letang, Joni Pitkanen

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