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 insider all season long.
Fantasy hockey may not yet be as popular as fantasy football, but it is growing by leaps and bounds every year. That growth has taken it to the international level, and many fantasy leagues started Olympic hockey pools during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
With that in mind, it seemed like a perfect time to take a look at some of the key blueliners you should target if your league is taking it international during the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
There are a variety of players who could make a fantasy impact for your team, but there are only two participating that made an impact in terms of points in 2010.
Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators, who will skate for Canada, put up two goals, four assists and registered a plus-2 in seven games en route to the gold medal. It is safe to assume he will log significant minutes and probably skate on the power play in Sochi; he’d be on our team.
Marek Zidlicky of the New Jersey Devils, who will dress for the Czech team, put up five assists in five games in 2010. He is having a bounce-back offensive season in New Jersey and will also benefit from playing with Devils teammates Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias.
The United States' blue line is an intriguing one, featuring our Nos. 6-, 9-, 19- and 23-ranked defensemen: Ryan Suter (Minnesota Wild), Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis Blues), Ryan McDonagh (New York Rangers), and John Carlson (Washington Capitals). All four have made an offensive impact this season, but it is Carlson who intrigues us. He has a gold medal-winning goal on his resume that came during the 2010 World Junior Championship and has matured in many facets of his game this season.
Russia has two blueliners that should be on your radar when picking your entry. The Montreal Canadiens' Andrei Markov, who will likely be asked to shoulder a big load for the home team in Sochi, will also probably be the Russian’s power play quarterback -- he has 17 points with the extra man this season. However, it is Slava Voynov of the Los Angeles Kings who could be the shooter, as he erupted for six goals and 13 points on the big stage of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring.
It is worth noting that Evgeny Medvedev, who skates for Ak-Bars Kazan of the Kontinental Hockey League, notched two goals and seven points for Russia’s entry to the World Championship last spring. He likely won’t be asked to play a big offensive role, but on a deep roster, he could fill a slot.
Slovakia boasts Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and Andrej Sekera of the Carolina Hurricanes, who have logged 26 and 31 points respectively this season. Both can fire the puck from the point, while Chara has shown an ability to sneak in to the net-front area, disrupting goaltenders and scoring goals.
We already mentioned Weber in terms of Canadian defensemen, but you could also do well with P.K. Subban (Montreal Canadiens), Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis Blues) and Duncan Keith (Chicago Blackhawks). All three are ranked in our top 10 and should be owned in every league; that doesn’t change in your Olympic pool.
The Swedes boast a treasure trove of fantasy goodness on their blue line. The group is headlined by our top-ranked D-man and the leading scorer at the position, the Ottawa Senators' Erik Karlsson. He’s joined by Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Phoenix Coyotes), Niklas Kronwall (Detroit Red Wings) and Alexander Edler (Vancouver Canucks). Bear in mind Edler will miss the first two games as he serves his suspension for a knee-on-knee hit on Hurricanes forward Eric Staal during the World Championship this past spring.
Last but not least, we’d advise keeping an eye on the Swiss tandem of Mark Streit (Philadelphia Flyers) and Roman Josi (Nashville Predators). Josi led all defensive scorers during the World Championship with nine points in 10 games and Streit has really started to turn his season around in Philadelphia over the past couple weeks.
Hopefully this guide helps you select a winning set of rearguards to help you dominate your Olympic pool!
* This will be the last edition of "On the 'D'-fence" until after the Olympic break. It will return on Wednesday, Feb. 26.
Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins -- Just when you think Chara might be slowing down, he turns on the offense again and makes himself very fantasy relevant. Sure, he has been relevant all season, but four goals and three assists over his past six games has jumped his totals to 13 goals, 12 assists on the season. He is also carrying a plus-12 rating, has launched 119 shots on goal and has 11 power-play points (eight goals).
John Carlson, Washington Capitals -- Carlson is the main beneficiary of Mike Green’s concussion issue that will keep him out until after the Olympic break. He has already been heating up offensively, picking up one goal and four assists over his past four games, and that should continue this week. Carlson’s confidence is brimming and that also makes him an attractive Olympic play. He’s pushed his totals to 10 goals, 13 assists, 156 shots on goal and 10 power-play points and is still owned in just 70 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Eric Gelinas, New Jersey Devils -- Gelinas has been impressive offensively this season, ranking second in scoring among all rookie defensemen with 22 points, but his defensive game is not quite where the Devils want it to be. That lack of defensive improvement resulted in his being sent back to the American Hockey League on Saturday. Reserve him or look elsewhere for production until he gets back to the NHL.
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins -- Letang has not played a game for the Penguins since Jan. 27 due to an undisclosed illness. He was held off the score sheet in his final two games played and there is a chance he will not be able to return until after the Olympic break. "Kris Letang continues to not feel well," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said this week. "They're doing further evaluations and tests on him." Reserve Letang until a tangible update on his health is available.
KEEP AN EYE ON ...
Erik Gustafsson, Philadelphia Flyers -- Gustafsson missed a large chunk of the season due to a sprained knee, but he is back and getting a chance to contribute over the past five games. Over that span he is logging time on the second power-play unit, skating over 20 minutes per night and has picked up three assists, two shots on goal and is a plus-7. He isn’t going to be a huge scorer, but could be a nice depth add.
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. Erik Karlsson, Senators (same)
2. Duncan Keith, Blackhawks (same)
3. Shea Weber, Predators (+2)
4. Alex Pietrangelo, Blues (-1)
5. P.K. Subban, Canadiens (-1)
6. Ryan Suter, Wild (+2)
7. Dustin Byfuglien, Jets (-1)
8. Keith Yandle, Coyotes (-1)
9. Kevin Shattenkirk, Blues (same)
10. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Coyotes (+1)
11. Niklas Kronwall, Red Wings (+1)
12. Drew Doughty, Kings (-2)
13. Zdeno Chara, Bruins (+2)
14. Brent Seabrook, Blackhawks (-1)
15. Jay Bouwmeester, Blues (+2)
16. James Wisniewski, Blue Jackets (+2)
17. Cody Franson, Maple Leafs (+2)
18. Jason Garrison, Canucks (+2)
19. Ryan McDonagh, Rangers (+2)
20. Andrei Markov, Canadiens (+3)
21. Matt Niskanen, Penguins (+3)
22. Brian Campbell, Panthers (same)
23. John Carlson, Capitals (+4)
24. Justin Schultz, Oilers (+2)
25. Dan Boyle, Sharks (same)
26. Cam Fowler, Ducks (+3)
27. Matt Carle, Lightning (+1)
28. Victor Hedman, Lightning (+11)
29. Torey Krug, Bruins (+2)
30. Andrej Sekera, Hurricanes (same)
31. Slava Voynov, Kings (+2)
32. Andrew MacDonald, Islanders (+2)
33. Mark Streit, Flyers (+3)
34. Dion Phaneuf, Maple Leafs (-2)
35. Marek Zidlicky, Devils (same)
36. Christian Ehrhoff, Sabres (+1)
37. Jacob Trouba, Jets (+4)
38. Mark Giordano, Flames (+5)
39. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Sharks (-1)
40. Tobias Enstrom, Jets (same)
41. Jack Johnson, Blue Jackets (+1)
42. Alexander Edler, Canucks (+3)
43. Dennis Wideman, Flames (+3)
44. Lubomir Visnovsky, Islanders (same)
45. Roman Josi, Predators (+4)
46. Fedor Tyutin, Blue Jackets (+4)
47. Alex Goligoski, Stars (same)
48. Francois Beauchemin, Ducks (same)
49. Olli Maatta, Penguins (NR)
50. Erik Johnson, Avalanche (+5)
51. Jake Muzzin, Kings (+1)
52. Nick Leddy, Blackhawks (NR)
53. Jason Demers, Sharks (-2)
54. Justin Faulk, Hurricanes (same)
55. Kimmo Timonen, Flyers (+1)
56. Tom Gilbert, Panthers (+2)
57. Hampus Lindholm, Ducks (+3)
58. Tyson Barrie, Avalanche (NR)
59. Sergei Gonchar, Stars (same)
60. Seth Jones, Predators (NR)
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