With just over a month in the books, we've seen plenty of surprises in the early parts of the 2010-11 fantasy season. Nothing has been more noticeable than the growth of several youngsters on the blue line, specifically Kris Letang, Alex Goligoski, Dustin Byfuglien, John Carlson and P.K. Subban. As you'll see in our updated defensive rankings, there has been a continuous youth movement among the defensemen throughout the NHL this year.
However, before we get into our new rankings, let's take a look at some critical injuries along the blue line -- some of them have already happened and some are still in effect, but either way, this year's defensemen have taken some serious hits.
1. Drew Doughty -- The talented d-man has played in just two games since returning from his concussion injury and has yet to record a point. Don't fret if you own him; Doughty will find his groove and should finish the season as a top-five blueliner for the rest of the season.
Dion Phaneuf -- Ranked among the top-10 in preseason, Phaneuf will be sidelined for another 3-4 weeks thanks to a deep cut to his leg. Phaneuf didn't have a goal in his first 11 games, but with 37 shots on goal and the ability to record several PIMs, he's certainly worth stashing away until healthy.
Andrei Markov -- The veteran defenseman has just one assist in his first four games since returning from a knee injury, but don't worry... it's only a matter of time before Markov erupts. He is one of the truly gifted offensive defensemen and should put up close to 50 points this year.
Brian Rafalski -- Rafalski's season got off to a nice start with 2 assists and a plus-5 rating in the first two games, but then the Wings blueliner went down with a knee injury. Fortunately for his fantasy owners, Rafalski only missed 10 games and returned to the lineup on Monday night -- he finished the game with an assist and two shots on goal in 15:18 of ice time -- he'll work those minutes up to his usual 20-plus soon enough. Get him back in your lineup if you own him.
Mark Streit -- The Islanders' blueliner came in at No. 14 on our preseason rankings, but Streit then went down with a heartbreaking shoulder injury and is expected to miss up to six months after having surgery. He's not worth owning in any league right now, but come March, you might want to grab him and store him on your IR.
Brian Campbell -- Since returning from his knee injury, Campbell has tallied a goal and an assist in four games. The Hawks' blueliner is receiving just under 20 minutes of ice time as he's still working his way back into the swing of things, but expect Campbell to produce at a similar rate to last season -- 7 G 31 A, plus-18, 18 PIMs, 11 PPP and 131 SOG.
2. Let's take a look at our updated defensive rankings. These re-rankings are based on expectations of the season going forward (including injuries) -- positions predicated on NHL.com's preseason rankings.
Defensemen that dropped out of the preseason top-50: Mark Streit (injured), Sheldon Souray, Joe Corvo, Kevin Bieksa
3. A Look at the Top
Mike Green, Duncan Keith and Dan Boyle remain the top three defensemen after over a month of NHL action, and it's safe to expect these guys to stay among the top three all year as well. Sure, none of them has gotten off to eye-blinding starts, but they are so consistent that there shouldn't be a doubt in anyone's mind that they are the best. They are the elite and can carry a fantasy team's defensive core. If you're lucky enough to own any of these three guys, you should find yourself among the top of the standings come season's end.
4. Trending Upward
Lubomir Visnovsky -- The No. 1 d-man on the Anaheim blue line has really caught fire lately with a goal and 4 assists in his last three contests (2 G, 11 A, minus-1, 8 PIMs, 3 PPP and 31 SOG in 15 games overall). Quarterbacking the team's top power play unit with Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan up front is never a bad thing, and owning Lubo ain't so bad either.
James Wisniewski -- Despite a minus-12 rating in 12 games, Wisniewski has really had a productive start to the 2010-11 season on Long Island. The Isles defenseman has 2 goals and 10 assists on the year and is seeing a team-high 23:56 of ice time -- Wisniewski also leads all NHL blueliners with 6:11 of ice time coming on the power play.
P.K. Subban -- While the talented defenseman still hasn't recorded his first career regular season goal, Subban still has plenty going for him in his young career. Through 14 games, the Toronto native has 6 assists, a plus-4 rating, 12 PIMs, 1 PPP and 39 SOG while averaging 21:32 of ice time. However, with the return of Andrei Markov, Subban now has a great mentor to play with as well as a formidable defensive partner on the Habs' top power play unit. He's shooting the puck plenty, so expect the goals to come soon enough.
5. Trending Downward
Erik Johnson -- After notching 10 goals and 39 points last season, many people expected the former first overall draft pick to have an excellent season in 2010-11. So far, it has been anything but that through the Blues' first 12 games. Despite St. Louis having one of the League's best records, EJ hasn't done much: 1 G, 2 A, plus-1 rating, 11 PIMs, 2 PPP and 26 SOG. With the Blues clearly focused on defense first (which Johnson has done superbly thus far) every night, Johnson's big season may have to wait another year.
Tyler Myers -- Last season's Rookie of the Year has gotten off to an even worse start than Erik Johnson, even in the defensive aspect of the game. Sure, Myers has 3 goals on the season, but with just one helper and a minus-12 rating, he has clearly let down his fantasy owners in the early goings of 2010. While his 27 shots on goal aren't too bad, we're all hoping Myers finds his rhythm sooner rather than later, or else we might be looking at this year's most overrated fantasy player.
Jay Bouwmeester -- While Bouwmeester is already a third of the way to reaching his season total in goals from last year (3), he surely has taken a nose dive since his 15-goal, 42-point season for the Panthers back in 2008-09. The Flames defenseman is still a rock on the blue line averaging over 25 minutes of ice time per game, but it seems the point-producing seasons are behind Bouwmeester for now. The 6'4" d-man is still just 27 years old, so there's hope for a turnaround, but for the time being, keep your expectations in check.