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On the 'D'-fence: Rocky Mountain High

Tuesday, 10.18.2011 / 11:49 AM / Fantasy Hockey Draft Rankings, Advice and Analysis

By Brian Metzer - NHL.com Correspondent

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On the 'D'-fence: Rocky Mountain High
In this week's edition of "On the 'D'-fence," NHL.com fantasy expert Brian Metzer looks at how a fast start by the Avalanche might enhance your ability to add to the depth on your blue line.
Every Tuesday 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.

Each year fantasy owners plan out their strategies and spend countless hours poring over statistics, cheat cheats and rankings trying to find a couple of players that will give them the edge against the competition. We here at NHL.com do the same thing when it comes to studying the statistics and determining where to rank players to help provide that edge for you and, yes, even our own teams.

Though we have all done the work, it seems there are always surprises during the season's infancy, and that is the case again this year. The Colorado Avalanche didn't get a ton of respect heading into October based on the fact that they were placing a ton of faith in a young injury-prone goaltender and leaning on a new-look blue line led by former No. 1 pick Erik Johnson.  

Thus far, the Avs are getting it done, and after an opening-night loss they have reeled off five consecutive victories. That success is noteworthy to fantasy owners and specifically those in need of some defensive depth, as they are getting far more production from the blue line than one would have dreamed. In fact, of the 18 goals they have scored as a team, 17 have run through their defense.

TOP 60 FANTASY DEFENSEMEN

These modified re-rankings are based on expectations of the season going forward (including injuries). The plus or minus for each player is movement based on our most recent rankings. (NR means not ranked in previous rankings.)
Sure, most in the fantasy world thought that Johnson was primed for a bounce-back season, but even he didn't get much respect on draft day. It seemed that most owners forgot or ignored his productive seasons in 2007-08 and '08-09 when he notched 33 and 39 points respectively and let him linger longer than he should have on draft boards. After a sluggish start, Johnson is off and running with 5 points in his last three games -- all on the power play.

That power play, which is clicking at 31.8 percent, is helping some of the other blueliners get into the act as well. Ryan Wilson and Kyle Quincey have each gotten time with the extra man and have collected points. Of the two, Quincey is the more intriguing option.

The 26-year-old is coming off of an injury-riddled season that saw him fighting concussion symptoms throughout, but he did put up 38 points during the '08-09 season. He also found his way on to the score sheet 29 times during his first season in Colorado two years ago. Quincey isn't a guy that you want to pin your hopes and dreams on, but he can get you some solid production as a sixth or seventh defenseman. He makes a great first pass, shoots the puck a lot -- 19 times so far this season -- and plays over 22 minutes a game.

Jan Hejda is another guy who could be of assistance in deeper leagues as he has picked up 3 assists on the year and is playing over 22 minutes himself. The Prague, Czechoslovakia native scored 5 goals for the Columbus Blue Jackets last season and has seasons of 21 and 20 points on his resume. Definitely worth keeping an eye on moving forward if the Avs continue to roll.

While there are no guarantees that the production and success in Denver will continue all season long, there is no reason why you shouldn't take advantage of this Rocky Mountain high while you can.

TRENDING UPWARD

Marc-Andre Bergeron -- If there were ever a prototypical fantasy defenseman it is Bergeron. He does most of his damage on the power play and has a deadly shot from the point. He also has the luxury of playing with some pretty high-end offensive talent in Tampa Bay, which will only enhance his numbers. Left undrafted in some leagues, he is a guy that can definitely be a boom pick if you were lucky enough to snag him. With the 3 assists he picked up on Monday evening, the 30-year-old now has 5 points in his last two games and 7 points on the year.

Sheldon Souray -- There were plenty of questions about Souray heading into the season -- foremost, would he stay healthy? And if so, could he achieve the heights of his Canadiens/Oilers heyday when he was one of the most productive defensemen in the League? Well, it looks like his time training with the ageless Chris Chelios has paid off, as he is playing over 20 minutes per game, has notched 4 points in five games, is a plus-4 and is unleashing that howitzer of a shot every chance he gets. Souray is playing with a chip on his shoulder and is rewarding owners who were brave enough to draft him.

Jack Johnson -- Johnson is a very talented hockey player and he showed it last season with a career-high 42 points, 28 of which came on the power play. Of the 3 points he has notched this season, all have come with the extra man and that bodes well for a repeat of his last campaign. After being on the ice close to 31 minutes on Saturday he is averaging 24 minutes a game, and the Kings having Drew Doughty out of the lineup will only provide more opportunities. 

TRENDING DOWNWARD

Tobias Enstrom -- Enstrom is as talented a rearguard as there is in the League, but he is just not getting the opportunities to shine right now. The Jets have been slow out of the gates and have only scored 7 goals in their four games. He has the luxury of playing with Dustin Byfuglien, but the big guy is also feeling the bite of the slow start. Toby has the potential to add to his 1 assist, but for the time being, it is worth looking elsewhere for production.

Sergei Gonchar -- Sarge has been one of the most productive defensemen in the league for more than a decade, but it seems that he is coming to the end of the road. Erik Karlsson, not Gonchar, is leading the blue-line charge in Ottawa. Mix in the fact that the veteran bruised an ankle on Monday night, and you have a recipe for fantasy frustration. 

Anton Babchuk -- Babchuk wowed fantasy owners back in '08-09 when he notched 16 goals and 35 points, but he has never quite hit that level again. Yes, he is very capable of picking up 35-40 points a season, but it is tough to do from the press box, where he spent two of the Flames' past three games as a healthy scratch. Be wary of this Kiev native until you see him playing on a consistent basis. 

KEEP AN EYE ON...
 
Sami Salo -- Don't roll your eyes. Salo, who is known as more of an injury-prone, stay-at-home style defensemen, has been putting up points for the Canucks during the early stages of the season. Yes, 3 of his 4 points have come in one game, but he has gotten some power-play time and plays with a talented group of forwards. The Stanley Cup runner-ups are still trying to figure out the right blue-line mix to replace the production lost in Christian Ehrhoff's exit, and Salo is a viable option. 
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