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On the 'D'-fence: Kulikov becoming offensive threat

By Brian Metzer - NHL.com Correspondent

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On the 'D'-fence: Kulikov becoming offensive threat
Lost in Dale Tallon's rebuilding job in Florida is the impressive performance of 21-year-old defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, who is becoming a valuable fantasy commodity.
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.

One of the biggest stories of this past summer's free agency period was the extreme roster makeover done by Florida Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon. He wanted to change the culture of a team that has been losing for far too long and decided to try and right the ship by bringing in a number of new faces.

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 from last week. (NR means not ranked in previous rankings.)
Players that dropped out of our previous rankings: Stephane Robidas

Players on IR: Andrei Markov
Kris Versteeg, Sean Bergenheim, Tomas Fleischmann and Brian Campbell joined a number of other players as part of the facelift. Lost in the shuffle was the fact that some of the fruits of those years of losing were starting to pay off, none more so than 21-year-old defenseman Dmitry Kulikov.

Though Kulikov was selected with the 14th selection of the 2009 Entry Draft, he is in his third season in the League and is beginning to come into his own on both sides of the puck.

Some, such as Campbell, who co-quarterbacks the Panthers' fifth-ranked power play with Kulikov, think that he is playing well beyond his years and that is a boon for fantasy owners.

"I never think of Kuli being (21)," Campbell told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "Sometimes I tend to forget that and I'm like, 'Come on, come on,' and he's still learning a lot. I got here at camp and saw him skating on the ice and I thought he reminded me of Sergei Gonchar a lot, the way he moves."

Kulikov started a bit slowly this season, but now has 9 points, all assists, in 13 games. If his progression from Year 1 to Year 2, where he jumped from 16 to 26 points, is any indication, he could be in store for some big gains this season.

He has seen his points per game go up from 0.23 to 0.36 to a hearty 0.69 this season, which has him on pace for 57. He has launched 23 shots on goal, which has him on pace for a career high 145.

The youngster is getting plenty of ice time, logging over 22 minutes per game, 3:57 of which is coming with the extra man -- a full 1:11 more than last season. Some might be wondering how Kulikov's plus/minus rating fits into the equation. Well, after posting back-to-back minus-5 seasons, he is a plus-2 this season.

Kulikov is owned in just 22 percent of standard Yahoo! Leagues, and if you are in need of a defenseman, Kulikov could be the sleeper pick that you have been looking for.

TRENDING UPWARD

Alexander Edler -- Vancouver still might be searching for a replacement for Christian Ehrhoff, but Edler has been doing a great job filling that gap. The 25-year-old from Östersund, Sweden has points in seven of his last nine games and has 9 points in his last five. He has a minus-4 rating in his last six games, but currently leads all NHL defensemen in scoring and already has taken 39 shots on goal. His minutes may shift a bit once teammate Sami Salo gets back in the lineup, but it shouldn't be enough to significantly impact his production. He is on pace for a career season, so enjoy the ride.

Chris Pronger -- Pronger, who has missed the previous six games after sustaining an eye injury against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 24, could be back in the lineup as soon as Wednesday. Team officials have yet to determine if Pronger will play, but he does appear to be very close. Prior to the injury Pronger was one of the most productive defensemen in the League, with a goal and 6 assists in eight games, and there is no reason to think that production will not continue, especially considering the talented forwards he will be passing to. 

John-Michael Liles -- Lost in the shuffle of Dion Phaneuf's hot start in Toronto has been the play of Liles. He was a fantasy darling last season for the Colorado Avalanche and he is doing his best to remind fantasy owners of that fact. Though he was held off of the score sheet in his last game, he had 8 points in his previous eight. He gets plenty of ice time, logging 22:28 per game, including 4:27 per game on the power play. Liles may not be one of the top tier fantasy defensemen in the League, but he is more than capable of providing some big time production for your team.

TRENDING DOWNWARD

Lubomir Visnovsky -- Last season Visnovsky led the League in scoring among defensemen. This season, however, it hasn't been working. He has just a goal and 3 assists in 14 games this season and is a minus-7. We have hope that he can turn it around, especially with the talented forwards he plays with, but for now, look at some other options.

Joni Pitkanen -- Pitkanen might have totaled 2 goals and 5 assists through his first 14 games this season, but that barely begins to make up for his minus-10 rating; only five players in the League have a worse plus/minus. Mix in the fact that Pitkanen has just 1 point in his last eight games and that three of his 7 points came in one game and you have a recipe for the waiver wire. Seek other options.

Dennis Seidenberg -- Seidenberg, like many of the Bruins, has been struggling through the first month of the season. He has notched only 3 points through his first 13 games and is a minus-1. It is worth noting that he shoots the puck a ton and that the Bruins are in the process of a possible turnaround. Keep an eye on Seidenberg, but for now, look elsewhere for your production.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Jason Garrison -- We already have discussed Kulikov and Campbell from the Panthers, but Garrison is making some waves in the fantasy pool himself. The 26-year-old has put up 5 goals and 6 points in his 13 games this season. He is averaging 2:11 of power-play ice time per game and is shooting the puck a ton -- 38 thus far. He is owned in only 25 percent of Yahoo! standard leagues and could be a nice stop-gap option for your team.
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