When Matt Niskanen arrived in Pittsburgh as part of the trade that saw the Penguins swap Alex Goligoski for James Neal, many felt he wasn't much more than a throw-in -- an extra piece that would give the Penguins some flexibility to offset a number of injuries plaguing their lineup.
The young defenseman, who had burst onto the scene with seasons of 26 (7G-19A) and 35 (6G-29A) points during his first two years in the League, had come crashing down to earth during his third and fourth, mustering a combined 25 points (4G-21A).
Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk and Penguins GM Ray Shero both felt a change of scenery could be just what the doctor ordered for Niskanen.
Unfortunately, at least at first glance, that didn't seem to be the case. He had some trouble adapting to new coach Dan Bylsma's system, and quickly fell down the Penguins' depth chart. In fact, there was some question if he would even make the Penguins' 2011-12 roster as training camp approached.
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.)
- 1. Erik Karlsson, Senators (same)
- 2. Shea Weber, Predators (same)
- 3. Nicklas Lidstrom, Red Wings (+1)
- 4. Zdeno Chara, Bruins (+4)
- 5. Brian Campbell, Panthers (-2)
- 6. Dustin Byfuglien, Jets (-1)
- 7. Keith Yandle, Coyotes (-1)
- 8. Marc-Ander Bergeron, Lightning (-1)
- 9. Duncan Keith, Blackhawks (+1)
- 10. Alexander Edler, Canucks (+1)
- 11. Ryan Suter, Predators (+2)
- 12. John Carlson, Washington (-3)
- 13. Kevin Shattenkirk, Blues (-1)
- 14. Dan Boyle, Sharks (+4)
- 15. John-Michael Liles, Maple Leafs (+4)
- 16. Dion Phaneuf, Maple Leafs (same)
- 17. Dmitry Kulikov, Panthers (-3)
- 18. Sergei Gonchar, Senators (-3)
- 19. Dennis Wideman, Capitals (-2)
- 20. Ian White, Red Wings (+4)
- 21. Kimmo Timonen, Flyers (-1)
- 22. Sheldon Souray, Stars (-1)
- 23. Mark Streit, Islanders (same)
- 24. P.K. Subban, Canadiens (+4)
- 25. Lubomir Visnovsky, Ducks (+4)
- 26. Drew Doughty, Kings (-4)
- 27. Christian Ehrhoff, Sabres (-1)
- 28. Niklas Kronwall, Red Wings (+5)
- 29. Nick Leddy, Blackhawks (-2)
- 30. Jack Johnson, Kings (-5)
- 31. Brent Burns, Sharks (-1)
- 32. James Wisniewski, Blue Jackets (same)
- 33. Kyle Quincey, Avalanche (-2)
- 34. Kevin Bieksa, Canucks (+4)
- 35. Matt Carle, Flyers (+5)
- 36. Jason Garrison, Panthers (+3)
- 37. Sami Salo, Canucks (-3)
- 38. Alex Pietrangelo, Blues (-3)
- 39. Tobias Enstrom, Jets (NR)
- 40. Ryan Whitney, Oilers (+1)
- 41. Cam Fowler, Ducks (+2)
- 42. Brent Seabrook, Blackhawks (-6)
- 43. Dan Girardi, Rangers (-1)
- 44. Tomas Kaberle, Canadiens (+3)
- 45. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Sharks (same)
- 46. Michael Del Zotto, Rangers (same)
- 47. Alex Goligoski, Stars (NR)
- 48. Dan Hamhuis, Canucks (-4)
- 49. Ryan McDonagh, Rangers (+1)
- 50. Joe Corvo, Bruins (+2)
- 51. Matt Niskanen, Penguins (+2)
- 52. Fedor Tyutin, Blue Jackets (+6)
- 53. Zach Bogosian, Jets (+7)
- 54. Nikita Nikitin, Blue Jackets (+3)
- 55. Adam Larsson, Devils (+4)
- 56. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Coyotes (-8)
- 57. Erik Johnson, Avalanche (NR)
- 58. Marek Zidlicky, Wild (NR)
- 59. Jared Spurgeon, Wild (-4)
- 60. Kurtis Foster, Devils (NR)
Niskanen has been a mainstay on the point of the Penguins' No. 1 power-play unit opposite Steve Sullivan and has played 20-plus minutes in eight of his last nine games. Though he has logged just 12 points in 32 games this season, he has picked up seven of them in his last seven games.
You may not realize it, but Niskanen has more points than Drew Doughty, Brent Seabrook, Brent Burns and Alex Pietrangelo. He has more power-play points than Sheldon Souray, P.K. Subban, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Cam Fowler. He has chipped in more shots on goal than Fowler, Sergei Gonchar, Mark Streit and Brian Campbell.
In the nine games since Letang was knocked from the Penguins' lineup back on Nov. 26, Niskanen has notched 7 points (1G-6A), four of which have come on the power play, has an even plus-minus rating, and is skating an average of 21:45 per game.
Niskanen is owned in just 16 percent of Yahoo standard leagues and could really help fantasy owners offset the loss of Letang, Chris Pronger or any of the other defensemen that are currently on the shelf.
Though he may not have the pedigree of some of the players mentioned above, he does offer shots on goal, power-play production -- two points in his last game -- and time on ice. Grab him now before he shows up on a rival's team and steals victory from you in the above mentioned categories.
Fedor Tyutin -- We have talked about a number of Columbus defensemen this season, but have not spent much time on one of the most consistent players on the Jackets' roster, Tyutin. The Izhevsk, Russia native has 4 assists in his last two games and has scored 27 or more points in each of his three previous seasons in Columbus. Be advised that when we talk of his consistency, we mean in his year-to-year production, as he does occasionally go for stretches without chipping in. He is hot at the moment and could definitely help fantasy owners.
Matt Carle -- Chris Pronger's concussion has opened the door for several others to step up on the Flyers' blue line. We saw it with Kimmo Timonen and now we are seeing it with Carle. Though Carle was held off of the board in his last two games, he posted 7 points (1G-6A) in his previous four. He now has 18 points, 51 shots on goal and has registered a plus-5 on the season, and should be owned in all formats.
Kurtis Foster -- It isn't often that we would be excited about an offensive minded defenseman being traded to the Devils, but in the case of Foster, we are. Foster set standards high with 42 points (8G-34A) in 71 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning back in 2009-10, but couldn't live up to those in Edmonton last season. He joined the Anaheim Ducks this season and didn't seem to fit in upon returning from injury and found himself shipped across the country. He has landed on the Devils' top power-play unit and is logging a ton of minutes, notching two power-play helpers in his last game. Monitor this situation, but if you are looking for an extra rearguard, Foster is owned in just 7 percent of Yahoo standard leagues.
Jack Johnson -- The Kings looked to have a couple of the most talented fantasy defensemen at their disposal this season in Doughty and Johnson. Unfortunately, neither has lived up to expectations. We have talked about Doughty previously, so let's focus on Johnson. The Indiana native has just 3 points (1G-2A) -- none of which have come on the power play -- and a minus-10 rating in his last 15 games.
Tom Gilbert -- When we listed Gilbert in the trending up section several weeks back, we did so by calling him one of the most frustrating fantasy defensemen in the game. His listing came with an expiration date, an inevitable drop-off that we knew would come, and it has. Gilbert has just 3 assists in his last 14 games and has just 15 shots on goal over that span. It is probably time to part ways, "Tom, it's not you … it's me."
Brent Seabrook -- Seabrook tantalized us all with his .58 points per game last season. The 48 points he scored were a career high and had many thinking that it was a sign of things to come. Unfortunately, he has looked a lot more like the guy who posted .37 points per game over the previous five years of his career. He has just 2 points in his last 12 games and is a risky play for the time being.
KEEP AN EYE ON...
Deryk Engelland -- Engelland is not a guy who is going to get much press, especially in fantasy hockey circles, but it is worth noting that he is coming of his second multi-point game of the season and now sits at 10 points (2G-8A) on the season. Though he doesn't pick up time with the extra man, he plays in all other situations and isn't afraid to drop the gloves, which could help your PIMs. He has registered a plus-6 and has notched 32 shots on goal, definitely a decent spot start guy if you want to take a chance.