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On the 'D'-Fence: Ryan Whitney back on the ice

By Brian Metzer - NHL.com Correspondent

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On the 'D'-Fence: Ryan Whitney back on the ice
Fantasy owners should be adding Oilers defenseman Ryan Whitney while they still have the chance.
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.

If we were to tell you that you could grab a defenseman off of the waiver wire who has averaged .57 points per game over his seven year NHL career, has a 59-point season on his resume and was scoring .77 points per game through the first 35 games of last season before suffering an injury in December, would you leap at the opportunity?

No-brainer, right?

What if we were to tell you that the player has missed 113 games over the last four seasons? Does that temper your enthusiasm at all? If so, then you are well aware of what it feels like to own or to contemplate owning Ryan Whitney.

The talented Oilers' defenseman has long tantalized fantasy owners with his mixture of skating ability, vision and scoring prowess, but it all comes with a disclaimer that reads "proceed with caution."

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.)
*was listed on IR in last week's rankings

Players that dropped out of
previous rankings: Francois Beauchemin

Players on IR: James Wisniewski, Chris Pronger, Joni Pitkanen, Andy Greene, Victor Hedman, Andrei Markov, Mike Green, Nikita Nikitin
For all of his promise, Whitney just hasn't managed to stay healthy for a full season since 2009-10 and that is again the case this season, where he has been in and out of the lineup, managing to play just 22 games. Sadly, when he has been able to lace them up he hasn't been comfortable enough to produce, notching just 8 points (1G-7A).

Whitney, who had surgery to repair a dislocated tendon in his ankle last January, is still dealing with a significant amount of weakness in his ankle and foot and doesn't believe he will get back to 100 percent this season. But he is a competitor and wanted to rejoin his teammates for as much of the second half as is possible.

"I have to give it one more try to play again this season. Hopefully it lasts for the rest of the year. If not, I'm probably done until next season," Whitney told Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal before making his long-awaited return to the Oilers' lineup on Jan. 24.

The Boston native has managed to play in five games since returning, including Sam Gagner's epic 8-point outing against the Blackhawks last Thursday in which he notched his first goal and his first multi-point game of the season. He followed that up with 2 assists against the Red Wings on Saturday and now has 5 points to show for his latest comeback.

Whitney still isn't skating the way he was prior to dislocating the tendon, but he is learning to play with the weakness he is experiencing and though neither he nor his Oilers had a great outing Monday night against the Maple Leafs, things seem to be turning around for the talented rearguard.

If you are need of a defenseman there is a pretty good chance Whitney is available, as he is currently owned in just 42 percent of Yahoo! Standard leagues. Though owning him could be a bit frustrating if he were to go out with another setback, picking him up is also a decision that could pay off royally. The Oilers are averaging 4.2 goals per game over their last five and Whitney will get most of the opportunities to play on the power play and with the top forward combinations. Grabbing this talented blueliner is a chance worth taking.

TRENDING UPWARD

Joe Corvo -- Corvo may not be collecting points at his customary rate, but that has a lot to do with the fact he is playing on a much more talented defensive core and behind Zdeno Chara. He still gets power-play time and skates close to 20 minutes per night. He has 3 points over his last four games and now has 20 points on the season. He has launched 119 shots on goal, has registered a plus-14 and could hit the 35-point plateau before all is said and done this season.

Brent Burns -- Burns has been one of the most frustrating fantasy defensemen, as he was expected to make a much bigger impact upon moving to the Sharks during the offseason. Though he hasn't produced as much as his owners would have liked, he looks like he just might be heating up. Burns has 4 assists over his last two games, which pushed him over the 20-point mark for the season, and he could definitely help teams while he is riding this hot streak.

John-Michael Liles -- He's back! Liles, who was one of the many to suffer a concussion this season, scored 21 points in just 34 games before his injury and should be able to pick right up where he left off. Liles was a mainstay on the power play and skates over 20 minutes per game. Get him back in your lineups sooner rather than later!

TRENDING DOWNWARD

Nick Leddy -- Leddy was a fantasy darling early, but he has since cooled. Sure, he managed to pick up assists in four consecutive games in the middle of January, but he has notched just 1 assist over his last five games and has been killing owners by registering a minus-7 over that span. It might be time to start thinking about other options.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson -- Ekman-Larsson has definitely had some moments that indicated he was ready to make the leap into being a regular fantasy performer; unfortunately he has cooled significantly. The young Swede has just 2 points over his last eight games and 4 points over his last 11. Though he should be rostered in deeper leagues, there are probably more productive options for your team at this point.

Erik Johnson -- Johnson has been a popular whipping boy, but that comes with the territory when you are a No. 1 draft pick who showed significant offensive promise early in your career. Unfortunately, EJ rarely has lived up to expectations this season and hasn't made it to the score sheet in six games. Do keep an eye on Johnson, as he is a very streaky player and his next three or four game run could start at any moment, but we wouldn't advise depending on him for day-to-day production.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Jake Gardiner -- We mentioned Gardiner last week in looking at the top fantasy rookies, but it is worth looking at him again. The youngster is really starting to feel comfortable in Toronto and has scored 8 points in 11 games since the new year started. He now has 17 points on the season and could help many a fantasy team if he continues to score at this clip.
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