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Fantasy top 60 'D': Niskanen heats up just in time

by Brian Metzer / NHL.com

Every Wednesday during the season, NHL.com fantasy hockey correspondent Brian Metzer will provide you with in-depth defensemen analysis. From updated weekly top 60 rankings to trending players and more, Metzer will be your go-to guy for fantasy blue line advice all season long.

UPDATED TOP 60 DEFENSEMEN RANKINGS

Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen burst onto the fantasy scene last season as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins with his best offensive showing since 2008-09, putting up a career best numbers in goals (10), assists (36), points (46), plus-minus (33), power play assists (12) and shots on goal (162).

That he did so during a contract year helped him cash in with lucrative seven-year, $40.25 million dollar contract with the Capitals.

Fantasy owners were anxious to see if he could maintain his Pittsburgh levels in Washington.

He might not have had Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the receiving end of his passes anymore, but he'd have Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

Excitement about Niskanen's prospects surged as trade rumors swirled about Mike Green. If the latter were to move on, Niskanen would stand to inherit a significant chunk of power-play time and would have an even better chance to maintain his 2013-14 scoring touch.

Unfortunately for Niskanen and his owners, Green never moved and though Niskanen saw an overall bump in ice time from 21:17 last season in Pittsburgh to 22:21 this season, most of that came because of more time on the penalty kill.

He is logging 2:16 of shorthanded time per night for the Capitals. His power play time has dropped from 2:59 per game in Pittsburgh to just 1:05 in Washington.

Niskanen still had a season worthy of keeping him on fantasy rosters as he rolled up 29 points, but when his totals in several key categories such as goals, plus-minus, power-play points and shots on goal dropped off significantly from a year ago, owners started to drop him.

Matt Niskanen
STATS PRIOR TO APRIL 1 GAMES
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 26 | PTS: 29
SOG: 106 | +/-: 9
What about those who hung in there with him? They have been rewarded handsomely during his last seven games. Niskanen has rolled up eight assists, three on the power play, and seven shots on goal over that span. He is also helping teams out in secondary categories such as hits (14) and blocked shots (7).

He is tied with Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators for most points by a defenseman with eight since March 16. In fact, since Niskanen has now played 77 games on the season, it made it easy to slice his year up into seven-game segments and he just put together his most productive stretch of the campaign.

Niskanen's seven-game total of eight points is his best since he put up five points (one goal) in a seven-game span between Nov. 28 and Dec. 12. No other seven-game segment came close to his current rate of production. His current four-game scoring streak is also his longest of the season.

Niskanen and the Capitals have a fairly tough schedule to finish the season with the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins and New York Rangers on the docket, but there is no reason to think that Niskanen won't continue his hot stretch of play.

The Capitals have scored 21 goals over their past seven games and they are still trying to lock up a playoff spot, so they aren't in a position to rest players. They will keep Niskanen in position to pick up plenty of points with the offensive stars up front for the Capitals. He is still owned in 75 percent of Yahoo standard leagues, but there is a chance that he's out there and he can help in the playoffs or championship round of a league.


David Savard
STATS PRIOR TO APRIL 1 GAMES
GOALS: 11 | ASST: 20 | PTS: 31
SOG: 98 | +/-: -4
TRENDING UP

David Savard, Columbus Blue Jackets

Savard has had his offensive ups and downs, but considering the Blue Jackets have had lots of injuries, he has had a very effective season. He broke the 30-point plateau during a recent hot stretch and has five points in his last seven games. He has contributed in a number of categories in that span, picking up nine hits, 13 blocked shots, seven shots on goal and a plus-four rating. He is skating on the Blue Jackets' top pairing with Jack Johnson, averaging more than 22 minutes per game. Close to five minutes of that time is coming on special teams, with 2:52 per night on the penalty kill and 1:57 on the power play. Savard might not be the first guy who comes to mind when thinking of a depth fantasy defenseman, but any player at the position with 31 points (11 goals), 67 PIMs, 182 hits, 99 blocked shots, 98 shots on goal and three game-winning-goals can help in the fantasy playoffs. He is owned in just 12 percent of Yahoo standard leagues.

TRENDING DOWN

Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins top defenseman was injured Saturday afternoon after he was hit by Arizona's Shane Doan and fell awkwardly. He has been diagnosed with a concussion, his second of the season, and is out indefinitely. The Penguins hope that he will be able to return in time for the start of the playoffs, but he is a longshot to help fantasy owners again this season.

Rasmus Ristolainen
STATS PRIOR TO APRIL 1 GAMES
GOALS: 8 | ASST: 9 | PTS: 17
SOG: 115 | +/-: -29
KEEP AN EYE ON

Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo Sabres

Ristolainen is going to be a good one and that is why the Sabres selected him with the No. 8 pick in the 2013 draft. He, like many of his teammates, hasn't had the best year, but he's been impressive for a 20-year-old, especially of late. After scoring an empty-net goal Monday against the Coyotes, he is riding a three-game goal-scoring streak. He has four total points, seven shots on goal, and a plus-six rating in that span. For the season he has collected 17 points (eight goals), 115 shots on goal, 114 hits and 124 blocked shots. If you need some defensive depth at the bottom of your lineup, he could help. He could be an especially attractive pickup in dynasty or keeper leagues. Don't let his minus-29 rating scare you off, especially because he has been a minus player just eight times in his past 20 games. He is currently owned in just four percent of Yahoo standard leagues.


TOP 60 FANTASY DEFENSEMEN

These rankings are based on expectations for the season ahead. Value is quantified by defense pairings, overall upside and past performance in standard Yahoo categories (goals, assists, plus-minus, penalty minutes, power-play points and shots on goal). NOTE: Players with D/RW eligibility in Yahoo leagues (Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Burns) have been ranked as defensemen.

1 Erik Karlsson, OTT (SAME) 31 Cody Franson, NSH (-3)
2 P.K. Subban, MTL (+1) 32 Marek Zidlicky, DET (SAME)
3 Brent Burns, SJS (+1) 33 Brent Seabrook, CHI (-4)
4 Roman Josi, NSH (+1) 34 Trevor Daley, DAL (NR - IR)
5 Dustin Byfuglien, WPG (NR - IR) 35 James Wisniewski, ANA (SAME)
6 Kevin Shattenkirk, STL (NR - IR) 36 Anton Stralman, TBL (+1)
7 Duncan Keith, CHI (+1) 37 Zdeno Chara, BOS (-3)
8 Victor Hedman, TBL (-2) 38 Kris Russell, CGY (SAME)
9 Keith Yandle, NYR (SAME) 39 Aaron Ekblad, FLA (-3)
10 John Carlson, WSH (SAME) 40 Mike Green, WSH (-1)
11 Dennis Wideman, CGY (+3) 41 Dion Phaneuf, TOR (-1)
12 Mark Streit, PHI (-1) 42 Hampus Lindholm, ANA (SAME)
13 Andrei Markov, MTL (+2) 43 Michael Del Zotto, PHI (SAME)
14 Oliver Ekman-Larsson, ARI (+3) 44 Damon Severson, NJD (-3)
15 TJ Brodie, CGY (-3) 45 Tobias Enstrom, WPG (-1)
16 Alex Pietrangelo, STL (-3) 46 Jacob Trouba, WPG (-1)
17 Tyson Barrie, COL (-1) 47 Jack Johnson, CLB (+1)
18 Sami Vatanen, ANA (SAME) 48 Travis Hamonic, NYI (+1)
19 Niklas Kronwall, DET (+1) 49 Tyler Myers, WPG (+1)
20 Cam Fowler, ANA (+2) 50 David Savard, CLB (NEW)
21 Drew Doughty, LAK (-2) 51 Andrej Sekera, LAK (-5)
22 Johnny Boychuk, NYI (-1) 52 Justin Schultz, EDM (SAME)
23 Justin Faulk, CAR (+1) 53 Danny Dekeyser, DET (+6)
24 Ryan McDonagh, NYR (-1) 54 Jared Spurgeon, MIN (+2)
25 Ryan Suter, MIN (SAME) 55 Seth Jones, NSH (-4)
26 Nick Leddy, NYI (+1) 56 Adam Larsson, NJD (-3)
27 Torey Krug, BOS (+4) 57 Brian Campbell, FLA (+1)
28 Alex Goligoski, DAL (-2) 58 Marc-Edouard Vlasic, SJS (-4)
29 John Klingberg, DAL (+1) 59 Ryan Ellis, NSH (-2)
30 Jake Muzzin, LAK (+3) 60 Lubomir Visnovsky, NYI (SAME)

Dropped out: Kimmo Timonen

Key injuries: Kris Letang, Shea Weber, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, Erik Johnson, Jason Garrison, Kevin Klein, Olli Maatta

*NR - IR: Not ranked last week because of injury

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