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Fantasy top 60 'D': Panthers' Ekblad proving his value

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

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers once sang, "The waiting is the hardest part."

There are many interpretations as to what they might have been talking about in that song, but for today's purposes we’ll assume that it was NHL draft picks and the time it takes them to make an impact in the League.

Most players don't make the leap from the junior or college ranks right away. In fact, a team might have to invest years of coaching and development before they see the fruits of their labor; it takes even longer if that player is a defenseman.

Aaron Ekblad
Aaron Ekblad
Defense - FLA
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 13 | PTS: 18
SOG: 53 | +/-: 6
Though the "wait" typically is long when it comes to defensemen, sometimes a special player arrives and makes an immediate impact. The Florida Panthers are experiencing that right now with the player they selected with the first pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, Aaron Ekblad.

Ekblad is no stranger to making an immediate impact. He was granted exceptional player status as a 15-year-old to play in the Ontario Hockey League and went on to have 40 goals and 116 points in 175 games for the Barrie Colts between 2011 and 2014.

He had 23 goals and 30 assists in 58 games during his final season with the Colts.

The 6-foot-4, 216 pound defender did come with questions. Could he find a way to bring that same level of productivity to the NHL? Could he overcome a concussion suffered during a Canada junior evaluation camp in August? Could he be the piece that helped the Panthers get back to the Stanley Cup playoffs?

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He's answered the first two questions with a yes; the third will be answered a little later this season. Either way, his career is off to an outstanding start.

Ekblad started a bit slowly, with two points, nine shots on goal and a minus-1 rating in his first eight games, but he has been red hot ever since.

He has five goals, 16 points, 44 shots on goal and a plus-7 rating in his past 18 games. Entering play Wednesday his 18 points are third among all rookies. He has points in five straight games; during that stretch he has three goals and four assists. He had three assists Dec. 6 against the Buffalo Sabres.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Ekblad is the third 18-year-old defenseman with a three-assist game since 1987, joining the Anaheim Ducks' Oleg Tverdovsky (Jan. 23, 1995) and the Atlanta Thrashers' Zach Bogosian (Feb. 16, 2009).

We talk a lot about category coverage here at NHL Fantasy and Ekblad is someone who offers that. Not only is he scoring in bunches recently, but he has contributed 1.19 hits, 1.15 blocked shots, and 2.04 shots on goal per game.

He skates on the top defense pairing alongside Brian Campbell; he logs 2:49 of ice time per game on the top power-play unit and seems to have great chemistry with his forwards.

Ekblad already is the 12th-highest scoring 18-year-old defenseman in League history, according to Quanthockey.com. He is owned in 51 percent of Yahoo Standard Leagues, which means there is a chance he could be there in yours. So go get him.


TRENDING UP

Kevin Klein, New York Rangers

Kevin Klein
Kevin Klein
Defense - NYR
GOALS: 6 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 10
SOG: 28 | +/-: 9
Klein never has had more than 21 points in a season and that came in 2011-12 with the Nashville Predators. But with six goals and 10 points in 25 games he could smash that total this season. He also has a plus-9 rating, which is tied for a career high, and he has three game-winning goals, which is more than he had in his first nine seasons combined. Klein also can help with hits (46) and blocked shots (44). He has two goals, four points and nine shots on goal in his past four games but is owned in three percent of leagues. He can help in most formats.

TRENDING DOWN

Jared Spurgeon, Minnesota Wild

Spurgeon has the skill to be a standout fantasy defenseman and at times does look like one. Sadly those times don't seem to come around often and he is riding an extended cold streak. He had an assist Tuesday against the New York Islanders, but that snapped an eight-game point drought. In his past nine games he has one point, a minus-3 rating and 22 shots goal. We'd advise you to wait until he shows some signs of heating up before you count on him for your team.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Kyle Quincey, Detroit Red Wings

Quincey hasn't made an impact in fantasy leagues in a number of seasons, but he has garnered some attention recently. Since Nov. 24 he has one goal and five points in eight games. He isn't going to be a big scorer, but he could bolster the bottom of depth chart. He is owned in two percent of Yahoo 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 Mark Giordano, CGY (SAME) 31 Roman Josi, NSH (SAME)
2 Kevin Shattenkirk, STL (+1) 32 Marek Zidlicky, NJD (SAME)
3 Erik Karlsson, OTT (-1) 33 Dennis Wideman, CGY (+5)
4 Brent Burns, D/RW, SJS (SAME) 34 Matt Niskanen, WSH (-4)
5 Keith Yandle, ARI (+1) 35 Aaron Ekblad, FLA (+18)
6 P.K. Subban, MTL (+2) 36 Trevor Daley, DAL (-2)
7 Victor Hedman, TBL (+3) 37 Justin Schultz, EDM (-4)
8 Shea Weber, NSH (-3) 38 Nick Leddy, NYI (+3)
9 Duncan Keith, CHI (SAME) 39 Anton Stralman, TBL (-4)
10 TJ Brodie, CGY (-3) 40 Torey Krug, BOS (-3)
11 Ryan Suter, MIN (SAME) 41 Jake Muzzin, LAK (-5)
12 Sami Vatanen, ANA (SAME) 42 Andrej Sekera, CAR (-3)
13 Tyson Barrie, COL (+1) 43 Brian Campbell, FLA (-1)
14 Alex Pietrangelo, STL (-1) 44 Dion Phaneuf, TOR (-1)
15 Dustin Byfuglien, D/RW, WPG (+2) 45 Danny DeKeyser, DET (-1)
16 Niklas Kronwall, DET (-1) 46 Dougie Hamilton, BOS (+4)
17 Oliver Ekman-Larsson, ARI (+1) 47 Jared Spurgeon, MIN (-7)
18 Cam Fowler, ANA (+2) 48 Mike Green, WSH (NR - IR)
19 John Carlson, WSH (+2) 49 Kevin Klein, NYR (NR)
20 Drew Doughty, LAK (-4) 50 Justin Faulk, CAR (-4)
21 Ryan McDonagh, NYR (-2) 51 Marco Scandella, MIN (-2)
22 Andrei Markov, MTL (+1) 52 Damon Severson, NJD (-7)
23 Brent Seabrook, CHI (-1) 53 John Klingberg, DAL (-4)
24 Jason Garrison, TBL (SAME) 54 Hampus Lindholm, ANA (+5)
25 Alex Goligoski, DAL (+4) 55 Jack Johnson, CBJ (-1)
26 Cody Franson, TOR (+1) 56 Alexander Edler, VAN (SAME)
27 Mark Streit, PHI (+1) 57 Dan Boyle, NYR (-5)
28 James Wisniewski, CBJ (-3) 58 Sergei Gonchar, MTL (SAME)
29 Christian Ehrhoff, PIT (-3) 59 Paul Martin, PIT (-8)
30 Lubomir Visnovsky, NYI (NR - IR) 60 Ryan Ellis, NSH (-4)

Dropped out: Matt Carle, Jake Gardiner

Key injuries: Kris Letang, Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, Toby Enstrom, Ryan Murray, Kimmo Timonen

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

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