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Fantasy top 60 'D': Penguins' Letang king of January

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

The Pittsburgh Penguins didn't have a lot to be excited about during the month of January. They posted a 5-4-3 record, but that was only part of an overall run that saw them go 6-8-4 over their past 18 games. That has been enough to cause more than a little panic in and around the three rivers, but one bright spot has emerged over the past few weeks: defenseman Kris Letang.

Letang, who saw last season wrecked by a number of health issues including a stroke, has been one of the Penguins best players through their first 50 games and he took it to another level during January.

The 27-year-old picked up 16 points (one goal) over 11 games in the month, which included a five-assist game against the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 27. That total was tops on the Penguins and it led all NHL defensemen.

His 15 January assists led all NHL players.

Letang has very quietly gone about his business and looks like a player who is primed to get himself back into the Norris Trophy conversation. He was a finalist for the award two seasons ago, but lost out to P.K. Subban.

His hot month pushed him into third place among all defenseman in scoring and he is leading at the position in points per game, averaging .89 points over 44 games.

That performance, combined with the injury to Kevin Shattenkirk of the St. Louis Blues, also pushed Letang into the top spot in our rankings. That is a position that he hasn't regularly competed for over the past 15 months due to a variety of injuries.

Injuries held Letang out of six games this season, which has forced him to play seven less games than Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano, the leading scorer among defensemen.

He is primed to break a number of personal records this season, needing three more goals, 12 assists, 11 points and six power-play points to eclipse career marks in those categories. He is averaging a career-high 2.98 shots per game.

Kris Letang
STATS PRIOR TO FEB. 4 GAMES
GOALS: 9 | ASST: 30 | PTS: 39
SOG: 131 | +/-: 2
Letang has two or more points in a game 11 times this season and has scored four or more twice. He averages over 25 minutes of ice time per game, with 3:42 of that coming on the power play. He also averages 2:55 on the penalty kill, scoring one shorthanded goal.

The system employed by coach Mike Johnston seems to have had the biggest impact on Letang's game. He is no longer required to follow a set breakout routine as he was under Dan Bylsma. He can rely more on hockey instincts and his innate offensive ability as he decides on the fly whether to rush the puck or pass it.

He still has moments of inconsistency, having been held scoreless 21 times this season, and he's been a minus player 15 times, but the good far outweighs the bad when it comes to fantasy value.

Letang benefits from playing with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist, David Perron, and Chris Kunitz, which makes him a threat to add to his totals every time he is on the ice.

Health is probably the only concern when rostering this player, but it appears he is worth the risk.


Michael Del Zotto
STATS PRIOR TO FEB. 4 GAMES
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 12 | PTS: 17
SOG: 65 | +/-: -5
TRENDING UP

Michael Del Zotto, Philadelphia Flyers

We mentioned Del Zotto last week as a player who could help you in the second half, and he's done nothing to change that thinking over the past seven days. MDZ has been red-hot and is riding a six-game scoring streak that has seen him pick up seven points (three goals). He's been more physical, picking up 21 hits and 10 blocked shots over that span. He seems to be shooting the puck more as his confidence grows and he has 11 shots over his past three games. He is owned in just 11 percent of Yahoo Standard Leagues.

TRENDING DOWN

Marek Zidlicky, New Jersey Devils

Zidlicky had an assist Tuesday in a 2-1 win against the Ottawa Senators, but that was just his second point over his past nine games and third in 13. The Devils have played better of late, but it hasn't been enough to make Zidlicky a No. 1 fantasy option. His ownership has dropped to 31 percent in Yahoo Standard Leagues, and while he has value in deeper formats we'd look elsewhere for production.

Oscar Klefbom
STATS PRIOR TO FEB. 4 GAMES
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 6
SOG: 33 | +/-: -6
KEEP AN EYE ON

Oscar Klefbom, Edmonton Oilers

Klefbom might not be a fantasy force this season, but anytime a player picks up four points (one goal) over five games it is noteworthy. The young defenseman is still adjusting to the NHL game, but he's been effective over his past five games, scoring those aforementioned points, putting 10 shots on goal and registering a plus-5 rating. He is not owned in Yahoo Standard Leagues at this time, so if you're in a deep or dynasty league he could help you out.


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

Key injuries: Kevin Shattenkirk, Erik Johnson, Christian Ehrhoff, Ryan Ellis, Dion Phaneuf, Kevin Bieksa, Matt Carle, Damon Severson, Olli Maatta, Kimmo Timonen

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

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