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On the 'D'-fence: Byfuglien rounding into form

by Brian Metzer
Every Tuesday during the season, 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.

During his 7-year NHL career, Dustin Byfuglien has pretty much done it all. He has played all over the ice, skating as both a forward and a defenseman, and those skills helped the Chicago Blackhawks hoist a Stanley Cup back in 2010. After that championship, Byfuglien was shipped to the Atlanta Thrashers, now the Winnipeg Jets, who made him primarily a defenseman. "Big Buff" thrived in that role and went on to post 53-points (20G-33A), 347 shots on goal and a very manageable minus-2.


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.)
The career year set expectations high for the Minnesota native, but he had some trouble meeting them in October. Byfuglien was maligned by some who questioned his conditioning. The thinking was that he had bulked up a little too much during the off-season and it was hurting his ability to play end-to-end. He seemed to be struggling when it came to getting back to the defensive zone after a rush and it resulted in the coaching staff shortening his shifts for a period of time, which in turn limited his scoring opportunities.

Whatever the reason for his early-season struggles, it hurt the Jets and it hurt fantasy owners who spent an early round pick on the player that we had 8th overall in our pre-season rankings. Byfuglien went on to register a minus-5 and just 4 points (1G-3A) in 11 October games, a decent total for your fourth or fifth defenseman, but not for the guy who was likely your number one. 

As the calendar turned to November, Byfuglien started to round into mid-season form. Though he didn't score in his first game of the month, he did post a solid plus-2, along with 2 shots on goal and he has looked a lot like the player we saw last season ever since. Byfuglien has posted 10-points (3G-7A), 33 shots on goal, and 4 power play points in nine November games.

Hopefully you didn't make any rash decisions during the early stages of the season, as it looks like "Big Buff" is going to be every bit the stud defensemen that we thought he would be coming into the season. Though it might be a little too late to grab him cheaply in a trade, it is worth looking into as some owners might not have realized that he has quietly been turning it all around.

It is also worth noting that Byfuglien has somehow managed to maintain his eligibility at both RW and D in Yahoo! standard leagues this season. He is a unique asset that offers roster flexibility, plays over 24 minutes per game and is on pace to post 57 points, which would be a new career high. Go and get him if you can, as he is the kind of player that can really balance a line-up.


Tom Gilbert -- Gilbert, who posted a career high 45-points (5G-40A) back in '08-'09, has always been a bit frustrating for fantasy owners. He just isn't always as consistent as his coaches and owners would like. With Ryan Whitney and Corey Potter out with injuries, Gilbert is getting a chance to play more of a two-way role, including power play time. He had his best game of the season this past Sunday notching 4 points (1G-3A), and 3 shots on goal. You don't want to grab Gilbert expecting top-10 scoring totals, but he does have the ability to post 40 points for your squad, especially playing behind the likes of Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic -- Vlasic isn't typically going to be on a roster in a standard ten-team league, but based on the team he is playing on and the week he just had, he deserves consideration. He might not be an everyday play, but it is tough to ignore 7 points (1G-6A), a plus-7 and 7 shots in goal in three games. He now has 11 points (2G-9A), a plus-11 and 28 shots on goal in 18 games this season, if you need an injury replacement, Vlasic could be your guy.

Sergei Gonchar -- Admittedly, Gonchar has been up and down in our rankings this season, but he finally is starting to look comfortable in Ottawa. He has always taken a period of time to adjust to a new team upon arrival and he is clearly settling into Canada's Capital City. After picking up 5 points (2G-3A) and registering a plus-5 in his last five games, Sarge now has 14 points (2G-12A) and a plus-2 in 20 games this season. He also has 34 shots on goal and plays a ton of minutes five-on-five and on special teams.


Mark Streit -- Mark Streit has posted a respectable 11 points (2G-9A), but it is tough to make room for those points when they come with a minus-12. Streit is still a creative offensive player, but he is playing for a team that has fallen to the bottom of the Eastern Conference. The Islanders also have a number of forwards struggling and have been shutout six times this season. The bad just outweighs the good right now.

Tomas Kaberle -- Kaberle fell out of our rankings this week and for good reason: he just hasn't been able to recapture the scoring touch that he had while skating for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Could he bounce back? Definitely, but for now it is wise to look elsewhere, as his 5 assists, minus-6 and 30 shots on goal aren't very fantasy relevant.

Christian Ehrhoff -- Though Ehrhoff only fell one spot in our rankings, he is slipping a bit. The talented German rearguard has been held scoreless in four straight games and has only 3 assists in November. He scored 5 points in his first five games and has scored in just 5 of his other 15 games this season. He should be on rosters, but he might be the type of guy you might want to dangle in a trade.


Andy Greene -- Greene fluctuates from being fantasy relevant to not, but he has been making some waves of late and might be a nice injury replacement. The Michigan native has posted 4 assists in his last five games and now has 8 points, 18 shots on goal and a plus-2 rating on the year.
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