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On the 'D'-fence: Karlsson rising in fantasy ranks

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.

The Ottawa Senators are in what some would call a rebuilding mode, but their record during the first month of the season tells a slightly different tale. Their 7-5 mark might not be mind blowing, but it gets a lot more impressive when you consider the fact that they have just reeled off six consecutive wins and are doing it with major contributions from their youngsters.

Of those youngsters, none has been more impressive than third year D-man Erik Karlsson, who has notched an impressive 13 points (1G-12A) through his team's first 12 games.

Karlsson has long had fantasy owners, as well as his bosses in Ottawa, salivating, but no one could have predicted how quickly he would become a brilliant offensive defenseman. After seeing his young rearguard post 26 points (5G-21A) during his first season in the League, General Manager Bryan Murray tried to help the process along by bringing in Sergei Gonchar last season to assist in the grooming process. After all, Gonchar had been quite effective in assisting with the maturation of Kris Letang in Pittsburgh and it has paid off in spades for the young Swede.


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.)
Karlsson made huge gains in every offensive category jumping to 45 points (13G-32A), 182 shots on goal and 21 power-play points -- improvements of 19 points, 70 shots on goal, and 11 power-play points, all of which helped him to his first All-Star Game and made him a fantasy darling.

If there was anything that would scare owners away from Karlsson, it was his abysmal minus-30 rating, something that was a by-product of the losing that was going on in Canada's capital city. To own Karlsson meant stocking up on guys who would offset that lowly plus/minus ranking.

Karlsson took it upon himself to work with a personal trainer during the offseason. He wanted to improve upon his balance and strength in different situations such as making plays while twisting his body. He also wanted to be stronger on the puck. That training regime and his confidence in it had him primed for a big season.

As you might have noticed from our defensive rankings thus far on the year, we felt that Karlsson offered more positives than negatives and that his plus/minus was worth the risk. If you took a chance on the young Swede you are being rewarded handsomely.

The Landsboro, Sweden, native is riding a three-game scoring streak that has seen him notch 4 points and has him leading all defensemen in scoring. He is first in assists with 12 and ranks second in shots on goal and power play points with 36 and 7 respectively. The most impressive part of it all is that he has registered a very manageable minus-3, a number that will improve if his team can continue to play the way they have over the first month of the season.

It is a bit early to suggest that Karlsson will be able to maintain his spot atop the mountain, but there is no reason to think he won't be able to finish in the top-ten defensive scorers.

Now would be the prime time to prey on an unsuspecting owner's fear of a minus-30 repeat -- bring Karlsson into your fold.


Kimmo Timonen -- Though Timonen essentially doubled his season's output during last week's barn burner against Winnipeg with 4 assists, he is still in a very attractive position. He plays with a number of talented forwards such as Claude Giroux, Jaromir Jagr, Danny Briere, and James van Riemsdyk, who can turn his outlet passes into goals and will have a chance to pick up even more minutes than he already does as Chris Pronger convalesces.

Corey Potter -- Potter has been one of the bright spots for an Oilers team that has had many thus far on the young season. The former farmhand has been a big part of his team's success as he has been averaging more than 20 minutes per game for the Oilers in the absence of Ryan Whitney. He is also getting significant time on the power play and has notched 5 points over his last five games.

Dmitry Kulikov -- This 21-year-old is primed for a break-out season with the Panthers. He has been given the opportunity to play yin to Brian Campbell's yang during the early stages of the season and that should give him plenty of opportunities to pick up points. He gets to play on the power play, where he can use all of his offensive acumen and has already notched 7 assists in his team's eleven games, 3 of which have come with the extra man.

Ryan Whitney -- It hurts to list Whitney here just one week after he was "trending upward," but it has to be done. Many have been reserving a roster spot for the Boston native as he has the ability to produce at a point per game pace; unfortunately that hasn't been the case lately. In fact, it may be time to cut bait all together on the talented rearguard until he proves that he can stay healthy for more than a few games at a time.

Tomas Kaberle -- Kaberle has had his share of success in the National Hockey League, having won a Stanley Cup last year in Boston and posting 531 points during his career. Unfortunately, that success has yet to follow him to Carolina. Kaberle is seemingly still trying to adapt to his new environment, as he has posted just 2 assists through the 'Canes first 11 games. He is in the middle of the five-game scoreless drought and has registered a minus-4. There are probably better options available for your roster spot as this point.

Cody Franson -- It is looking more and more as if Franson in Toronto isn't going to work out. He has gotten into only three games, has just 1 assist and has registered a minus-4. Add in the fact that trade rumors are starting to circulate and you have a recipe for a guy who isn't close to helping your fantasy team. You should keep an eye on this situation moving forward, as he does have the skill to be an effective fantasy defenseman in the right situation, but for now look elsewhere.


Dan Girardi -- We have taken some heat for not acknowledging Girardi earlier in the season, but it is time to keep an eye on him. With his 2 assists last night he now has 6 points in the Rangers' 10 games and is getting himself more involved in the offense while Marc Staal recovers from concussion symptoms. Girardi is especially valuable in leagues that give credit for extraneous categories such as blocked shots or TOI, as he plays over 27 minutes a game and has already notched 25 blocked shots this season. 
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