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On the 'D'-fence: Kronwall red hot for Red Wings

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 Detroit Red Wings have been one of the best teams in not only the Western Conference, but the entire National Hockey League throughout the 2011-12 season. They reeled off a record-setting 23 consecutive home wins at Joe Louis Arena and look primed to make another sustained postseason run.

The most impressive thing about this Wings team is that they have been able to do it all while losing 141 man-games to injury. They have seen a number of key contributors go down for stretches, including Jimmy Howard, Pavel Datsyuk and most recently Nicklas Lidstrom, but someone has always stepped up to keep the gears of the Red Wings' attack turning.


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.)
Niklas Kronwall, who was listed in this space as a fantasy sleeper this season, is the latest example of that resiliency, as he has taken his game to another level over the past three games that Lidstrom has been out of the lineup.

"He's played better and better," Wings coach Mike Babcock told Ansar Khan of when asked about Kronwall's play. "You talk about these injuries, but someone else steps up and rises to the occasion, and I think that's important. It allows a player to gain confidence, be a better player when the other players come back. It improves your team."

Kronwall has posted 7 points (2G, 5A), 7 shots on goal and registered a plus-3 in helping the Wings to a 2-1-0 record while the team's captain has been nursing a deep bone bruise to his ankle. The performance was good enough to earn him second star of the week honors from the League and has significantly pumped up his fantasy value.

The Stockholm native was already a player that should have been in fantasy lineups on a weekly/daily basis, but some folks were a little disappointed that he didn't take a huge step forward offensively, especially in light of the fact that he was going to get some great opportunities with Brian Rafalski hanging up the skates following last season.

Some of those opportunities changed a bit with the emergence of Ian White, but Kronwall has still been a very effective fantasy defenseman this season and his latest surge has him teetering on the edge of "must-play status."

He is producing .46 points per game and has tied Lidstrom with 31 points to lead all Wings defensemen. He also ranks sixth in scoring on a team that boasts some pretty impressive offensive talent.

The 6-foot, 190-pound Kronwall's 14-goals have him in a three-way tie for second behind only Erik Karlsson. He has recorded 4 game-winning goals, has recorded 11 power-play points and is launching 1.73 shots per game. 

Kronwall is especially valuable in leagues that give credit in categories such as hits and blocked shots, where he truly proves to be a five-tool weapon, having recorded 107 hits and 146 blocked shots.

Though many a league has seen their trade deadlines pass over the last few days, Yahoo! Standard leagues see theirs fall on Thursday. If you are need of a defenseman, you just may be able to grab Kronwall from an owner who hasn't yet opened his eyes to the value of this talented Swede.


Kevin Shattenkirk -- Shattenkirk was already an effective fantasy play, but has really taken the next step this season. He has become a more complete player, contributes on both sides of the puck and really stirs the drink of the St. Louis attack. He has registered 6 points (2G, 4A), 11 shots on goal and a plus-3 rating over his last four games and now has 33 points (9G, 24A) on the season.

Paul Martin -- Many wondered what the Penguins would do to offset the loss of Kris Letang, who is battling what is likely his second concussion of the season. Well, the answer is coming in the form of Martin, who has played some of his most inspired hockey of the season in Letang's absence. In the almost three full games since Eric Nystrom knocked Letang out of the lineup, Martin has played an average of 22 minutes per night, picked up 4 assists and registered a plus-4 rating. If you need a depth D-man, this could be your guy.

Nick Leddy -- Many young players go through peaks and valleys during a long National Hockey League season, and that has been the case for Leddy. He peaked early, went through a lull that carried him through the holidays and into the new year, but he seems to be putting his game together again. The youngster has put up 4 assists, 5 shots on goal and registered a plus-2 rating over his last four games, and could help down the stretch in your league.


Mike Green -- We were pretty excited about Green rejoining the Capitals. His skill, puck-moving ability and all-round great offensive acumen seemed to be the elixir the team needed to break out of its year-long slump. Unfortunately that hasn't been the case. Green hasn't scored a single point in eight games since rejoining the lineup and has registered a minus-2 rating. If there is one positive, it is that he is averaging 2 shots per game.

John-Michael Liles -- Liles is a perfect summation of how the Leafs' second half has gone. He was one of their best players and a catalyst for their offensive attack during the first two months, posting 16 points through his team's first 24 games. He missed time with a concussion, but returned to the team on Feb. 1 and hasn't done much. He and the team have struggled mightily, resulting in nothing but a single assist for Liles over the past 15 games.

Marek Zidlicky -- Maybe the Minnesota Wild were right about Zidlicky. Chuck Fletcher has to be smiling a bit knowing that he got a huge return for a guy that was barely playing for his team and has since done nothing but post zero points, 3 shots on goal and a minus-4 rating for a pretty good Devils team. He may yet round into form, but that is far from a given. It is also worth noting that the Devils have gone 1-3-1 since adding him to the lineup. Sound familiar, Minnesota fans?


Alec Martinez -- When Jack Johnson was traded, most figured that Slava Voynov would get the biggest boost and that is likely still the case, but Martinez has quietly been picking up some points for the Kings. He is by no means going to carry your squad and likely won't be good for much more than spot starts, but he has posted 3 assists, 8 shots on goal and a plus-1 rating over his last four games. He's definitely worth a look in deeper formats.

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