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On the 'D'-fence: Players who deserve your attention

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.

It is hard to believe that the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers officially dropped the puck on the North American portion of the National Hockey League season 173 days ago. The night started with a banner raising, but ended with a Bruins 2-1 loss, showing us all just how quickly things can change in a few short months.


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.)
A night like that gives hope to every team in the league, as being last year's champion doesn't mean much in the here and now. It proves that a new season is upon us and what might have been the case in June might not be the case in October. Unfortunately, there is a flip side to that thinking and what may be the case in October just might not apply in March either. That brings us to today, where the entire season and its outcome rides on how you play out the next twelve days.

Your team likely got to this point on the backs of a core group that you pulled together beginning on draft day and bolstered through trades and waiver pickups. However, to finish what you started, you are going to have to learn to make some tough decisions.

Leagues are full of guys who have no loyalty to their players and in this day and age, you need to forget who got you there and determine who can finish the job for you. Daily line-up shuffling or "running players" has gotten very popular and you need to identify the guys who can provide maximum games played, while at the same time maximizing statistical benefit across multiple categories and that's what we're going to try and help you do today.

There are seven teams in the league that still have seven games remaining on their respective schedules. The Rangers, Islanders, Penguins, Panthers, Lightning, Wild, and Bruins will all provide maximum bang for your games-played buck. The bulk of the remaining teams have six games remaining, while the Flames, Coyotes and Senators have just five games left in the hopper and the Avalanche only have four.

Though most of the fantasy studs from those teams are already on rosters, there are several players that should be on your radar over the final two weeks. We'll run through a few of them here as well as a few others including a why, games remaining and percentage owned in Yahoo! Standard leagues.

Paul Martin (7 games remaining) -- Upon arriving in Pittsburgh last year Martin was paired with Zbynek Michalek in more of a defensive role, it didn't utilize his puck moving skills. He has spent much of 2012 skating alongside Kris Letang and it turned his season around. He has 5 assists, 12 shots on goal and has registered a plus-15 in 10 March games. He also gets to play with Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal, James Neal and League scoring leader Evgeni Malkin on a nightly basis. He is owned in just 7 percent of Yahoo! Standard leagues.

Dmitry Kulikov (7) -- We wrote about him earlier this season, but many have seemingly forgotten about him due to a significant chunk of time spent on the injured list. He is a very skilled offensive player, who possesses vision, a decent shot and his ownership has dropped to just 22 percent. He has just 1 assist in five games since returning to the Panthers, but he has logged 4 PIMs and 8 shots on goal. He'll show his value as the Panthers solidify their playoff standing.

Johnny Oduya (6) -- Oduya has fit in wonderfully in Chicago and has posted 5 points, 16 shots on goal and registered a plus-4 over his last eight games. He could be in store for a bit of a spike as Duncan Keith begins serving his five game suspension. Oduya is owned in just 2 percent of leagues.

Joni Pitkanen (6) --
Many have likely forgotten about the Finnish rearguard as he has spent the last 44 games on the shelf dealing with a knee injury. However he is back in the saddle with the Hurricanes and has already notched 2 points, 6 shots on goal and 2 PIMs in three games since returning. He will chip in over the final two weeks and is owned in just 25 percent of leagues.

Ryan Whitney/Ladislav Smid (6) -- Though the Oilers aren't playing for a spot in the postseason, they still have their pride and it has shown through lately as they have posted a 3-0-2 record over their last five games. Leading the way on the back end is one expected source in Whitney, and one very much unexpected in Smid. Whitney has had an up and down season based largely on his lingering ankle/foot injury, but he has been great as of late picking up 4 points, 3 shots on goal and registering a plus-3 over his last four games. Though it's late, it is good to see him resembling the player that we all know him to be. Unlike his teammate Whitney, Smid is not known for his offensive prowess, but he has certainly flashed it of late. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Smid has scored 2 goals, tallied 2 assists, launched 8 shots on goal and registered a plus-5 over his last five games. He is also a great source for leagues that track time on ice, hits and blocked shots as he has logged 22:51 TOI, 7 hits and 12 blocked shots over his last four games. Both players are readily available in multiple leagues with Whitney being owned in just 41 percent and Smid being owned in just 3 percent.

Willie Mitchell (6) -- We all know Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov, but have you considering taking a flier on Mitchell? Though he only has 18 points on the season and only 1 assist over his last four games, he could help in a couple of other ways. He skates over twenty minutes a night and is firing shots to the tune of 12 in his last four outings. At this point, it is all about winning categories and grabbing numbers for a roster spot that might have gone empty otherwise can make a big difference. Mitchell is owned in just 1 percent of leagues.

Nikita Nikitin (6) -- Nikitin is no stranger to those who read this column, but he should be on your radar now more than ever. He has loads of offensive talent and will have a great opportunity to show it off over his final six games as James Wisniewski could very well be held out the rest of the way as he deals with the effects of a concussion. Nikitin has logged 4 points, 7 shots on goal and 12 blocked shots over his last five games. He is owned in just 4 percent of leagues and could be this year's Grant Clitsome.

Anton Babchuk (5) --
Though he has just five games remaining, Babchuk has been hot over his last four, logging 1 goal, 3 assists, and 12 shots. Babchuk has only appeared in 27 games this season after missing time with a broken hand and being what can only be dubbed an odd man out. Proceed carefully, but he could provide a spark in spot-start duty the rest of the way, as he is owned in just 5 percent of leagues.

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