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Wednesday, October 21, 2009
The Thin Blue Line: Sharks D in flux

By Victoria Matiash
Special to ESPN.com

While most are focusing on what the Sharks' newly acquired Dany Heatley brings to the offensive table, one rookie defenseman is already making a mild fuss in his young NHL career in San Jose. Nine short games in, Jason Demers has seven assists and has earned a spot on San Jose's top power-play unit with Dan Boyle. The 186th draft pick overall (2008) seems poised and comfortable and, by all appearances, has earned his coaches' confidence. He has yet to score, but as long as the minutes with the extra man are there, the goose egg in that column will yield some crooked numbers. Also, this 21-year-old needs to shoot more, but time will solve that as well. Mr. Demers, welcome to spot No. 58.

On the flip side, veteran Rob Blake drops a handful of positions on the Top 75. There are only so many power-play minutes to go around; as Demers receives more, Blake is stuck with fewer. And the rookie has eclipsed the veteran captain's minutes with the extra man in the past two games (both wins). The discrepancy in plus/minus between the rookie and veteran captain is also telling as Demers is at plus-five, while Blake sits at minus-four. There's little doubt Blake remains a leader on this team, but there's no fantasy category that counts and collects peppy, inspirational speeches in the dressing room.

Top 75 Defensemen

Note: Victoria Matiash's top 75 defensemen are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. ESPN standard stats include goals, assists, power-play goals, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Mike Green, Was (2)
2. Zdeno Chara, Bos (1)
3. Dan Boyle, SJ (6)
4. Chris Pronger, Phi (7)
5. Nicklas Lidstrom, Det (3)
6. Dion Phaneuf, Cgy (5)
7. Jay Bouwmeester, Cgy (4)
8. Sergei Gonchar, Pit (9)
9. Brent Seabrook, Chi (10)
10. Dennis Wideman, Bos (8)
11. Stephane Robidas, Dal (18)
12. Duncan Keith, Chi (12)
13. Mark Streit, NYI (13)
14. Brian Rafalski, Det (14)
15. Scott Niedermayer, Anh (15)
16. Kevin Bieksa, Van (19)
17. Paul Martin, NJ (17)
18. Victor Hedman, TB (21)
19. Ryan Whitney, Anh (31)
20. Rob Blake, SJ (16)
21. Cam Barker, Chi (11)
22. Alex Goligoski, Pit (25)
23. Pavel Kubina, Atl (20)
24. Shea Weber, Nsh (23)
25. Zach Bogosian, Atl (22)
26. Braydon Coburn, Phi (24)
27. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (27)
28. Niklas Kronwall, Det (28)
29. Craig Rivet, Buf (30)
30. Brian Campbell, Chi (32)
31. Joe Corvo, Car (33)
32. Alexander Edler, Van (29)
33. Sheldon Souray, Edm (26)
34. Christian Ehrhoff, Van (38)
35. Denis Grebeshkov, Edm (39)
36. Michael Del Zotto, NYR (47)
37. Ryan Suter, Nsh (35)
38. Johnny Oduya, NJ (34)
39. Joni Pitkanen, Car (37)
40. Tobias Enstrom, Atl (44)
41. Adrian Aucoin, Pho (51)
42. Ville Koistinen, Fla (40)
43. Mattias Ohlund, TB (41)
44. Kris Letang, Pit (45)
45. Bryan McCabe, Fla (43)
46. Marc-Andre Bergeron, Mon (46)
47. Matt Niskanen, Dal (48)
48. Matt Carle, Phi (56)
49. Brent Burns, Min (52)
50. Kyle Quincey, Col (58)
51. Ed Jovanovski, Pho (65)
52. Marek Zidlicky, Min (42)
53. Chris Campoli, Ott (49)
54. Erik Johnson, StL (57)
55. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, SJ (53)
56. Tom Gilbert, Edm (54)
57. Drew Doughty, LA (62)
58. Jason Demers, SJ (NR)
59. Kris Russell, Cls (64)
60. Lubomir Visnovsky, Edm (55)
61. Ron Hainsey, Atl (50)
62. Francois Beauchemin, Tor (59)
63. Filip Kuba, Ott (60)
64. Mathieu Schneider, Van (61)
65. John-Michael Liles, Col (69)
66. Tomas Kaberle, Tor (66)
67. Jaroslav Spacek, Mon (67)
68. Wade Redden, NYR (68)
69. Mark Giordano, Cgy (71)
70. Matt Gilroy, NYR (73)
71. Sami Salo, Van (63)
72. Kurtis Foster, TB (74)
73. Shane O'Brien, Van (72)
74. Alex Pietrangelo, StL (70)
75. Andrei Markov, Mon (75)

Rising and Falling

Cam Barker, Blackhawks (down 10 spots): In a case of there being too many talented cooks in the kitchen, Barker's fantasy worth, like some dollar-store-bought gravy, is slowing thinning out. Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell and Duncan Keith are putting up better numbers, and that's all there is to it. Chicago's roster is bursting with talented defensemen, and from a fantasy perspective, Barker is the odd man out. He'll remain so unless someone else gets hurt.

Ryan Whitney, Ducks (up 12 spots): Whitney is having a nice little start to the season with four points in seven games, 10 penalty minutes and a plus-three. These numbers are all the more impressive, considering the Ducks haven't been very good as a whole. Their power-play effectiveness has been particularly putrid, and despite the large chunk of ice time Scott Niedermayer eats up, Whitney is still getting his opportunities. We'll have to see what happens when James Wisniewski returns, but in the meanwhile, Whitney deserves a spot in the Top 20.

Cory Murphy, Devils (off): Head coach Jacques Lemaire gave Murphy a shot early this season, albeit a brief one, to impress offensively, and the diminutive blueliner didn't take advantage. After being a healthy scratch for several games, he cleared waivers and was sent down to the club's AHL affiliate in Lowell on Oct. 20. Murphy's no longer in the NHL, and he's no longer on this list.

Key injury notes: Sergei Gonchar was hurt in a game on Oct. 20 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues. Details regarding the injury haven't been released yet and there's no indication of how much time Gonchar will miss, if any, so as of now, Gonchar remains where he is, but please keep this in mind if you suddenly receive a trade offer involving the Russian veteran.

As for John-Michael Liles, he's due back healthy in about a week, having suffered only a bruised shoulder. In anticipation of Liles' return to the Avalanche lineup, he's up a few spots.

Potent Pairings

Adrian Aucoin and Ed Jovanovski, Coyotes: The rest of the Phoenix Coyotes may not be scoring, but Aucoin and Jovanovski aren't having any issue putting up points. Playing together at even-strength and on the power play (top unit), both members of this pairing rank in the top three in team scoring (Shane Doan is No. 1). It's a disgraceful situation for most Yotes, but wonderfully complimentary when it comes to Aucoin's and Jovanovski's respective fantasy values. These two are hot right now, no doubt about that.

Power Play Performers

• Flying slightly under the radar, Stephane Robidas is quietly going about running the Dallas Stars' power play, demurely leading all other team defensemen in points and serenely averaging a minute per game in the sin bin. Plus he's a plus-six. In my mind, Robidas doesn't get enough fantasy credit. Well, here's a dollop of respect.

• You won't find either Tyler Myers or Chris Butler on this Top 75 list, but that could change very shortly. The two young defensemen with the Buffalo Sabres are making minor waves while garnering a good amount of ice time and capitalizing on power-play opportunities. Especially Myers; this rookie could really light it up this season. Stay tuned.