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Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Thin Blue Line: Thrashers stepping up

By Victoria Matiash
Special to ESPN.com

Many expected the Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks to yield a plump crop of valuable fantasy defensemen this season, but the Atlanta Thrashers? Not so much. Yet that's been the case with Tobias Enstrom, Pavel Kubina and Zach Bogosian. Now that we're into December, it's high time they received ample credit.

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

With 19 points on the season, Enstrom is overdue for some respect. After his hot start, many waited for the 25-year-old Swede to fizzle out a bit, but that hasn't happened. In fact, the beauty in Enstrom's performance so far lies in his consistency. To date, he's only gone pointless in two consecutive games twice, and nothing longer than that. At plus-11, and dominating his fellow team defensemen in power-play ice-time, he has six points with the man-advantage. Penalty minutes aside, Enstrom offers an excellent all-around fantasy package.

Kubina and Bogosian both have 12 points, but they generate fantasy value in different ways. In terms of plus/minus, Kubina ranks second only to the Flyers' Matt Carle with a plus-16. On the other hand, Bogosian (minus-1) has 27 penalty minutes and 54 shots -- second on the team behind Ilya Kovalchuk. These two power-play staples are very different players, but they're both fantasy assets nonetheless.

The real head-scratcher here lies in fantasy ownership. Whereas Kubina and Bogosian are virtually owned across the board, Enstrom is only owned in 51.1 percent of ESPN.com leagues. There's no argument; that number should be a great deal higher.

Rising and Falling

Joe Corvo, Carolina Hurricanes (off): In another massive blow to the Hurricanes, Corvo was placed on the injured shelf after requiring surgery for a lacerated leg. He is out at least eight weeks and could be out for three months. Vilified for his fragility in this space just recently, Joni Pitkanen will need to step up in Corvo's place on the power play. The Canes will have their fingers crossed Pitkanen can stay healthy. Good luck with that.

Sergei Gonchar, Pittsburgh Penguins (up 4 spots): The warm-up is over. It took a handful of games, but after missing a month, Gonchar is clearly back in the swing of things. With five points in his past four games, that's more than enough to reinstate him in the top 10.

Jason Demers, San Jose Sharks (off): After such a promising start, Demers was sent down to the AHL to make room for the returning Rob Blake. The 21-year-old's production had wavered recently, but this likely won't be the last we see of Demers before April. Them's the breaks when you're a youngster trying to make it in the NHL.

Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings (down 21 spots): Nursing a leg injury, Kronwall is reportedly out until late December, but don't count on seeing him back on the ice until the new calendar year. That's quite a while from now.

Key injury notes

Craig Rivet is listed as day-to-day with a leg injury. The Buffalo Sabres' defenseman is doubtful for Thursday's match with the Montreal Canadiens, but likely will be back in the lineup for the weekend.

• After missing eight games with a lower body injury, then playing in two, Ed Jovanovski didn't skate in Sunday's game against the Anaheim Ducks. Until the big guy strings a few games together, don't count on him. In the meanwhile, fellow Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle finally cracks the top 75. He deserves as much.

Power Play Performers

Dennis Seidenberg is emerging as a regular threat alongside Bryan McCabe on the Florida Panthers' power play. With 11 points on the year, Seidenberg has a couple of power-play assists in his past three games. And his plus-3 is far more palatable than Dmitry Kulikov's minus-9. As a fifth or sixth defenseman, you could certainly do worse.

Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com.