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Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Thin Blue Line: Stralman joins Blueshirts

By Victoria Matiash
Special to ESPN.com

The prolonged drama involving Anton Stralman and the New York Rangers is mercifully approaching an end. Signed to a one-year contract, the 25-year-old passed his physical and is expected to skate with his new teammates in practice on Thursday. An appearance in Friday's contest with the Carolina Hurricanes may be a bit much to ask, but Stralman could potentially make his season debut for the Rangers next Tuesday. His level of fitness will play a large part that particular time-line.

Whenever the Swede joins the lineup, the fantasy ramifications could be interesting. Stralman isn't a defenseman of the reliable, stay-at-home flavor. If anything, the four-year veteran has a history of being a liability in his own end. So we can safely assume the Rangers are coughing up the $900,000 in the hope of milking more offense from the blue line, primarily with the power play.

A power-play specialist by nature, Stralman will provide coach John Tortorella with added flexibility with the man advantage. One option could include skating Stralman -- a right-handed shot -- as the lone D-man on the top power-play unit with Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan etc., bumping Michael Del Zotto to the secondary assembly. Or, if he prefers to leave Del Zotto alone, the head coach could pair Stralman with Dan Girardi on the second unit. This situation is worth paying close attention, regardless. Stralman amassed 34 points in 73 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2009-10, the majority of those with the extra skater.

However Tortorella chooses to play his cards, the limited fantasy value Ryan McDonagh has had to this date should fizzle out soon. Make no mistake, McDonagh has been excellent for the Rangers as an all-around talent, but the 22-year-old's fantasy upside has a firm ceiling. And, if all works out as anticipated, the addition of Stralman will help lower that ceiling to an uncomfortable level for McDonagh's owners.

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 points, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Kris Letang, Pit (1)
2. Zdeno Chara, Bos (2)
3. Dustin Byfuglien, Win (3)
4. Dan Boyle, SJ (4)
5. Alexander Edler, Van (7)
6. Keith Yandle, Pho (5)
7. Christian Ehrhoff, Buf (6)
8. Shea Weber, Nsh (8)
9. Nicklas Lidstrom, Det (10)
10. Mark Streit, NYI (11)
11. Brian Campbell, Fla (13)
12. Lubomir Visnovsky, Ana (9)
13. Duncan Keith, Chi (14)
14. Dion Phaneuf, Tor (15)
15. John-Michael Liles, Tor (16)
16. Drew Doughty, LA (17)
17. James Wisniewski, Cls (19)
18. Brent Burns, SJ (18)
19. Chris Pronger, Phi (26)
20. Sheldon Souray , Dal (23)
21. P.K. Subban, Mon (22)
22. Jack Johnson, LA (20)
23. Alex Goligoski, Dal (21)
24. Mike Green, Was (23)
25. Erik Karlsson, Ott (25)
26. Erik Johnson, Col (28)
27. Mark Giordano, Cgy (27)
28. Ryan Suter, Nsh (30)
29. Andrei Markov, Mon (29)
30. Ryan Whitney, Edm (31)
31. Marc-Andre Bergeron, TB (33)
32. Alex Pietrangelo, StL (32)
33. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (34)
34. Joni Pitkanen, Car (37)
35. Sergei Gonchar, Ott (35)
36. Marek Zidlicky, Min (36)
37. Kevin Shattenkirk, StL (41)
38. Ian White, Det (44)
39. Dennis Wideman, Was (40)
40. Niklas Kronwall, Det (39)
41. Dmitry Kulikov, Fla (42)
42. Brent Seabrook, Chi (38)
43. Jay Bouwmeester, Cgy (46)
44. Joe Corvo, Bos (43)
45. Matt Carle, Phi (47)
46. Kyle Quincey, Col (51)
47. Cam Fowler, Ana (48)
48. Dennis Seidenberg, Bos (49)
49. Tyler Myers, Buf (50)
50. Zach Bogosian, Win (59)
51. Michael Del Zotto, NYR (52)
52. Tomas Kaberle, Car (45)
53. Fedor Tyutin, Cls (58)
54. Matt Niskanen, Pit (54)
55. Corey Potter, Edm (63)
56. Grant Clitsome, Cls (55)
57. Travis Hamonic, NYI (56)
58. Yannick Weber, Mon (60)
59. Jason Garrison, Fla (69)
60. Anton Stralman, NYR (off)
61. Roman Hamrlik, Was (53)
62. Sami Salo, Van (57)
63. John Carlson, Was (62)
64. Paul Martin, Pit (61)
65. Kevin Bieksa, Van (64)
66. Nick Leddy, Chi (65)
67. Jamie McBain, Car (68)
68. Dan Girardi, NYR (66)
69. Tobias Enstrom, Win (12)
70. Marc-Andre Gragnani, Buf (70)
71. Stephane Robidas, Dal (72)
72. Kurtis Foster, Ana (67)
73. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Pho (71)
74. Tom Gilbert, Edm (73)
75. Filip Kuba, Ott (off)

Rising and Falling

Zach Bogosian, Jets (up nine spots): Bogosian is the biggest beneficiary of additional power-play minutes now that Tobias Enstrom is out for at least a month with a broken collar bone. If the 21-year-old has been waiting for the perfect catalyst to bust out and show the hockey world of what he's really capable, this could be it. Throwing him out there for an average of over 28 minutes per game through three contests in the last week, Jets coach Claude Noel has demonstrated his faith in the young lad. Perhaps you may want to take a leap as well. Still largely unowned (15 percent) in ESPN.com leagues, Bogosian could be a nice addition to a fantasy roster if there's a hole or two on the blue line.

Roman Hamrlik, Capitals (down eight spots): One goal (zero assists) through 13 games isn't going to cut it. To be frank, we expected much more from the 37-year-old, particularly as a new member of the prolific Washington Capitals. It's a little early to throw in the towel on Hamrlik altogether, but there isn't just cause to remain patient for too much longer. As it stands, Dennis Wideman is the current fantasy stud on Bruce Boudreau's blue line, while Mike Green continues to recover from an ankle injury.

Tomas Kaberle, Hurricanes (down eight spots): With three assists (zero goals) in 15 games, Kaberle should be acknowledged as an even bigger bust than Hamrlik. As with the Caps' d-man, Kaberle isn't living up to preseason expectations as a skater with his new squad, the Carolina Hurricanes. Seriously, how were the Maple Leafs able to get so much out of this guy? You might think the familiarity with coach Paul Maurice would help Kaberle adjust, but that doesn't appear to be the case, so far. Plus, the Hurricanes are flush with too many (eight) capable d-men. The whiff of potential trade is in the air. Outside of the ever-reliable Joni Pitkanen, there's a lot of uncertainty with owning any member of the 'Canes defensive corps.

Sheldon Brookbank, Ducks (un-ranked): Need PIM? Brookbank could be your man, for November and a bit, anyway. With forward George Parros (eye) on the injured shelf for approximately the next four weeks, the rough n' ready d-man is being asked to take over full duties as "enforcer" for the Anaheim Ducks. Not one to shy away from going toe-to-toe, Brookbank could have a very busy month.

Key injury (and other) notes:

As mentioned above, Mike Green remains day-to-day with an ankle injury. The Capitals hope to have him back in the lineup on the weekend ... If Chris Pronger -- visor and all -- doesn't return for the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday, he'll surely be back for Sunday's contest with the Florida Panthers ... The Jets have their fingers crossed Enstrom may be recovered enough from a broken collarbone to play in early- to mid-December. That may be a touch optimistic ... Guess what? Sami Salo has a bad groin! Shocking stuff. The veteran with the Vancouver Canucks is considered a "probably not" for the rest of this week ... Andrei Markov is reportedly travelling with the Montreal Canadiens as the squad is scheduled to visit the Phoenix Coyotes and Nashville Predators this week. That's good news for the Habs ... And speculation is swirling that Bryan McCabe may be altogether done with the NHL and pro hockey in general. That scuttlebutt is compliments of Sportsnet's Jeff Marek.

Power Play Performers

Erik Johnson may be struggling with other parts of his game, but it's hard to find much fault with his power-play contributions. All of the defenseman's eight assists to date have counted with the man advantage. It's only a matter of time and opportunity before Johnson puts up decent numbers for the Colorado Avalanche at even-strength as well.

Defenseman Corey Potter should be owned in virtually all standard ESPN.com fantasy leagues of average and above depth. With eight points through 12 games  including six with the extra skater  Potter has been a real bright spot for the Edmonton Oilers since joining the team in mid-October. And the 27-year-old is in no danger of losing his station, even once Ryan Whitney is able to return from a knee injury. If anything, Potter and Whitney could make a up a very potent power-play pair for the Oilers.

Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey analyst and Rumor Central contributor for ESPN.com.