Thin Blue Line: Injury opportunities

With key D-men sidelined, Wiercioch, Postma, others offer fill-in fantasy value

Updated: February 6, 2013, 5:52 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | ESPN.com

What are we, one-fifth of the way through this weirdly compressed season? Maybe one-sixth? Already the injury bug is biting with a ferocity usually reserved for middle to closing chapters. Further, Thin Blue Line bias aside, defensemen appear to be falling apart at a greater rate than forwards and goaltenders. Just ask the head coach of the Detroit Red Wings how his squad is managing with the revolving door of D-men rotating in and out of the lineup. Or have a look at the Columbus Blue Jackets' blue line -- seemingly held together by a gluey combo of youthful exuberance, competitive fortitude and Jack Johnson playing 30-plus minutes a game.

However, injury-related adversity usually provides a gateway to ripe opportunity for others. And those others can prove useful as temporary fantasy roster plugs. For instance, one of Ottawa's rookie defensemen demonstrated that he's capable of stepping up offensively when veteran Sergei Gonchar is under the weather. A few games missed by Dustin Byfuglien offers a former AHL regular the chance to make some hay while the Winnipeg winter sun shines. And, by default perhaps, a mediocre fantasy asset (at best) emerges as Buffalo's go-to power-play producer while Christian Ehrhoff nurses some mysterious muscle-related injury. During a compact fantasy season, such temporary Band-Aids of the dark-horse variety shouldn't be disregarded.

Patrick Wiercioch
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesPatrick Wiercioch should have ample opportunity to continue to put up points for Ottawa.

Sure, it's only the flu this week, but other ailments/injuries will inevitably cost 38-year-old Sergei Gonchar a few games before the Ottawa Senators reach mid-April. And on each and every occasion the elderly statesman needs a break, Patrick Wiercioch should stand to benefit as the Senators' top offensive defenseman not named Erik Karlsson. Even with Gonchar in the lineup, the towering 22-year-old has the potential to contribute -- as made evident by his 4 assists in eight contests. Available in ESPN.com leagues across the board, Wiercioch is only becoming more comfortable, game by game.

We already had reasonably high hopes for Paul Postma this season, and the four-year AHL pro has yet to disappoint. Still only 23 years old, Postma is fulfilling early season promise as a solid puck-moving defenseman with a dangerous shot. He's been all the more impressive (4 points in three games) as a recent substitute partner to Tobias Enstrom, with Dustin Byfuglien out nursing a lower-body injury. That production should serve to boost Postma's confidence, even once Byfuglien is back to health.

Now, we're not Jordan Leopold's biggest cheerleaders when it comes to fantasy play, but the experienced Buffalo Sabres defenseman can be streaky as all get out. So, while Ehrhoff deals with some undisclosed muscle-related problem and Tyler Myers struggles in the most maddening way possible, Leopold is poised for serious consideration. Plus, the 32-year-old is owned in only 2 percent of ESPN.com leagues.

Make no mistake, the aforementioned players aren't sure-fire fantasy dynamos just revving up to resurrect your squad on individual effort alone. But if you have a roster hole that needs filling for a couple of games or more, there are worse options out there. And all three have the genuine potential to provide a pleasant boost in production any day of the week.

Rising and Falling

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. Erik Karlsson, Ott (1)
2. Kris Letang, Pit (2)
3. Brian Campbell, Fla (5)
4. Zdeno Chara, Bos (4)
5. Tobias Enstrom, Win (9)
6. Dustin Byfuglien, Win (3)
7. Alex Pietrangelo, StL (7)
8. Dan Boyle, SJ (6)
9. Andrei Markov, Mon (11)
10. Ryan Suter, Min (8)
11. Michael Del Zotto, NYR (10)
12. Kevin Shattenkirk, StL (13)
13. Alexander Edler, Van (12)
14. Mark Streit, NYI (16)
15. Shea Weber, Nsh (14)
16. Dion Phaneuf, Tor (15)
17. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (17)
18. Drew Doughty, LA (19)
19. Jack Johnson, Cls (18)
20. Niklas Kronwall, Det (20)
21. P.K. Subban, Mon (21)
22. Dennis Wideman, Cgy (22)
23. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Pho (29)
24. Justin Schultz, Edm (24)
25. Keith Yandle, Pho (25)
26. Duncan Keith, Chi (26)
27. Christian Ehrhoff, Buf (23)
28. Matt Carle, TB (27)
29. Mike Green, Was (30)
30. Alex Goligoski, Dal (28)
31. Sergei Gonchar, Ott (31)
32. Raphael Diaz, Mon (43)
33. Nick Leddy, Chi (39)
34. Justin Faulk, Car (46)
35. Mark Giordano, Cgy (33)
36. Joni Pitkanen, Car (34)
37. Ryan Whitney, Edm (37)
38. Marek Zidlicky, NJ (35)
39. Sheldon Souray, Ana (41)
40. Ian White, Det (76)
41. Brent Seabrook, Chi (42)
42. Travis Hamonic, NYI (40)
43. Fedor Tyutin, Cls (57)
44. Tyler Myers, Buf (38)
45. Slava Voynov, LA (47)
46. Dougie Hamilton, Bos (51)
47. Dmitry Kulikov, Fla (44)
48. Tom Gilbert, Min (54)
49. Ryan Ellis, Nsh (52)
50. Dan Hamhuis, Van (64)
51. Erik Johnson, Col (49)
52. Paul Martin, Pit (56)
53. Sami Salo, TB (62)
54. Kevin Bieksa, Van (53)
55. John-Michael Liles, Tor (59)
56. Lubomir Visnovsky, NYI (NR)
57. Victor Hedman, TB (55)
58. Jared Spurgeon, Min (50)
59. Cam Fowler, Ana (36)
60. Jason Garrison, Van (45)
61. Dan Girardi, NYR (60)
62. John Carlson, Was (65)
63. Cody Franson, Tor (69)
64. Paul Postma, Win (NR)
65. James Wisniewski, Cls (32)
66. Stephane Robidas, Dal (63)
67. Roman Josi, Nsh (61)
68. Dennis Seidenberg, Bos (58)
69. Patrick Wiercioch, Ott (76)
70. Jay Bouwmeester, Cgy (70)
71. Filip Kuba, Fla (71)
72. Jordan Leopold, Buf (NR)
73. Andy Greene, NJ (NR)
74. Jamie McBain, Car (73)
T-75. Kurtis Foster, Phi (75)
T-75. Jason Demers, SJ (NR)

Lubomir Visnovsky, New York Islanders (re-emerges at No. 56): Unless he packed a parachute, Visnovsky should be hooking up with the New York Islanders shortly. Video evidence recently circulating the Internet shows the Slovakian defenseman bidding his friends and family farewell at an overseas airport. We can only assume he boarded the plane. Therefore, once apologies are made, forgiveness is issued and Visnovsky gets up to speed with his new club, the fantasy ramifications could be significant.

Honestly, the Islanders should milk the experienced offensive defenseman for all he's worth during the final few weeks of his contract -- anything to help give this young squad the playoff experience it needs. If all works out as planned (planned last summer, mind you), fellow veteran D-man Mark Streit should benefit from having Visnovsky as a power-play partner on the Isles' top unit. Maybe Travis Hamonic loses a smidge of fantasy shine with Visnovsky on board, but not much. The 36-year-old veteran should function more as a fantasy complement than competition to other Islander assets.

Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes (up 12 spots): Never mind Joni Pitkanen, young Faulk is the new power-play sheriff for Kirk Muller's Hurricanes. Dominating minutes on the top unit, Faulk has the potential to make a lot of fantasy noise while chemistry continues to develop up front. You can just smell the hot streak wafting in off the horizon. Snag the 20-year-old while you can.

Ian White, Detroit Red Wings (up five spots): He's back from injury, and not a moment too soon for Mike Babcock's club. With Brendan Smith on the injury shelf for up to four weeks, White ascends to No. 2 status on the fantasy depth chart behind Niklas Kronwall. Until Carlo Colaiacovo heals up (two weeks, maybe?) or GM Ken Holland deals for other blue-line help, that hierarchy shouldn't change.

Marek Zidlicky, New Jersey Devils (down three spots): Andy Greene has usurped Zidlicky as coach Pete DeBoer's defenseman of choice to skate on the Devils' No. 1 special-teams unit. We're not convinced this experiment will last all that long, but it's worth monitoring. And Greene, who is virtually un-owned in ESPN.com leagues, has four points to show for his offensive efforts in his past three games.

Key injury (and other) notes

Listed as day-to-day with an upper-body (read: head) injury, Cam Fowler of the Anaheim Ducks isn't expected to miss too much time (fingers crossed). "When he's ready to play, he'll play," a rather unhelpful coach Bruce Boudreau told the Orange County Register recently. Rookie Sami Vatanen and veteran Francois Beauchemin -- not Luca Sbisa -- are being asked to fill in as far as power-play minutes are concerned. … Don't interpret Ryan Whitney's recent benching as anything other than a wake-up call for the Edmonton Oilers' defenseman. The veteran has responded positively to similar press-box shamings in the past. … Jared Spurgeon remains on the injury shelf for the Minnesota Wild with a bruised foot. He wasn't supposed to be out this long. … After weeks of ambiguous murmurings, the San Jose Sharks have finally put something resembling a timeline on Brent Burns' return (lower-body issue). He may not be back until the end of the month; as a result, the towering 27-year-old tumbles out of our Top 75 and Jason Demers squeezes in.

Power-play Performers

Jack Johnson can't do it all on his own. With James Wisniewski (concussion) out for an undetermined length of time, Fedor Tyutin will be asked to shoulder a greater share of the power-play load for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Young Tim Erixon is also worth monitoring until Wisniewski and others -- such as Nikita Nikitin and Adrian Aucoin -- return to full health. Until we get a better feel for how much time Wisniewski could miss -- he's still considered day-to-day -- there's no sense in making any concrete predictions regarding Jackets' top blue-line pairing.

The Toronto Maple Leafs appear keen to reunite John-Michael Liles with Dion Phaneuf on their top special-teams unit. A good call from where we're sitting. Not to be construed as a slight to 27-year-old Mike Kostka -- who has been very solid for the Maple Leafs in his "rookie" season -- but Liles is of a higher caliber when it comes to moving the puck in the offensive zone. And Phaneuf and Liles enjoyed some success as a power-play pair last season.

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