Thin Blue Line: Available youngsters

Updated: February 27, 2013, 6:56 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | ESPN.com

From the injury-strewn landscape of this compact, post-lockout season, a few fresh faces are emerging as healthy alternatives to help out your fantasy squad. And no young lad is attracting more positive attention for his recent output than Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators.

After a sluggish warm-up period to his sophomore season, the 22-year-old Swiss native has really blossomed of late alongside regular blue-line partner Shea Weber. If Predators fans have been waiting for a proper coming-out party, Josi's eruption for four points, including the game-winning overtime goal against the Dallas Stars, was it. The Preds are hoping Monday's performance is more rule than exception, reports Josh Cooper of The Tennessean. Coach Barry Trotz is gauging the glass as half-full in that respect.

"I think the last couple of games (Josi) has played with a lot of jump," Trotz said. "He's very comfortable and he's playing in all situations and he's becoming a very important part of our team … I think Roman is comfortable in his own skin on our team. Playing with Shea and all that, he has been really good. They've been a really great pair of late."

"I think I got some more confidence," Josi added. "I'm feeling good right now and trying to make plays and use my legs."

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

Owned in less than 27 percent of all ESPN.com leagues, Josi could provide a healthy boost to your roster at no cost. But time is of the essence; other fantasy owners are starting to realize why pundits throughout the hockey world have been high on this young lad for a long time.

Rookie Brenden Dillon of the Dallas Stars is another player to keep in mind as a quick, easy fantasy addition. Signed as a free agent in March 2011, Dillon is adapting well to the game at the highest level, earning more ice time from Stars coach Greg Gulutzan as the season wears on. And the rough-and-ready 22-year-old will garner you a substantial amount of penalty minutes, as well as contribute to offensive categories. As a member of the 2010-11 WHL Seattle Thunderbirds, Dillon earned 59 points and 139 PIM in 72 contests.

Others, like David Rundblad of the Phoenix Coyotes and Ryan Murphy of the Carolina Hurricanes, warrant consideration for the future. Fantasy skaters for 2013-14 and beyond, neither youngster is considered a permanent fixture in the NHL this season. The 19-year-old Murphy, in particular, is expected to be sent back to the OHL Kitchener Rangers before the first year of his entry-level contract is burned (he can play one more NHL game). However, both Rundblad and Murphy have a lot of offensive upside down the road. Tim Erixon is also worth keeping an eye on, as James Wisniewski and Jack Johnson sit on the shelf with injuries for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Rising and falling

Francois Beauchemin, Anaheim Ducks (up 26 spots): The return of Cam Fowler from a suspected head injury hasn't hurt Beauchemin's fantasy value in the slightest; if anything, Sheldon Souray is taking more of a backseat. Armed with a rocket of a shot, Beauchemin is taking full advantage of his natural gift as point man on the Ducks' power play. And the veteran's numbers of late -- including a four-assist performance earlier this week -- are simply too dazzling to ignore. After relegating the veteran D-man to the has-been fantasy heap last season, we shamefully shake our heads over our lack of foresight. But, to be fair, this productive incarnation -- eerily reminiscent of the 2005-06 version of Beauchemin -- has seemingly emerged out of nowhere. Fingers crossed that he doesn't fade or get hurt. If you don't care to chance it, Beauchemin could serve as a great sell-high candidate.

Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames (down five spots): Simply put, this season hasn't unfolded very well for Giordano. Eclipsed by power-play specialist Dennis Wideman and a seemingly inspired Jay Bouwmeester, Giordano has been relegated to third banana in terms of the Flames' offensive defensemen. Although better numbers than the three points (minus-3) accumulated to date are anticipated down the road, don't expect the fireworks display of two seasons ago (43 points in 2010-11).

Paul Martin, Pittsburgh Penguins (up 18 spots): Averaging nearly a point per game for the month of February, Martin is on pace for a career season, from a production standpoint. The 31-year-old has the same total of goals/assists (15) as Penguins teammate and top Thin Blue Line fantasy asset Kris Letang (though Letang has played three fewer games). Until there's concrete evidence of a cooling-off period, consider us enthused passengers on the Paul Martin Bandwagon.

Ryan Whitney, Edmonton Oilers (off): A healthy scratch more often than not these days, Whitney is rumored to be on the trade block for the Oilers. What's worse, there's word the club is having a difficult time attracting propositions for the veteran defender. Until he's shipped to greener pastures, the 30-year-old is of little use. And unless Corey Potter takes off running with coach Ralph Krueger's recent offer of a greater offensive role, Justin Schultz remains the only significant blue-line asset in Edmonton.

John-Michael Liles, Toronto Maple Leafs (off): Like Whitney, Liles isn't much of a fantasy asset in the press box (duh). Unlike Whitney, Liles hadn't played that poorly before being marginalized as a healthy scratch -- only that the Maple Leafs are otherwise spoiled for choice in the D-man department (Jake Gardiner is still in the AHL!). The sense is that the Leafs could deal the former member of the Colorado Avalanche at any moment. In reality, Liles merits a top-four role with most NHL teams, and the Toronto club could benefit handsomely from capitalizing on such circumstance.

Key injury (and other) notes

As mentioned above, Wisniewski is out four to six weeks with a broken foot. Fortunately for the Blue Jackets, Johnson (upper-body injury) could return to the lineup next week. Expect Fedor Tyutin and, to a lesser degree, Nikita Nikitin to carry a greater share of the offensive load until Johnson returns. And, again, keep an eye on the kids (i.e. Erixon) in the meantime. … Some good news has emerged from the Washington Capitals' camp, as Dmitry Orlov appears to be recovering from his upper-body injury. The 21-year-old has finally been cleared for contact. Hopefully he's able to compete within the next couple of weeks. … Kevin Bieksa of the Vancouver Canucks is listed as day-to-day after suffering a minor groin injury. … Veteran Sami Salo is considered day-to-day with a lower-body issue. Age (38) and history of injury are of greater concern in Salo's case, but the veteran is traveling with the Tampa Bay Lightning. … Brent Burns (undisclosed injury) has been placed on injured reserve by the San Jose Sharks. Truthfully, we've lost all faith in Burns' current state of health. … Michael Del Zotto is a solid "maybe" for Thursday's tilt between the New York Rangers and Lightning. … The subject of trade rumors, Andy Greene of the New Jersey Devils could be on the move in the not-too-distant future. … The return of Hurricanes D-man Joni Pitkanen (lower-body injury) has been pushed back to early next week. … The Detroit Red Wings' Brendan Smith (shoulder) is expected back in the lineup for Wednesday's contest in Los Angeles. If he's healthy, Smith will quickly work his way up the Top 75. Ian White is pegged to sit as a healthy scratch while the return of Kyle Quincey (ankle) is also anticipated.

Power-play performers

Don't look now, but Marc-Andre Bergeron is making a fantasy case for himself once again (even more so now that Lightning teammate Salo is nursing an injury). A perennially volatile asset, Bergeron can be electric when healthy. Suitable as a temporary plug, the 32-year-old power-play specialist is capable of garnering a concentrated set of points in a very short period of time. Just don't get too attached.

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