Thin Blue Line: D-men on the mend

Updated: March 13, 2013, 8:33 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | ESPN.com

One unforgiving reality of the NHL is that good players get hurt, and some more frequently/severely than others. Fortunately, especially when an injury isn't too serious, players often heal and recover well enough within the same season. Getting a player back in "good-as-new" (or near to it) condition after a noticeable absence can often provide a team with a boost similar to adding a player through trade or free agency. The same thinking applies to fantasy rosters. Activating a prominent member off injured reserve, or snagging a previously ignored banged-up body for the cost of one minute's effort, can make a world of difference in a matter of days.

In that spirit, the Winnipeg Jets are reportedly getting ready to welcome back one of their best players. Tobias Enstrom is due to return from a shoulder injury in the next week, according to TSN's Rick Ralph. This will serve as a huge bonus for a Jets squad that's already playing rather well at the moment. Not only is Enstrom the club's best offensive defenseman, but he makes blue-line partner Dustin Byfuglien all the more dangerous.

If, by happy chance, the 28-year-old Swede is available in your league (owned in less than 44 percent of ESPN.com leagues) -- and your blue line isn't completely stacked -- quickly scoop him up. Enstrom could still log 20 regular-season games for the Jets, and that's nothing to sniffle at when it comes to the high-end fantasy performer.

On the flip side, the Vancouver Canucks are likely much more anxious to have Kevin Bieksa back in the fold. In the seven of eight games Bieksa (groin) has sat out of late, the Canucks have scored a measly 14 goals and won only once (two overtime losses). A feisty, productive presence, the 31-year-old also makes those around him better. Just ask offensive defenseman Alex Edler, who has a grand total of zero points (minus-4) since Bieksa first hurt his groin. Again, happily for the Canucks and invested fantasy owners, the veteran blueliner could return as early as Thursday against the Nashville Predators.

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

Meanwhile, Andrej Meszaros is already two games into his (presumably) healthy comeback from a dislocated shoulder. Sitting in 11th place in the East, the Philadelphia Flyers are desperate for the 27-year-old to return to his productive form from previous seasons. Outside of veteran Kimmo Timonen, no member of the club's blue line has contributed with any sense of consistency since January. A regular power-play presence, Meszaros has the talent and skill to put up some decent numbers between now and the end of April. It was only two seasons ago that he collected 32 points (81 games) in the shadow of Chris Pronger, Matt Carle and Timonen. Best of all, he's owned in less than 2 percent of ESPN.com leagues.

Rising and falling

Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks (re-emerges at No. 55): You don't fancy the oft-injured Brent Burns much as a fantasy defenseman this season? How about as a (relatively) healthy forward? In one of this week's more interesting maneuvers, the Sharks unleashed Burns as a third-line winger versus the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday. The move paid off, to some degree, as Burns scored his first goal of the campaign (he's only played in seven games). At this stage, there's no telling how long this particular strategy will endure, which, consequentially, could affect Burns' designation as a fantasy D-man. In the meantime, the 28-year-old should be activated across the board (owned in only 25 percent of ESPN.com leagues). Earning top power-play minutes alongside anchor Dan Boyle also adds to the former fantasy heavyweight's luster.

Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers (re-emerges at No. 72): The injury to Marc Staal (eye) boots McDonagh back into a position of fantasy significance. Quiet through most of the first half, McDonagh has three points in his past five contests. And you can count on the 23-year-old playing some pretty hefty minutes as well. Still available in about 14 percent of ESPN.com leagues, McDonagh should adequately plug a hole on your blue line until Staal returns (early April).

Jared Spurgeon, Minnesota Wild (up four spots): With four points in his past five games, Spurgeon finally appears to be finding his groove this season. The 23-year-old is second only to Ryan Suter as far as the team's prominent power-play defensemen.

Cam Fowler, Anaheim Ducks (down eight spots): Fowler just isn't feeling it this season. While Francois Beauchemin, Sheldon Souray and Luca Sbisa are contributing to varying degrees for the Ducks, Fowler remains ice cold. There's no arguing that the talented 21-year-old will eventually pull out of his scoring slump, but every game becomes all the more precious as we near spring. The Ducks are still winning without getting much from Fowler, and your fantasy squad may very well be doing the same.

Tyler Myers, Buffalo Sabres (off): With just four points and a minus-7 through 25 games, enough is enough.

Key injury (and other) notes

There still isn't any defined timetable for the return of Mike Green (groin). Even though the 27-year-old is said to be improving, the Washington Capitals are likely to favor a more cautious approach to his recovery this time around. Even once Green's back, fantasy owners will have a right to be wary, considering his injury struggles this season. We need a string of solid games from the Capitals' top D-man before giving him the stamp of approval. Until then, John Carlson, Tomas Kundratek and the surprising Steven Oleksy, in that order, are the top three on Washington's fantasy depth chart.

Power-play performers

There's word that Jake Gardiner could soon be recalled from the AHL Marlies (despite, not because of, his agent's latest bout of chirping on Twitter). If so, the 22-year-old is almost certain to see minutes right away with the Toronto Maple Leafs' secondary power-play unit. And he may even play with the top assembly if coach Randy Carlyle cares to break up the pairing of Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson. Regardless of his who he plays with, we'd be surprised if Gardiner isn't back in the NHL in the next week.

To the annoyance of many local scribes and fans, Tyson Barrie has been demoted to the AHL. If possible, the 21-year-old, puck-moving defenseman may be worth holding onto in keeper leagues. For next season -- or even next month -- there's a good chance that Barrie will be recalled by the Colorado Avalanche this campaign.

Two of the hottest players in the entire league make up one-third of the Los Angeles Kings' blue line. Slava Voynov and rookie Jake Muzzin have combined for as total of 21 points in their last 10 contests. While Voynov is locked up almost universally, Muzzin is available in nearly 42 percent of ESPN.com leagues. Secure him -- immediately -- if you can.

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