Thin Blue Line: Wild production

Updated: March 27, 2013, 6:09 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | ESPN.com

Minnesota general manager Chuck Fletcher no longer has to fret about his charges -- new and old -- forming the right flavor of chemistry. Everyone seems to be getting along just fine. One of the hottest teams in the NHL, the Wild are scoring a lot of goals and winning a lot of games these days. Through a stretch of 13 wins, four losses and one overtime loss dating back to Feb. 14, the Wild have averaged 3.28 goals per game. And the Minnesota forwards aren't hogging all of the production; during that 18-game period, the Wild defensemen made significant contributions to the scoreboard as well.

Unsurprisingly, Ryan Suter leads the blue-line pack as top producer and premier fantasy darling. Seizing the No. 1 position in our Top 75 from Kris Letang (more on that below), Suter amassed 19 points, including eight with the man advantage, through the aforementioned 18-game stretch (plus-6). And he did so while leading the entire league in minutes per game (27 mpg on the season). If you'd like to bolster your fantasy blue line, and have other valuable assets -- such as forwards or goaltenders -- to spare, a trade for Suter could be in your best interest.

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

Behind Suter on the Wild's fantasy depth chart is young Jared Spurgeon. After an exceptionally sludgy start to this lockout-shortened campaign (missing three weeks to a foot injury certainly didn't help), the 23-year-old has finally rediscovered his offensive rhythm. With four goals and six assists in his past 13 games -- including five power-play points -- Spurgeon is finally living up to the promise he showed last season in his sophomore campaign. Sporting a plus-6 through the month of March and owned in only 51 percent of ESPN.com leagues, Spurgeon deserves thoughtful consideration as a free pickup.

As for a dark-horse choice to finish the season strong, have a gander at rookie Jonas Brodin. A favorite to challenge for the Calder Memorial Trophy, Brodin is earning rave reviews for his all-around performance with the Wild, including big praise from ESPN Insider and NHL scout Grant Sonier.

Though thus far his offensive point production has been marginal, the points will come for Brodin. In fact, the 19-year-old is already showing more of an offensive flair with three points -- including a power-play goal -- in his past six contests. Veteran Tom Gilbert may be the safer choice as added depth to your roster, but Brodin carries more upside. And he's virtually unowned in ESPN.com leagues.

Rising and falling

Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks (up 12 spots): In no immediate danger of losing his regular spot on the wing alongside Joe Thornton and Martin Havlat (and on the point during the power play), Burns remains a solid threat to continue his slightly better than point-per-game pace with the Sharks. While serviceable at right wing, Burns won't lose his eligibility as a defenseman in ESPN.com leagues for the duration of the season.

Travis Hamonic, New York Islanders (down 11 spots): Overshadowed by puck-moving veterans Mark Streit and Lubomir Visnovsky, Hamonic hasn't enjoyed a terribly productive campaign to date. After getting off to a decent start (while Visnovsky was out of the country, mind you), the 22-year-old has seen his numbers dry up to the tune of only two assists in his past 17 contests. And a team-worst minus-14 adds that extra layer of sour icing to an already bitter cake. Frankly, we anticipated a lot more from the talented young D-man. Unless Streit (not likely) or Visnovsky (possible) is moved ahead of the April 3 trade deadline, not too much is expected from Hamonic for the rest of the season.

Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues (down five spots): Both Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk are having a rough go of late, productionwise. While there's little doubt that the two young, dynamic defensemen will break out of their current scoring slumps, other factors are mildly disconcerting. Not the least of which is the Blues' rumored interest in trading for Ryan Whitney of the Edmonton Oilers. Stay tuned.

Tyson Barrie, Colorado Avalanche (re-emerges at No. 69): Recalled from the AHL in light of Ryan Wilson reinjuring his ankle, Barrie should get the chance to reassert himself and put up some decent numbers with the Avs' power play. Some would argue -- including us -- that the young defenseman shouldn't have been demoted in the first place. By the way, feel free to outright drop Erik Johnson. It's not happening for Johnson this season unless he's gifted with a change of scenery.

Mike Green, Washington Capitals (up 16 spots): When it comes to Green and trying to accurately prognosticate his standing with the Capitals this season, we give up. In and out of sick bay with a nagging groin issue, the Caps' top defenseman appears, once again, fit enough to contribute on a nightly basis. But for how long this time? We have no clue. At this stage, you might as well ride him.

Further, it's worth noting that John Carlson hasn't been adversely affected by Green's return to the lineup. Carlson has one even-strength goal and three power-play assists in the four games Green has been back.

Key injury (and other) notes

Kris Letang is hurt. Out with a lower-body injury (possible broken toe), Letang on Wednesday was placed on injured reserve. If all goes according to plan, the Penguins' top defenseman is expected to miss 7-10 days (approximately five games). While the Penguins should survive well enough during that period, it's a tough break for Letang and his fantasy owners. Paul Martin will see an increased offensive role in the meanwhile. … Tobias Enstrom of the Winnipeg Jets is back after missing five weeks with a shoulder injury. When healthy, Enstrom is capable of performing as a top-10 fantasy asset. Plus, Dustin Byfuglien is better when his blue-line buddy and power-play collaborator is fit. … James Wisniewski is due back for the Columbus Blue Jackets any day now. … Joe Corvo is back for the Carolina Hurricanes after missing three games with a lower-body injury. More offensive support will be expected from Corvo now that Justin Faulk is out with a sprained knee. … After missing three weeks, Dmitry Kulikov made his return for the Florida Panthers over the weekend.

Power-play performers

From a fantasy perspective, the blue line for the Chicago Blackhawks is having a moment. Leading the way is Duncan Keith, who has eight points (plus-9) in his past seven games, while Brent Seabrook has three goals and three assists (plus-5). And Nick Leddy deserves a hearty fantasy shoutout as well. Also scoring three goals and three assists (plus-4), Leddy is the only one of this impressive trio with two power-play points through the same seven-game stretch. And the 22-year-old is still available in more than 25 percent of ESPN.com leagues.

Back in the lineup after spending the end of February and most of the first half of March in the press box as a healthy scratch, Ian White is once again getting a chance to strut his stuff with the Detroit Red Wings. Our guess -- supported by popular opinion, informed and otherwise -- is that the Red Wings are shopping White ahead of next week's trade deadline. If so, it's in everyone's best interest that GM Ken Holland finds White a new home. Just imagine if the Wings sign NCAA free agent Danny DeKeyser. Or what if Carlo Colaiacovo -- finally cleared to play -- earns himself a spot in the lineup? Or what if Holland trades for another blueliner altogether? One way or another, White's future in Detroit looks dubious at best.

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