It is by far the thinnest position in fantasy hockey. There are only a few dozen decent defencemen to begin with. And in deeper drafts, poolies have already had to pinch their noses and grab from a duffel bag of hopefuls, long-shots and related malodorous options.
There’s not much to choose from after that.
So when those sleeper picks struggle and the inevitable injuries flare up – Pavel Kubina, Sami Salo, Jordan Leopold and Keith Ballard are all now hurt – that leaves poolies drifting up the proverbial creek, doesn’t it?
NHL teams are also shuffling the deck, calling guys up and sitting guys down., trying to put a half-decent collection of defencemen on their rosters. In this era of offence and its emphasis on power plays, the big clubs need big shooters on the blue-line.
That presents opportunity for poolies too, even if those players who get a crack at the club’s top-four defensive corps don’t become fantasy stars. As always, you take your chances.
But like last year, when Brian Campbell, Frantisek Kaberle, Andrej Meszaros and Ryan Whitney rose to relative prominence off the waiver wires, there will be fortuitous finds among this year’s early crop of unknowns too.
Worth picking up now is Nashville’s Ryan Suter, who has four points and is plus-five already this year. Suter’s pedigree is solid. The nephew of former all-star defenceman Gary Suter was the seventh pick overall in 2003. It doesn’t hurt, either, that he’s now playing alongside Marek Zidlicky.
Brett Clark, meanwhile, is now a fixture on the Avalanche’s second power-play unit. And Chicago’s speedy Duncan Keith looks like a keeper on the Blackhawks’ blue-line.
Paul Ranger is one of Tampa Bay’s top four defencemen and available on most waiver wires. He’s got real offensive potential. Poolies might recall he picked up two goals and six points in five playoff games last year.
Injuries always open up opportunities for up-and-comers. In Vancouver, for example, the Canucks are high on Kevin Bieksa, who scored his first NHL goal and added two assists last Friday. He’s taking Salo’s place on the first power-play unit with Markus Naslund and the Sedin twins.
Also taking advantage of an injury is Keith Yandle in Phoenix. One of the Coyotes last cuts in training camp, the 20-year-old Yandle had 84 points as a junior last year and has now assumed Ballard’s position on the power play.
Other interesting prospects currently getting a good look in the NHL and worth monitoring include Nashville’s Shea Weber and Calgary’s Mark Giordano, who scored the first two goals of his career Saturday.
A longer look can be reserved for Marc-Edouard Vlasic of the Sharks. The phenom is definitely offensively talented, having registered 16 goals and 73 points as a junior last year.
He’s logging an impressive average of 20 minutes per game for the Sharks so far this year but might still be sent back to the Quebec Ramparts, thanks to a rule allowing NHL teams to return players to junior before they play 10 games.
That rule also applies to 19-year-old Penguins defenceman Kristopher Letang.
Wait another two weeks before moving on either of these two youngsters.
Do you think Brian Leetch still has some gas in the tank? The 38-year-old veteran is a free agent but rumours swirl that he will sign soon with the Maple Leafs. The Bruins, Flyers and Rangers are also thought to be interested.
If you can hold him in reserve until the ink hits the page, he could certainly be worth a peek.
Greg Dennis can be reached at cp.pool(at)hotmail.com.