Open Ice: Five underowned defensemen
Even in the shallowest of fantasy hockey formats, more than 50 defensemen are owned and started with regularity. The trouble is you'd be hard pressed to find 20 who score at a pace better than the more mediocre forwards that populate the free-agent pool. It's this disparity that causes most folks to fall on one of two sides when it comes to defensemen; either they are extremely valuable or they are a dime a dozen.
However you treat this issue, there are several defensemen in the fantasy universe that aren't getting the love they deserve from the masses. Here are five of them:
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, D, Sharks: The Sharks are a powerhouse that goes two units deep, so even though Vlasic doesn't skate on the first pairing, his ownership numbers are a dilly of a pickle. Only 62 percent of ESPN leagues have owners who have snatched up this 17-point defenseman with a plus-11 through 27 games. Only 11 other defensemen have more points than Vlasic and only five have a better plus/minus. It's time to get on board and you can do it at the expense of Joe Corvo, who is still owned in 86 percent of leagues.
Kyle Quincey, D, Kings: After being mentioned in this space last week, Quincey is now riding a three-game point streak and has 16 total points this season. Nine of those points have come on the power play. Quincey is also an impressive plus-7 for the Kings. Skating more than 22 minutes a night for L.A., he is owned in fewer than 30 percent of ESPN leagues. Act now, as that number is rising quickly.
Marc-Andre Bergeron, D, Wild: Bergeron is a specialist and is finally being used as such in Minnesota. He is now fourth on the team in power-play time and trails only Mikko Koivu for power-play points. Bergeron has a strong point shot and moves the puck well on the blue line. He may be a little weak defensively and skates only 17 minutes per game because of it, but his 15 points shouldn't go the wayside for that reason alone. Bergeron is owned in 18 percent of ESPN leagues and should be owned in more. As long as the Wild produce on the power play, he'll get his.
Shane O'Brien, D, Canucks: Speaking of specialists, there is only one department O'Brien can help you in and he isn't shy about it. Take away the 27 penalty minutes he received in games with a misconduct and he still only trails Rob Blake by three minutes for the league lead in PIMs among defensemen. In other words, he can help you rack up the PIMs. O'Brien comes with the bonus of not hurting you anywhere else though. He'll keep a respectable plus/minus for the Canucks and even chip in points here and there, but most importantly, he'll skate probably 10 minutes more per game than any goon out there, thus not hurting you in average time on ice. Folks are starting to catch on to O'Brien's appeal, but he is still available in 84 percent of ESPN leagues.
Sergei Gonchar, D, Penguins: That's right. He is underappreciated with ownership numbers hovering near 50 percent of ESPN leagues. Everyone seems to focus on the "six month" part of "out four to six months," but note that four months from his shoulder surgery would be a month after Christmas. That's not too far gone. This is a guy who is a top-three defenseman when healthy and could be only a little more than a month away from returning. He is worth stashing as we get closer to that date.
A couple of notes before we get into a look at some players rising and falling in value. There was plenty on Oilers prospect Robbie Schremp being recalled in the fantasy blog this week. Definitely pay attention to his ice time and linemates. He may be one of the best puck wizards around, but translating that into NHL success is no guarantee. Andrew Hutchinson is playing the point for the Stars on the second power play since being acquired from the Lightning. He is a specialist on the point and has ripped up the AHL, but never translated that into the NHL despite a couple of chances. Sergei Zubov's return likely ends this opportunity for him, but he still bears watching. All 5-foot-8 of Keith Aucoin is playing center for the Capitals between Viktor Kozlov and Tomas Fleischmann lately. Aucoin still leads the AHL in points this season, with nine goals and 27 assists in 24 games. He's small, the odds are against him and it all depends on how the Caps injury troubles play out, but Aucoin has a chance to do some damage, especially with fellow Hershey Bear and current AHL goals leader Alexandre Giroux being called up by Washington on Sunday.
David Krejci, C, Bruins: Spending time recently on a power-play unit with fellow young Bruins' stars Phil Kessel and Milan Lucic, Krejci has exploded for 14 points in his past eight games. Like the Sharks in the West, the Bruins go two lines deep in useful fantasy stars and Krejci is an emerging force who seems to play third fiddle to Kessel and Lucic in the minds of the masses. Don't underestimate him, though; if you include March of last year, Krejci has double-digit points in two of the past three months.
Blake Wheeler, RW, Bruins: As goes Krejci, so goes Wheeler. The pair play together even strength and Wheeler has six points in four games. Going back across Krejci's eight-game point streak, Wheeler is plus-12 in those games and is plus-16 on the season. Wheeler could approach 30 goals this season and is definitely underutilized, owned in only 9 percent of ESPN leagues.
Patrik Berglund, C, Blues: He's a future star pivot for the Blues, and he is starting to show up on the score sheet more often than not. A member of the No. 1 power-play unit in place of the injured Paul Kariya, and on an even strength line with fellow burgeoning young stars T.J. Oshie and David Perron, Berglund has 11 of his 16 points this season in his past ten games. He'll be up and down in value as most rookies are, but if he keeps playing near 20 minutes a game he should remain relevant in deep leagues.
Mike Modano, C, Stars: As this Dallas team tries to stop spiraling into the Western Conference toilet, both on and off the ice, it's one of the classiest acts to hit the NHL over the last few decades that seems to be helping stabilize things. Mr. Star himself, Mike Modano, has nine points in his past 10 games and is playing top minutes on the power play. Expected to be more of a defensive option as he plays out his golden years in the league, Modano has been forced to step up in place of the injured Brenden Morrow as the leader of this team. Morrow is out for the season, so don't expect Modano to start playing defense again any time soon.
Mats Sundin, C: It's hit the wires that Sundin is planning to pick a team to sign with by Dec. 15. That could see him in a lineup scoring goals by the time the calendar flips on 2009, or shortly thereafter. He is available in 50 percent of ESPN leagues and you could do a lot worse with a roster spot than to stash him until he's ready to hit the ice.
Daymond Langkow, C, Flames: Sell him now while his 18 points still look respectable. Langkow is playing on the second line, away from Jarome Iginla, and is an afterthought on the power play this season. His time on ice has been dropping of late, from his usual 20 minutes back closer to 15. In fact, Sunday against the Rangers, Langkow played fewer than 14 minutes. Now that Mike Cammalleri is Iginla's partner in crime, Langkow is just an average player, instead of an average player skating with a superstar.
Wade Redden, D, Rangers: On pace for just 33 points this season, Redden is clearly not the answer to what ails the Rangers on the blue line. His minus-4 and penalty minute pace that would lead to his lowest total since 2001-02, are just icing on this garbage cake. I wanted to see him succeed in New York too, but Redden's 97 percent ownership in ESPN leagues at this point is just too kind.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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