Commentary

Thin Blue Line: James Wisniewski rising

Weekly news and notes on fantasy hockey defensemen

Updated: October 14, 2010, 11:10 AM ET
By Victoria Matiash | Special to ESPN.com

If only there was a fantasy category rewarding obscene gestures. Recent rude and childlike behavior aside, James Wisniewski is in position to be a fantasy beast for the New York Islanders. With Mark Streit out until February, the Isles are relying on Wisniewski to take charge of their power play, and the defenseman is relishing that role. He loves to shoot, has a good shot, appears excited during each and every shift. You can hardly blame the 26-year-old, considering the slew of talented young forwards on the roster. Furthermore, with defenseman Mike Mottau as the second-best option with the extra skater, Wisniewski will get as much power-play action as he can handle. There's no limit to his production this season.

As for Monday's nonsense involving Wisniewski's "inappropriate gesture" toward the ever-irritating Sean Avery and subsequent suspension, pay it little mind. Two missed games isn't much of a concern. Not to endorse such conduct, but if anything, Wisniewski's emotional outburst was a good indication of his passion. And surely, hopefully, Avery's wounded feelings will heal with time.

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. Preseason ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Mike Green, Was (1)
2. Duncan Keith, Chi (2)
3. Drew Doughty, LA (3)
4. Dan Boyle, SJ (6)
5. Zdeno Chara, Bos (5)
6. Chris Pronger, Phi (4)
7. Dion Phaneuf, Tor (8)
8. Sergei Gonchar, Ott (7)
9. Lubomir Visnovsky, Ana (12)
10. Christian Ehrhoff, Van (10)
11. Tomas Kaberle, Tor (11)
12. Andrei Markov, Mon (30)
13. James Wisniewski, NYI (33)
14. Bryan McCabe, Fla (13)
15. Nicklas Lidstrom, Det (16)
16. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (17)
17. Tobias Enstrom, Atl (15)
18. Erik Johnson, StL (14)
19. Shea Weber, Nsh (21)
20. Alex Goligoski, Pit (20)
21. Michael Del Zotto, NYR (22)
22. Stephane Robidas, Dal (24)
23. Tyler Myers, Buf (18)
24. Anton Stralman, Cls (25)
25. Jay Bouwmeester, Cgy (28)
26. Joni Pitkanen, Car (26)
27. Ed Jovanovski, Pho (29)
28. Ryan Whitney, Edm (37)
29. Pavel Kubina, TB (34)
30. Niklas Kronwall, Det (36)
31. Joe Corvo, Car (47)
32. P.K. Subban, Mon (32)
33. Brent Burns, Min (31)
34. Mark Giordano, Cgy (38)
35. Alexander Edler, Van (35)
36. Zach Bogosian, Atl (39)
37. Matt Carle, Phi (40)
38. Dennis Wideman, Fla (49)
39. Victor Hedman, TB (42)
40. Keith Yandle, Pho (48)
41. Marek Zidlicky, Min (46)
42. John-Michael Liles, Col (41)
43. Dustin Byfuglien, Atl (NR)
44. Kevin Bieksa, Van (45)
45. Andy Greene, NJ (44)
46. Ryan Suter, Nsh (50)
47. John Carlson, Was (62)
48. Brent Seabrook, Chi (60)
49. Paul Martin, Pit (55)
50. Kurtis Foster, Edm (56)
51. Jack Johnson, LA (59)
52. Jason Demers, SJ (54)
53. Kris Letang, Pit (53)
54. Dennis Seidenberg, Bos (51)
55. Cam Barker, Min (43)
56. Francois Beauchemin, Tor (61)
57. Carlo Colaiacovo, StL (NR)
58. Michal Rozsival, NYR (71)
59. Alex Pietrangelo, StL (66)
60. Sheldon Souray , Edm (23)
61. Jamie McBain, Car (52)
62. Ian White, Cgy (73)
63. Jordan Leopold, Buf (NR)
64. Cam Fowler, Ana (NR)
65. Kyle Quincey, Col (65)
66. Adrian Aucoin, Pho (63)
67. Braydon Coburn, Phi (57)
68. Roman Hamrlik, Mon (64)
69. Erik Karlsson, Ott (69)
70. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Pho (NR)
71. Mike Mottau, NYI (NR)
72. Niklas Hjalmarsson, Chi (67)
73. Filip Kuba, Ott (58)
74. Craig Rivet, Buf (70)
75. Brian Campbell, Chi (27)

Rising and Falling

Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings (up six spots): With Brian Rafalski out for about a month after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, Kronwall's value rises, especially if he skates regularly with Nicklas Lidstrom on the power play.

Sheldon Souray, Edmonton Oilers (down 37 spots): This mess is going to have to sort itself out eventually. At least the Oilers and Souray can agree on one thing: They want nothing to do with one another. And it doesn't do anyone any good to have Souray skate with the AHL's Hershey Bears for weeks on end. The disgruntled, yet still very talented, veteran will settle with another NHL team at some point; the only issues are with whom and, more importantly, when.

Ryan Whitney, Edmonton Oilers (up nine spots): The Oilers are a young and exciting team, with Ryan Whitney is running the show, offensively, from the back end. Having power-play specialist Kurtis Foster joining him with the man advantage doesn't hurt either.

Dustin Byfuglien, Atlanta Thrashers (new at 43): Designated a forward when preseason rankings were in the works, Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay has since decided to play Byfuglien on the blue line. Although the team wants to use his big frame to protect the back end, Byfuglien will still jump into the rush on occasion.

Key injury notes

Does anyone heal faster than Andrei Markov? Recovering from offseason knee surgery, Markov was originally due back mid- to late-November. That date was then moved to the end of October, and now Dave Stubbs of the Montreal Gazette hints it's possible (although admittedly unlikely) that we may see the star blueliner on ice as soon as this weekend. That's probably a stretch, but at least we know Markov's return is not far off.

We can expect to see Roman Hamrlik back in action for the Montreal Canadiens at any moment now. After straining his knee in training camp, Hamrlik appears ready to go.

Recovering from a sprained knee, Brian Campbell isn't due back for the Chicago Blackhawks until early November. Brent Seabrook benefits from more power-play ice time in the meanwhile.

Filip Kuba's busted leg is healing on schedule and the blueliner is set to return for the Ottawa Senators by early November. Erik Karlsson, who hasn't looked sharp early, will see a drop in power-play ice time once Kuba is back in action.

Not that it's an injury, but Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson was suspended two games for a dangerous hit on the Buffalo Sabres' Jason Pominville from behind. For the record, the suspension equals that given to Wisniewski for gesturing inappropriately at Avery. Although the move displayed poor sportsmanship, Wisniewski's "salute" didn't send anyone to hospital, yet Pominville will miss several games, at the very least, with a concussion. Just sayin'.

Potent Pairings

Jay Bouwmeester and Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames: Currently paired at even strength and on the power play, Bouwmeester and Giordano are munching up loads of ice-time for the Flames. Although point-less in their first two games, these two look well in sync and appear hungry. Bouwmeester, in particular, clearly wants to make amends for last season's disappointing three goals and 29 points. Plus, Giordano is slated to be an unrestricted free agent next summer and that looming potential new contract could provide extra incentive.

Power Play Performers

The Anaheim Ducks may be the worst team in the Western Conference, but that's not dampening Cam Fowler's enthusiasm. A surprise selection out of camp, Fowler has impressed enough to earn substantial ice time with the man-advantage. In fact, the 18-year-old led all Ducks in overall minutes in Monday's 5-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues. And his one assist is all the more lustrous considering the Ducks have only two goals, total, in three games. Lubomir Visnovsky is the team's undisputed No.1 fantasy defenseman, but young Fowler is No.2.

Acquired from the Boston Bruins via an offseason trade, Dennis Wideman is fitting in well with the Florida Panthers, particularly on special teams. Either paired with Bryan McCabe or Dmitry Kulikov, Wideman is dominating the man-advantage in minutes and scoring opportunities. Unlike last season with the Bruins, he looks comfortable and confident again, especially alongside McCabe. Don't forget, Wideman netted 50 points two years ago.

The endorsement would be heartier if he were more durable, but Carlo Colaiacovo at least appears to be a fantasy gem at this early stage. The Blues d-man put in over 10 minutes on the power play in the 5-1 victory over the Ducks on Monday -- almost twice as much as Erik Johnson -- and has two points in two games. If only he could stay healthy. Unfortunately, the 27-year-old's history of injury is fairly colorful.

Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com.

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