Commentary

Thin Blue Line: Youth movement

Fowler, Subban, Clitsome, Ekman-Larsson among young d-men worth tracking

Updated: January 26, 2011, 5:18 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | Special to ESPN.com

In honor of the 12 NHL rookies taking part in the All-Star SuperSkills competition, here's a look at a small selection of those inexperienced firecrackers who bring even more uncertainty than most to your fantasy roster. No matter how high (or low) the expectations, you never quite know what to expect from these unseasoned young men. And fantasy hockey simply wouldn't be the same without them.

The omission of the Carolina Hurricanes' Jamie McBain and the Colorado Avalanche's Kevin Shattenkirk is a calculated one. Those two have already received plenty of attention in this space of late.

Cam Fowler, Anaheim Ducks: Perhaps the steadiest and most dependable of the lot, Fowler leads all other rookie defenseman in points (26) and average ice time (over 22minutes/game). Aside from his minus-13, this young power-play staple performs with a level of maturity well beyond his 19 years. And he's only getting better. Our only concern regarding Fowler is whether or not the Ducks plan to acquire another offensive defenseman via trade. In that case, he could lose minutes with the man advantage, which would diminish his value somewhat. But as a worry, that's a long-shot.

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. Nicklas Lidstrom, Det (2)
2. Zdeno Chara, Bos (4)
3. Dustin Byfuglien, Atl (1)
4. Kris Letang, Pit (5)
5. Dan Boyle, SJ (3)
6. Mike Green, Was (7)
7. Lubomir Visnovsky, Ana (10)
8. John-Michael Liles, Col (8)
9. Drew Doughty, LA (9)
10. Christian Ehrhoff, Van (11)
11. Alexander Edler, Van (12)
12. Keith Yandle, Pho (15)
13. Chris Pronger, Phi (18)
14. James Wisniewski, Mon (14)
15. Brian Rafalski, Det (13)
16. Alex Goligoski, Pit (16)
17. Shea Weber, Nsh (17)
18. Jack Johnson, LA (20)
19. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (22)
20. Stephane Robidas, Dal (19)
21. Duncan Keith, Chi (23)
22. Tomas Kaberle, Tor (21)
23. Brent Burns, Min (24)
24. Tobias Enstrom, Atl (6)
25. Niklas Kronwall, Det (25)
26. Mark Giordano, Cgy (26)
27. Joni Pitkanen, Car (28)
28. Erik Karlsson, Ott (27)
29. Sergei Gonchar, Ott (29)
30. Brent Seabrook, Chi (30)
31. Brian Campbell, Chi (31)
32. Roman Hamrlik, Mon (32)
33. Jay Bouwmeester, Cgy (33)
34. Ryan Suter, Nsh (34)
35. Marc Staal, NYR (35)
36. Dion Phaneuf, Tor (36)
37. Dennis Wideman, Fla (40)
38. Kevin Shattenkirk, Col (39)
39. Dennis Seidenberg, Bos (37)
40. Cam Fowler, Ana (42)
41. Matt Carle, Phi (38)
42. P.K. Subban, Mon (41)
43. Joe Corvo, Car (43)
44. John Carlson, Was (45)
45. Kurtis Foster, Edm (44)
46. Kevin Bieksa, Van (46)
47. Tyler Myers, Buf (49)
48. Andy Greene, NJ (51)
49. Jordan Leopold, Buf (47)
50. Alex Pietrangelo, StL (50)
51. Erik Johnson, StL (52)
52. Andrew MacDonald, NYI (53)
53. Andrej Meszaros, Phi (54)
54. Anton Babchuk, Cgy (55)
55. Jamie McBain, Car (56)
56. Paul Martin, Pit (48)
57. Dmitry Kulikov, Fla (59)
58. Francois Beauchemin, Tor (57)
59. Adrian Aucoin, Pho (58)
60. Fedor Tyutin, Cls (61)
61. Cody Franson, Nsh (63)
62. Ed Jovanovski, Pho (60)
63. Daniel Girardi, NYR (62)
64. Michael Del Zotto, NYR (64)
65. Pavel Kubina, TB (65)
66. Marc-Andre Bergeron, TB (68)
67. Brett Clark, TB (67)
68. Grant Clitsome, Cls (NR)
69. Dan Hamhuis, Van (70)
70. Carlo Colaiacovo, StL (66)
71. Matt Gilroy, NYR (72)
72. Steve Kampfer, Bos (71)
73. Toni Lydman, Ana (73)
74. Bryan McCabe, Fla (74)
75. Tom Gilbert, Edm (75)

P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens: Never a boring moment with this lad, huh? Caught during the right contest, young Pernell Karl appears to be an unstoppable force in the offensive zone, unafraid to join the rush, and an impenetrable (and pesky) force in his own end. The next game, the 19-year-old is caught taking foolish penalties, duffing his assignments or committing haphazard giveaways. It's maddening. Fortunately, Subban's upside far outweighs his faults, and coach Jacques Martin seems to agree with that assessment. You can still expect Subban to sit out as an occasional healthy scratch, but he'll play -- and produce -- more often than not.

Grant Clitsome, Columbus Blue Jackets: After shining the spotlight on Fedor Tyutin as the only viable fantasy option on the Blue Jackets' blue line, we feel we owe Clitsome a shout-out. By providing a kick in the pants, production-wise, from the point on the power play, Clitsome has recently succeeded where others (Anton Stralman and Kris Russell, specifically) have not. Half of his six points in seven games were earned with the man advantage and the blueliner is still only owned in less than 3 percent of ESPN.com leagues. Even those less desperate may want to have a gander at this 25-year-old.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix Coyotes: This 19-year-old is going to be something special in the not-too-distant future, but he isn't consistent enough to merit consideration as a real fantasy asset yet. A potential fixture in keeper leagues moving forward, Ekman-Larsson should be on your radar for next season and beyond.

Rising and Falling

Dustin Byfuglien, Atlanta Thrashers (down two spots): Yup, a nine-game scoring slump provides enough encouragement to drop Byfuglien down a couple of pegs, but we're not going to panic, either. The Thrashers will rebound from their current struggling ways, as will their 25-year-old blueliner. Watch the All-Star Game provide a nice change of pace for Byfuglien, a fun way to distract from the skid and recharge the batteries. Before you know it, Big Buff will be dominating fantasy categories across the board once again. Unless, perhaps, power-play partner Tobias Enstrom is out hurt longer than we anticipate (more on that below), but we'll address that issue if or when it's necessary. As it stands, now may be the perfect time to offer a trade for Byfuglien, especially if his owner is the impatient type.

Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks (up two spots): Now that's better. Tallying four points in six games is not a huge deal, unless it caps off an eight-game scoring drought. Then it's a wonderful showing, full of promise, especially when three of those assists come with the extra skater. Keith won't approach last season's output of 69 points, but he could hit easily hit 50. That's not shabby at all.

Paul Martin, Pittsburgh Penguins (down eight spots): Most members of the Penguins are producing less with Sidney Crosby out hurt, but this is ridiculous. Martin has three points, all assists, in his past 22 games. Another week or two of the same, and he'll be off this list altogether.

Key injury notes

• The Atlanta Thrashers, and his fantasy owners, will have to make do without Tobias Enstrom for the next two to four weeks. The valuable defenseman fractured a finger while blocking a shot Saturday. Considering the All-Star break consumes nearly a week, a fortnight's absence is no big whoop. Here's hoping Enstrom isn't out much longer than that.

• Listed as day-to-day, Michal Rozsival hasn't played since taking a hard hit into the boards over the weekend. Already badgered by injuries, Rozsival hasn't registered a point since Dec. 29 and zero since joining the Phoenix Coyotes.

Daniel Girardi (ribs) should return for the New York Rangers after the All-Star break. That's unfortunate news for Michael Del Zotto owners; the sophomore was sent back down to Connecticut after playing two recent games for the Rangers as Girardi's replacement.

Power Play Performers

Cody Franson, Nashville Predators: The ongoing squawking from some in regards to Franson's continued inclusion in the Top 75 this season should quiet down a touch, at least for a little while. With five points in his past five games (including a couple of power-play assists) it seems coach Barry Trotz's commitment to using Franson with the man advantage is starting to pay off. By no means is the towering 23-year-old a fantasy heavyweight, but he has a bright future and should be a staple in keeper leagues.

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

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