Commentary

Thin Blue Line: Knight of Columbus

Updated: October 26, 2011, 4:43 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | Special to ESPN.com

Sir Lancelot. Captain America. Richard Gere's emotionally stunted and fiscally irresponsible character in "Pretty Woman."

James Joseph Wisniewski.

Although "gallant" may not be the first descriptive term that comes to mind in light of last season's crude gesture made toward Sean Avery, there's little doubt James Wisniewski has taken on the figurative role of knight in shining armor for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Like it or not. Without earning a point in his debut after serving an eight-game suspension, the defenseman helped inspire the Blue Jackets to their first win of the season, a 4-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings.

Although no one player can truly "rescue" a team, Wisnieski's debut arguably injected the Jackets with some much-needed energy, optimism and confidence. Television broadcasters Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge said the team seemed different -- inspired and full of passion -- even during the morning skate. And from a fantasy perspective, the domino effect could be significant.

Fellow d-men Grant Clitsome, Kris Russell and Fedor Tyutin should all benefit from the alternative captain's presence. As Wisniewski's even-strength and power-play partner, Tyutin should start stringing together some assists with a fair amount of regularity. On the second power-play unit, Clitsome and Russell will prosper from Wisniewski's assembly tiring out the opposition's top shut-down skaters. Plus, the pressure's off. The big-money guy is back and now they can get back to playing loose. Clitsome, in particular, hasn't looked like himself to start the season. Not until he racked up three assists on Tuesday night, anyway.

The same philosophy applies to the team's corps of forwards. Some may consider it a coincidence that R.J. Umberger, Ryan Johansen (first of his career) and Derek MacKenzie all scored their first goals of the season on Tuesday. Not us. Again, by manufacturing scoring opportunities and creating space, Wisniewski should have a direct impact on overall scoring for the Blue Jackets. And we can't wait to see the No.1 power-play unit in action once Jeff Carter is ready to make his return (about a week or so).

As for the knight himself, Wisniewski has a proven fantasy track record, spanning the past three seasons with three different teams (Anaheim Ducks, New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens) . Gifted with a searing shot, the 27-year-old also moves the puck exceptionally well and brings a bit of grit to his play. If he manages to keep his nose clean -- in Brendan Shanahan's estimation -- Sir Wiz could be in for a monster year.

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. Dustin Byfuglien, Win (1)
2. Kris Letang, Pit (2)
3. Keith Yandle, Pho (3)
4. Zdeno Chara, Bos (4)
5. Dan Boyle, SJ (5)
6. Christian Ehrhoff, Buf (7)
7. Lubomir Visnovsky, Ana (6)
8. Nicklas Lidstrom, Det (8)
9. Shea Weber, Nsh (10)
10. Alexander Edler, Van (12)
11. Mark Streit, NYI (9)
12. Tobias Enstrom, Win (11)
13. Alex Goligoski, Dal (13)
14. John-Michael Liles, Tor (14)
15. Duncan Keith, Chi (17)
16. Brian Campbell, Fla (20)
17. Drew Doughty, LA (16)
18. Brent Burns, SJ (18)
19. James Wisniewski, Cls (23)
20. Ryan Whitney, Edm (15)
21. Dion Phaneuf, Tor (25)
22. Jack Johnson, LA (22)
23. Mike Green, Was (21)
24. P.K. Subban, Mon (24)
25. Chris Pronger, Phi (19)
26. Sheldon Souray , Dal (32)
27. Mark Giordano, Cgy (28)
28. Erik Johnson, Col (29)
29. Marek Zidlicky, Min (27)
30. Andrei Markov, Mon (26)
31. Ryan Suter, Nsh (31)
32. Alex Pietrangelo, StL (33)
33. Brent Seabrook, Chi (30)
34. Erik Karlsson, Ott (35)
35. Marc-Andre Bergeron, TB (41)
36. Niklas Kronwall, Det (36)
37. Joni Pitkanen, Car (37)
38. Sergei Gonchar, Ott (38)
39. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (42)
40. Tomas Kaberle, Car (34)
41. Kevin Shattenkirk, StL (39)
42. Dmitry Kulikov, Fla (40)
43. Joe Corvo, Bos (43)
44. Dennis Wideman, Was (51)
45. Cam Fowler, Ana (44)
46. Jay Bouwmeester, Cgy (46)
47. Dennis Seidenberg, Bos (47)
48. Ian White, Det (50)
49. Tyler Myers, Buf (45)
50. Matt Carle, Phi (57)
51. Roman Hamrlik, Was (49)
52. Travis Hamonic, NYI (48)
53. Kyle Quincey, Col (53)
54. Michael Del Zotto, NYR (52)
55. Grant Clitsome, Cls (54)
56. Matt Niskanen, Pit (61)
57. Sami Salo, Van (off)
58. Kevin Bieksa, Van (55)
59. Kurtis Foster, Ana (56)
60. Fedor Tyutin, Cls (60)
61. Zach Bogosian, Win (65)
62. Yannick Weber, Mon (62)
63. Paul Martin, Pit (63)
64. John Carlson, Was (64)
65. Corey Potter, Edm (off)
66. Marc-Andre Gragnani, Buf (70)
67. Jamie McBain, Car (off)
68. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Pho (69)
69. Stephane Robidas, Dal (68)
70. Tom Gilbert, Edm (67)
71. Cody Franson, Tor (66)
72. Nick Leddy, Chi (73)
73. Jonathon Blum, Nsh (74)
74. Victor Hedman, TB (71)
75. Dan Girardi, NYR (off)

Rising and Falling

Chris Pronger, Flyers (down six spots): Fortunately he didn't lose an eye altogether. The Philadelphia Flyers will have to make do without Pronger for about two weeks after the veteran blue-liner took a stick to the face/eye during Monday's contest with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Maybe longer, if the swelling and blood doesn't dissipate as quickly as expected. Kimmo Timonen and Matt Carle will shoulder more of the offensive load from the blue line until Pronger is able to return, while Andrej Meszaros will see a temporary boost in fantasy value. If you have a temporary hole to fill, Meszaros could make an excellent plug.

Sami Salo, Canucks (re-emerges at No. 57): From our perspective -- and surely his fantasy owners would disagree -- Salo has been a huge source of irritation this October. Just over a week ago, the head coach of the Vancouver Canucks waxed on (via the Vancouver Sun) about how much he liked Mikael Samuelsson playing the point with Alexander Edler on the squad's top power-play unit with Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin. Alain Vigneault was equally candid about how much he was looking forward to what a healthy Ryan Kesler would bring to the quintet. Next thing you know, in unrelated incidents, Samuelsson suffers a setback (soreness) in his recovery from offseason sports hernia surgery and he's shipped off to the Florida Panthers in a deal for David Booth.

This, of course, results in Salo taking on Samuelsson's role with the man advantage. And, fragile history or not, that's enough cause to include the veteran offensive-defenseman in our top-75. However, it's still recommended you consider Salo a sell-high candidate before he suffers a physical setback. Waiting until Christmas might be risky.

Corey Potter, Oilers (debut at No. 65): As top-pairing partner to Ryan Whitney, defenseman Corey Potter of the Edmonton Oilers brings something fresh to the fantasy table. Plus, Potter's presence on the power play -- with or without Whitney in the lineup -- is a nice bonus. With four points (including three with the man advantage) in six games, it's worth noting Potter is owned in only about three percent of ESPN.com leagues.

As for Whitney, good news; In contrast to what many had initially feared, he didn't re-injure the ankle that has given him so much trouble these past 10 months. The Oilers' No.1 defenseman was forced from action on Tuesday because of a sprained knee instead. Apparently it's no biggie, and Whitney should be back in action after a few days.

Anton Babchuk, Flames (off): A healthy scratch for five the past seven games, Babchuk has made his way into Brent Sutter's doghouse for some reason or another. That booming shot of his is far less of an effective tool in the Calgary Flames' press box. Babchuk will be re-evaluated once he re-joins the lineup. Shouldn't be too long.

Adam Larsson, Devils (off): Averaging more ice-time (23:52) than any other defenseman with the New Jersey Devils, Larsson should have more to show for his first seven games than a minus-1 (zero points). For the first time in three seasons, there isn't a Devil in this top-75. Andy Greene is your best fantasy bet from Pete DeBoer's squad at present.

Key injury (and other) notes:

Mike Green of the Washington Capitals is considered day-to-day with a minor foot problem ... Drew Doughty (upper body) is expected to suit up for the Los Angeles Kings within the next week ... Carlo Colaiacovo is back in action for the St. Louis Blues after dealing with an early-season concussion. Anticipate a fair amount of production from the offensively-talented blue-liner until he inevitably gets hurt again.

Power Play Performers

At the time of this writing, unrestricted free agent Anton Stralman is allegedly mulling over a contract offer form the New York Rangers. If Stralman signs, Michael Del Zotto and Daniel Girardi will experience a dip in fantasy value; Girardi more so than Del Zotto, who should still get decent minutes with the man advantage. It's not like the Rangers are interested in having Stralman play a shut-down role.

In fact, even if Stralman takes a pass on the offer, it would only be a matter of time before Glen Sather looks elsewhere to add an experienced puck-moving defenseman.

Raphael Diaz is making some fantasy noise as Yannick Weber's partner on the second power-play unit with the Montreal Canadiens. Feel free to add Diaz for a temporary boost but keep in mind the Habs are also shopping for blue-line help. Plus, it seems Andrei Markov remains on pace for a November return.

Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey analyst and Rumor Central contributor for ESPN.com.

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