Commentary

Thin Blue Line: Rookie Elliott steps up

Updated: November 30, 2011, 5:39 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | Special to ESPN.com

Remember the impact then-rookie Kevin Shattenkirk made with the Colorado Avalanche after being added to the lineup last November? A similar situation is brewing this year, and Avalanche fans can't be faulted for experiencing a sense of deja vu. With two points in just two games following his call-up from the Lake Erie Monsters of the AHL, Stefan Elliott is turning a lot of heads as a promising offensive-defenseman. And it appears the rookie is going to stick around.

[+] EnlargeStefan Elliott
AP Photo/Jack DempseyStefan Elliott, a second-round pick in 2009, had 81 points in 71 games for the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL last season.

To make room for blueliner Erik Johnson (groin), who is eligible to come off IR, the Avalanche are poised to demote forward Joakim Lindstrom to Lake Erie after the Swedish winger cleared waivers Wednesday. The message broadcast by this move rings loud and clear: Elliott, originally called up as Johnson's replacement, will remain with the Avs for the foreseeable future. Yup, we could be talking about him all season long.

The fantasy ramifications in this case could be significant. Currently paired with Kyle Quincey on the team's top power-play unit, Elliott appears both dangerous with the puck and responsible defensively. On the ice, the young man looks older, wiser and more experienced than he should. Even when Johnson returns -- eligible or not, he isn't considered fully fit yet -- there's no guarantee Elliott would lose his plum role with the man advantage. If anything, the onus would likely be on Johnson to bump the young lad from the top unit.

Joining the Avalanche on Nov. 4, 2010, Shattenkirk earned 19 points in his first 21 games before enduring a mild cold spell (dealt to the St. Louis Blues in February, he eventually finished the season with 43 points in 72 games). Don't be too surprised if Elliott puts in a similarly fantasy-friendly performance. Owned in less than 12 percent of ESPN.com leagues at the time of this writing, the 20-year-old could be a huge steal.

Rising and Falling

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

Dmitry Kulikov, Florida Panthers (not rated): The Panthers should hope Jason Garrison is able to carry on with his unprecedented scoring ways, now that Kulikov has suffered a nasty laceration to his right leg (via Eric Staal's skate during Tuesday's contest with the Carolina Hurricanes). It's a deep cut, and George Richards of the Miami Herald suggests Kulikov could be out for an "extended period of time." Not promising. Garrison, along with fantasy heavyweight Brian Campbell, should get an even heftier chunk of power-play time with Kulikov out.

Chris Pronger, Philadelphia Flyers (down 26 spots): Pronger is expected to miss the next four weeks as the veteran's requires arthroscopic surgery to remove some "bits" floating within his left knee. Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle and Andrej Meszaros will be relied upon to contribute more offensively from the blue line in Pronger's absence. If this feels familiar, there's good reason. You may recall Pronger missed just over a month last season between mid-December and late January recovering from a broken foot, at which point more was asked of Timonen, Carle and Meszaros.

Joni Pitkanen, Carolina Hurricanes (up five spots): Sometimes a major change proves to be sufficient in rustling things up for the better. And realistically, it's not like the 29th-ranked Hurricanes power play ranked 29th in the league, it's not like the Carolina Hurricanes' power play could become much less effective under new coach Kirk Muller. In fact, we're determined to take the optimistic route and propose a tangible improvement within the foreseeable future. That would bode well for the duo of Pitkanen and Tomas Kaberle, Muller's early preference as partnership with the man advantage. Reunited on the Hurricanes' top unit for the first time in ages, Pitkanen and Kaberle enjoyed some promising moments in the new coach's debut Tuesday. It's also worth noting that Jamie McBain was a healthy scratch in Muller's first game behind the bench.

Marek Zidlicky, Minnesota Wild (not rated): The Wild may have to do without their top offensive-defenseman for quite some time, as he's yet to skate after suffering a concussion. Outside of the occasionally productive Jared Spurgeon, the Wild's cupboard is essentially bare as far as fantasy defenseman are concerned.

Key injury (and other) notes

Shelved for Tuesday's tilt with the New York Rangers, Kris Letang (broken nose) is scheduled to see team doctors on Wednesday. There are rumblings Letang may have a mild concussion, and that's a worry. ... If all goes according to schedule, Lubomir Visnovsky (broken finger) and Alex Goligoski (broken thumb) should be back for the Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars, respectively, by mid-December. ... Anton Stralman has been a healthy scratch for three straight contests after playing just one game for the New York Rangers. Clearly, coach John Tortorella isn't terribly charmed with the 25-year-old, at least not yet. Until there's a discernible change in feeling from Tortorella, Stralman's fantasy value remains negligible. ...

Power Play Performers

• Don't look now, but Adam Larsson is causing a bit of a stir with the New Jersey Devils. Amassing five points in his past five games, Larsson can't be ignored as a potentially valuable power-play performer. Only forward Ilya Kovalchuk enjoyed more ice time with the man advantage in the Devils' recent 3-2 loss to the New York Islanders. The fourth-overall pick in the 2011 draft is owned in less than 11 percent of ESPN.com leagues.

• According to Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News, Christian Ehrhoff is starting to get into the swing of things with the Buffalo Sabres, playing more minutes and shooting the puck with greater frequency. Good news, considering the $40 million defenseman hasn't made any grand statement with his new club to this point. Hey, it takes some a little longer than others to get comfortable in a fresh environment. And Lindy Ruff recently implied his top D-man could be turning the corner:

"In Christian's case, I really like the way he's skated in the last four or five [games]," Ruff told the Buffalo News on Monday. "I think he's been involved a little bit more on the offensive thrust for us and that's what his game is about."

Excellent. Plus, the Sabres will really need more production from Ehrhoff with Tyler Myers out and Jordan Leopold banged up.

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

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