Commentary

Thin Blue Line: Top stars at midseason

Updated: January 11, 2012, 5:24 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | Special to ESPN.com

With a hat tip to tradition, the midseason point feels most suitable to take stock and re-evaluate the pleasant surprises and disappointing duds of 2011-12 (thus far). This week we'll have a gander at a handful who have exceeded preseason expectations.

[+] EnlargeErik Karlsson
Timothy T. Ludwig/US PresswireErik Karlsson, currently the No. 1 defenseman on the Player Rater, had an average draft position of 157.8.

Erik Karlsson's fantasy owners, and fans of the Ottawa Senators in general, can breathe a collective sigh of relief. After being a late scratch for Tuesday's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, he seems to be in OK shape. If so -- and Senators coach Paul MacLean assures us that's the case -- Karlsson's 41 points in 43 games put him in excellent position to flirt with the 80-point mark by season's end. We think that might be a bit much to ask, since the 21-year-old is due for a cooling-off period at some stage. However, 70 points remains a reasonable goal, and he should be a factor in the Norris Trophy discussion by season's end. Plus, as ESPN.com's Craig Custance highlights, Karlsson's plus-seven is a massive improvement over last season's minus-30. If your blue line could use a big spark, Karlsson might be worth the exchange of a productive forward.

• A perennial fantasy darling already, Brian Campbell is enjoying even more of a productive season than anticipated with the Florida Panthers. Second only to Karlsson in scoring among NHL blueliners with 33 points, Campbell is on pace to smash his former personal best of 52 points in 2008-09. But durability and endurance are concerns. Badgered by minor physical issues, the 32-year-old hasn't been able to play a full season since '08-'09. So it's worth keeping Campbell in mind as a "sell high" candidate. Plus, there's no way the veteran will be able to continue logging an average of more than 26 minutes a game. Wanting his top D-man to be in the best shape possible for a playoff push, Panthers coach Kevin Dineen should start to cut back on the veteran's minutes.

• There's no real argument to be made: Ian White has fit in beautifully on the Detroit Red Wings' line following the retirement of Brian Rafalski. With 20 points in 38 games, White is on track to blast his former personal best totals. Furthermore, the 27-year-old is actually eclipsing his power-play partner and future Hall of Famer, Nicklas Lidstrom, in plus/minus. Plus-22 versus plus-17, for the record.

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

• A trip to the doghouse (aka press box) appears to be just what was needed to get Kyle Quincey back on track. Miserable about being a healthy scratch for four games toward the end of December, Quincey has a goal and two assists for the Colorado Avalanche in the six contests since. A point every couple of games or so is exactly what we should expect from the 26-year-old for the duration of the season, with or without Erik Johnson in the lineup. And don't panic if the production dries up here and there; Quincey runs more hot and cold than most.

Rising and Falling

Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames (re-emerges at No. 21): Wowee, the Flames weren't kidding when they suggested Mark Giordano could return earlier than expected from ruptured tendons in his calf. How about this week? The Flames may have their top offensive defenseman back in the lineup for Thursday's game against the Anaheim Ducks. Logging 21 points in 35 games to wrap up the 2010-11 season, the 28-year-old has been a solid fantasy asset since blossoming the year before that. Available in nearly 78 percent of ESPN.com leagues, Giordano could do a nice job of plugging a hole on your roster.

Jack Johnson, Los Angeles Kings (up three spots): As anticipated, Johnson has finally broken out of his 2011-12 funk. It's about time. With five points in his past eight games, the 24-year-old clearly has his confidence back. We expect only solid numbers from him from now until April.

Paul Martin, Pittsburgh Penguins (down five spots): You may not be completely fed up with Martin yet, but we're getting very close. Never mind the injury issues or current bout with the flu --the 30-year-old has one lonely goal, 10 assists and minus-9 through 34 games. Matt Niskanen, plus-8, has been a much sharper substitute for the absent Kris Letang (concussion).

Filip Kuba, Ottawa Senators (re-emerges at No. 67): Don't look now, but Kuba is relishing another one of his infamous hot streaks. Shouldn't last too long, so exploit the 35-year-old unrestricted free agent-to-be while you can.

Key injury (and other) notes

The return of Dustin Byfuglien (back/knee) has been delayed further. The Winnipeg Jets hops to have Big Buff back soon after the weekend. ... Erik Johnson (hand) could sit out another game for the Colorado Avalanche, but not likely more than that. ... Nursing a concussion, the Vancouver Canucks' Sami Salo could miss several games. ... Kris Letang is exerting himself in recovering from his concussion. That's excellent news for the Pittsburgh Penguins ... The Edmonton Oilers will be without Tom Gilbert (knee/leg) for at least a month. Corey Potter is worth fantasy ownership.

Power Play Performers

• Seriously, there's still fantasy hope for the Minnesota Wild's Marek Zidlicky this season. According to Kent Youngblood of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Zidlicky had some earlier difficulty adjusting to Mike Yeo's system. However, after missing 13 games with a concussion, the veteran blueliner is reportedly finally getting a handle on the new head coach's way of operating. So, in deeper leagues, it may be worth holding on to Zidlicky for a while yet. Averaging .57 points/game for the past three seasons, the 34-year-old could morph into a second-half fantasy gem if he finally breaks out.

• Meriting plum minutes on the Carolina Hurricanes' top power-play unit, Justin Faulk has garnered four points with the man advantage in his past six games. While the Hurricanes' blue line is in constant flux, it's likely Faulk won't remain in that role for too long. However, virtually unowned in ESPN.com leagues, the promising teen could offer your fantasy roster a temporary boost.

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

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