The landscape on the blue line is different than what we anticipated coming into the season in many ways. Through more than a month of action now, there are some names present -- and some names absent -- at the top of the ESPN Player Rater that are quite a surprise.
The top 12 defensemen in fantasy value (ESPN standard league) so far this season are, in order: John Carlson, Roman Josi, Dougie Hamilton, Morgan Rielly, Alexander Edler, Brent Burns, Kris Letang, Ryan Ellis, Torey Krug, Ivan Provorov, Rasmus Dahlin and Mark Giordano.
While Hamilton, Ellis and Dahlin weren't projected to be here based on their ADP, it's at least understandable. Hamilton has taken over the point for the Carolina Hurricanes with Justin Faulk shipped out, Ellis shares the ice with Josi at all times and Dahlin is coming off one of the best seasons by a 19-year-old defenseman ever. It's Edler and Provorov that stick out like sore thumbs here.
Perhaps the biggest reason for it being a surprise is that both players are second on their respective clubs for power-play ice time by a defenseman. Quinn Hughes is quarterbacking the Vancouver Canucks man advantage, while Shayne Gostisbehere is still playing more time on the power play for the Philadelphia Flyers. All the same, it's Edler and Provorov who are bringing home the bacon at the moment.
Provorov is the one who is really being fueled by success on the power play. Six of his nine points have come on the man advantage. With Gostisbehere only boasting two assists on the power play, expect a transition to Provorov to continue. I've been among the chief Provorov truthers for several seasons now, and I promised I'd stop banging the drum for him if he didn't break out last year ... so I'll resist hyperbole here. Suffice it to say I'm -- quietly -- buying in.
Edler isn't being propelled by power-play points -- he only has three so far. This is good news as his overall stats profile is quite balanced, including some penalty minutes to touch on all the standard categories. The Canucks are a much-improved team/offense this season, and Edler has excelled while on good teams in the past (poor guy has waited around for the whole rebuild). I don't know that he's top 12 at the end of the season, but he could be close to it.
Taking a look at the next 12 on the list -- or your D2 players -- we have, in order: Jeff Petry, Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, Nikita Zadorov, Alex Goligoski, Mattias Ekholm, Neal Pionk, Mikhail Sergachev, Hughes, Oscar Klefbom, Aaron Ekblad and Radko Gudas. This list is more illustrative of the fact that, while a month in does seem like a long time, it's really not. A lot of these players are being pushed up in fantasy value by a strong showing in one or two categories -- often the more periphery categories, such as plus/minus or penalty minutes.
Gudas, for example, offers very little outside his plus-10 and 19 PIM, but that's enough at this stage to make him a D2 for value. Shattenkirk, Zadorov, Goligoski, Ekholm and Gudas won't be considered D2 by the end of the season. It will only take a couple of hot games by some of the players who are consciously absent for them to push up the value ranking.
So who is missing?
Victor Hedman was expected to be a top-five defenseman. He's been hurt, and there may be too many cooks in the kitchen for the Lightning, as evidenced by Shattenkirk and Sergachev offering D2 value thus far. I have some concerns about Hedman returning value this season.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson has not been having any luck on the power play, but he leads his team in ice time on the man advantage and will start getting some bounces.
Seth Jones is suffering from the same depression of value as many of his Columbus Blue Jackets' teammates that can be traced to the max exodus of offense this offseason. While he should improve, his new normal is nowhere close to his value last season.
Erik Karlsson seems to be on the ice for every goal scored against the San Jose Sharks -- at least it feels like it when you suffer his minus-13 rating. His other categories have been close to what we expect, so there is hope here if the Sharks tighten up on the goals allowed.
John Klingberg is being challenged internally by Miro Heiskanen and appears to be slowly losing the battle for the key role on the power play. Heiskanen has played more power-play minutes in the past five games.
There are inevitably changes to the pecking order every season. Fantasy success hinges on our ability to acknowledge and follow the true trends, while also sticking to our guns through some low times for other players. Look for ice time and power-play ice time, shots on goal and a team's overall offense when deciding which defensemen to buy in to (or hang on to).
Forwards on the move
Brayden Point, C, Tampa Bay Lightning (down seven spots to No. 36): It would be easier to shrug off Point's slow start if it was just him. If Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos were both popping, we could be patient with Point and let him come around. But with the entire offense in the doldrums, we have to be concerned. Why? Because the Lightning need Kucherov and Stamkos to find their game more than they do Point. In recent contests, the Bolts have been lining up Kucherov and Stamkos together, while trying some new combinations on the wing -- including promoting and starting UFC heavyweight Alexander Volkov. ... Just joking, but their rookie winger in his third professional season does share a name with the mixed martial artist.
David Perron, W, St. Louis Blues (up 15 spots to No. 113): The possibly fantasy season-ending injury to Vladimir Tarasenko is going to help Perron more than anyone else, it appears. He was already locked in alongside Ryan O'Reilly and performing quite capably, but the lack of Tarasenko elevates this line to being the Blues' top line. No disrespect to Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz, but without Tarasenko at their wing, O'Reilly's line becomes the de facto unit of choice. Perron has 15 points in 15 games with six points on the man advantage. For someone with an ADP of 180, Perron is going to return massive value this season as the Blues top winger.
Goaltenders on the move
Darcy Kuemper, G, Arizona Coyotes and Thomas Greiss, G, New York Islanders: You could arguably lump in Thatcher Demko here, too. These are goaltenders who, despite being in a platoon, are showing that you can get the job done for fantasy in a limited workload; you just have to be really good at stopping pucks. Admittedly, a slip in the ratios can quickly take a goaltender with less-than-workhorse opportunity down the ranks quickly, but Kuemper and Greiss, in particular, are shining examples of quality over quantity. While Semyon Varlamov makes more money and is the No. 1 in name, Greiss has split the crease evenly with him and matched him save for save. Both goaltenders have exceptional ratios, which is expected of a Barry Trotz-coached team of late. Kuemper, for his part, has played more than twice as many minutes as Antti Raanta, despite the latter coming into the season as the presumed starter. But Kuemper has a an ever-tightening grip on his current workload and is even presenting an argument for additional leash. Demko, for what it's worth, is charging into the same category by posting better ratios than Jacob Markstrom in his limited minutes.
It may cost an extra roster spot, and it may require you to pay closer attention to your lineups, but you can gain an advantage on the competition by rostering a couple of these timesharing tenders over the more traditional workhorse. Just keep an eye on the schedule with the Forecaster and learn the team's tendencies and rotation.
New to rankings
Colin Miller, Jared Spurgeon, Hampus Lindholm, Zdeno Chara, Barrett Hayton, Linus Ullmark, Jordan Eberle, Zach Hyman, Derick Brassard, Brandon Montour, Jack Campbell, Sam Steel, Conor Garland, Warren Foegele, Christian Dvorak, Adam Boqvist