Word out of Pittsburgh has Sergei Gonchar’s recovery estimated at anywhere from six weeks to six months. Along with that, Ryan Whitney is still out for at least a few more months. What does this mean? Firstly, Kris Letang springboards into the upper echelon of fantasy defensemen – even in one-year leagues.
Letang had a solid rookie season last year, seeing limited minutes on the bottom pairing and a bit of second unit power play time near the end of the year. He had a great career in major junior, and he has stood out at all international competitions (including captaining Canada at the 2007 World Junior Championships). He moves the puck well, skates well, and is a solid player in the defensive end as well. His upside has not changed with the injury news (Still at 60 points), but his short-term upside has increased dramatically.
Letang goes from playing on the second unit with the likes of Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy to the top unit with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins have a wealth of defensive defensemen (Hall Gill, Mark Eaton, and Brooks Orpik), so you can bet that Letang will be given the green light to attack offensively any chance he gets.
What does all this mean for Letang in 2008-2009? It means that he has a chance to triple the 17 points he put up last season. Even if Gonchar returns to the line-up in six weeks, Letang will still see a lot of power play time. 50 points is a realistic total to expect, and it pushes him up there with the likes of Brent Burns, Kimmo Timonen, and Andrei Markov in the tier two of fantasy defensemen.
A sleeper to watch for in this situation is Alex Goligoski. He had a great rookie season in the AHL, putting up 38 points in 70 regular season games, and 28 points in 24 playoff games. He has all but made the Penguins roster, and he will see time on the second power play unit for sure. He could hit 30-35 points. He is a great young playmaking defenseman on a team full of offensive forwards, can’t get much better than that for him. His value in keeper leagues is high because he figures in to the long-term plans in Pittsburgh, and now because of the injury situation he has legitimate value in one-year leagues.