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NHL Waiver Wire: Hidden Gems on the Blue Line

Dan Waldner

Dan Waldner covers hockey for RotoWire, and has been involved in fantasy hockey pools for 15 years. He's a lifetime Toronto Maple Leafs fan, a passion his wife puts up with and his daughter is starting to emulate.

Unlike forwards where there are always solid options available on the waiver wire for decent production, finding solid cross-category performers mid-season is nearly impossible. High-production blue liners are among the rarest commodities in fantasy sports and, depending on your pool structure, may be responsible for winning some categories all on their own. Fortunately, there are still plenty of solid alternatives available across most pools.

Most defensemen available on the market will focus on a number of key categories: assists, PIM, plus-minus and power play points. Your choices expand greatly if your league doesn't use the plus-minus category, as many of the defensemen available in most waiver wires hit the scoresheet, but do so at the cost of their plus-minus.

If you're finding that your defense aren't performing up to snuff this year, consider adding one of the following players, widely available and having good fantasy years.

Jason Demers D, DAL -
On pace to challenge career-bests in point production and plus-minus, Demers is having a fantastic season in the offensive hotbed of the Western Conference. Dallas has a ridiculous amount of top-end talent in their top six forwards, which is driving the production from their blue line. Sophomore phenom John Klingberg, power play partner Alex Goligoski and Demers are in the top 50 in defenseman scoring, and look to be improving those numbers as the season goes on. Demers has 14 points in 33 games, and has hit a cold streak of late, only registering two points in the last 10. Even with the cooling of his performance, he's still a plus-six in that time with 12 PIM. His ownership is in the 30s, so many deep leagues still have him free for the taking, and it's almost a certainty given the quality of his team, and the opportunities he will have on the power play that he will reach 30 points, plus-30, and 75 PIM -- an incredible find for a fifth or sixth defenseman on any fantasy team. Also, should any injury hit Goligoski or Klingberg, his numbers and opportunities will only increase. I've liked his play since his time in San Jose, and think he can really have a solid breakout season this year.

Ryan Ellis D, NSH -
It was not too long ago that I was cheering for Ellis at this time of year as the captain of Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships (which by the way, if you aren't watching as a hockey fan, you should be). He was a phenomenal defenseman in junior, but his size has really prevented his breakout in the adult league -- that is, until this year. After 37 games, Ellis has 16 points, four power play points, a plus-five, and 20 PIM; in his last 10, he has two goals and three assists -- a fantastic blend of scoring, opportunity, responsibility and grit. Nashville has always been a breeding ground for quality defensemen, and Ellis seems to be a successful graduate. Ellis and his power play partner Seth Jones look to be an incredible second unit behind the already potent Shea Weber and Roman Josi. Combined, Nashville's top four is arguably the best in the league. While your hopes of obtaining either Weber or Josi outside of a trade are most assuredly dashed, Ellis -- and to a lesser extent Jones - is widely available and would be a solid addition to the bottom of almost any lineup. Ellis' offensive ability is very high, and given his trend, he looks on pace to set career highs.

Michael Stone D, ARI -
For a player in the top 50 for defensive scoring, Stone gets very little recognition out in the desert. At 12 percent ownership, he seems like the perfect diamond in the rough for owners in deep leagues looking to fill a seventh or eighth D spot. With three goals and 13 assists in 37 games -- seven of those points in the last 10 games -- Stone looks to try to fill the void that has been left vacant since Keith Yandle departed for New York. Oliver Ekman-Larsson will continue to get all the prime defensive opportunities (and rightly so), but Stone is slotting in nicely as the second blue liner, entrusted with the second power play unit. As a result, he has seven power play points this year -- already a career high. With Arizona still not being the best defensive team, his plus-minus is still suspect. A minus-six at this point isn't the greatest, but given his penchant for scoring, it can be offset by the forwards on your roster. His 28 PIM is also a solid stat for assisting with that category. Overall, he's getting the opportunity in the desert to perform, and is showing that he's up to the challenge. He's also widely available -- take a chance on him if you're in a deep league.

Alec Martinez D, LAK -
A fantastic offensive-minded D that has been on my radar for years, this looks to be his breakout performance to put himself front-and-center. While the shadow behind Drew Doughty is vast, it's important to know that there's more there than just Jake Muzzin. Martinez has put up four goals and ten assists for 14 point in 37 games, alongside a plus-seven and 16 PIM. This puts him on pace to eclipse his career highs of 22 points set the last two years. This year has seen him play a lot closer to the edge, and he's being rewarded for it. Almost at the halfway point of the year, he's almost matched his hit total from last year, and he's on pace to beat his blocked shots total by more than 40 percent. From an opportunity perspective, he sits on the top power play unit with Milan Lucic, Anze Kopitar, Tyler Toffoli and Doughty. That's a coveted position to be in, and one that is reaping rewards -- he has five power play points so far. It also helps that he's on a bit of a streak -- five points in his last 10 games, two of which are on the power play. With his ownership at under 20 percent, he's still widely available, and the Kings are on a hot streak near the top of the conference. All signs point to Martinez as a solid add in a deep league.

Tyler Myers D, WPG -
I think we all knew that Myers was going to fit in rather nicely in Winnipeg once he settled down, and it seems that we were right. While it's unlikely he will find the same success he enjoyed in his rookie year where he won the Calder, he's on pace to have a very solid season by any measure. With four goals and ten assists after 37 games, the numbers aren't break-neck by any stretch of the imagination, but that performance puts him in the top 50 of all defensive scoring. His plus-one rating isn't fantastic, but it doesn't hurt you either, and his 34 PIM are great for that category. He's on the top power play line for the Jets, but his performance to date has been weak, with only one power play point to show for it. Nonetheless, he does remain an option to those in deep leagues where the aforementioned rearguards aren't available. I'm bullish on Winnipeg going forward, and he'll be a big part of any success they enjoy the rest of the year.

Morgan Rielly D, TOR -
If you're in a league where plus-minus isn't a category, Rielly is a fantastic pick, and one that shouldn't be overlooked merely because he's on Toronto. His 18 points in 36 games puts him on pace for a 40-plus point season. The only downside to him fantasy-wise is his weak plus-minus and complete lack of PIM contribution. I've been watching his development carefully as a Leaf fan for the last three years. Each year, he shows tremendous growth and development into the number one defensemen everybody believes he can be for the Buds. Coach Mike Babcock has really kicked his evolution into full gear and with his tutelage, Rielly can turn into something really special. His ownership levels are artificially high because of his exposure to hockey-mad Toronto, but at 28 percent, it's not so high that he's unavailable. When you consider that his point production alone puts him 18th in the league in scoring for a blue liner, that's not a terrible ownership rate for such an opportunity. Considering that he'll be getting all the top power play minutes for the team, and he's a solid alternative to peruse for a deep team.