Not only did the Detroit Red Wings lose legendary defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom to retirement, but they failed to land free agent Ryan Suter to replace him. Without a stud answer to pair with Niklas Kronwall on the blue line, ESPN NHL Insider Craig Custance pegs Brendan Smith as the most important player to the Red Wings' success in this lockout-shortened season.
"The Red Wings lost out on Ryan Suter this summer after Nicklas Lidstrom retired, putting even more pressure on the young Smith to reach his potential," Custance wrote. "Like all Red Wings prospects, he's well-seasoned. In most organizations, he'd probably be on his second contract by now, but he's got three full seasons at Wisconsin and parts of three seasons in the AHL. In 32 games this season in Grand Rapids, he had 20 points."
Nonetheless, ESPN Fantasy Hockey expert Victoria Matiash gave a different D-man, Ian White, a hefty bump up her defensemen rankings this week -- from 62nd to 49th -- due to his power-play potential:
"Projected to pair with Niklas Kronwall on the primary power-play unit for the Red Wings, White leapfrogs more than a handful of bodies in the rankings. Honest to goodness, we thought coach Mike Babcock would go in a different direction. Brendan Smith has more long-term upside, but White could be mighty useful this shortened fantasy campaign, if this strategy endures."