While there are breakout defencemen every year -- Kris Letang, Dustin Byfuglien and Erik Karlsson are among the early breakout standouts this year -- as promising young blueliners get increasing levels of responsibility, there are others that maybe weren't expected to play such a big role and are providing signficant contributions nonetheless.
Here are some of the more notable:
Jordan Leopold, Buffalo (4 G, 9 A, plus-4 in 19 GP): Leading all Sabres with 24:11 of ice time per game, 30-year-old Leopold is playing for his fifth team since the last three seasons, but seems to have found a home in Western New York.
Leopold entered the league with big offensvie expectations following a productive collegiate career at the University of Minnesota, where he tallied 97 points in 86 games in his junior and senior campaigns, but he hasn't lived up to that offensive promise, scoring a career-high 33 points with Calgary in 2003-2004 and a career-best 11 goals last season.
With few accomplished puck movers on the back end, the Sabres are turning Leopold loose and he's responded with productive and steady play. Thanks, in part, to his partner...
Steve Montador, Buffalo (3 G, 7 A, plus-13, 19 GP): Typically a third-pair defenceman throughout his career, Montador is playing nearly 20 minutes a night for the Sabres and the 30-year-old is on pace to surpass his career-highs in points (23) and plus-minus (plus-17).
As a bonus, Montador brings some grit to the game, having accumulated more than 100 penalty minutes three times and accruing 96 penalty minutes in 97 games with the Sabres since the start of the 2009-2010 season.
Toni Lydman, Anaheim (2 G, 6 A, plus-11 in 16 GP): Part of the reason for the opening on the Buffalo blueline, Lydman is playing 24 minutes a night -- minutes the 33-year-old hasn't seen since 2002-2003 with Calgary -- on Anaheim's thin blueline and Lydman's plus-minus is already the best of his career.
He's consistently a plus player, but Lydman is also making an offensive contribution and could at least challenge his career-high of 28 points, set in 2001-2002.
Marc Methot, Columbus (0 G, 8 A, plus-7 in 15 GP): The Blue Jackets aren't giving big minutes to any one player, so the surprising Methot leads the team with 20:43 of ice time per game. The 25-year-old is a sizeable and steady defensive presence who only occasionally sees time on the power play, but as the Blue Jackets play well as a team, there is opportunity for Methot to put up decent numbers.
Theo Peckham, Edmonton (1 G, 4 A, plus-4 in 13 GP): The 23-year-old tough guy is a third-pair defenceman, but has been rather productive in his 17-plus minutes per game, on pace for 30 points and a plus-24 rating over a full season.
Add in his 52 penalty minutes, which leads all defencemen, and Peckham is providing value for those willing to dig deep and look for it.
Brett Clark, Tampa Bay (2 G, 4 A, minus-5 in 17 GP): After being a healthy scratch at times in Colorado last year, perhaps it's a tad surprising that 33-year-old Brett Clark has found himself in such a prominent role.
It's not like Clark hasn't logged more minutes than his current 20:39 per game, because he played more than 22 minutes a night for the Avalanche from 2006-2007 through 2008-2009, but at this stage of his career, for a shot-blocking defenceman to still be getting significant power play time (2:51 per game), ahead of younger options like Victor Hedman and Randy Jones, qualifies as at least a mild surprise.
Mike Weaver, Florida (1 G, 4 A, minus-2 in 15 GP): Typically a third-pair defenceman with a focus on penalty-killing, 32-year-old Weaver is handling a more significant role in Florida, playing more than 20 minutes per game.
He may not have value in any but the deepest leagues but Weaver, who played fewer than 17 minutes per game last season in St. Louis, is making a big jump at this stage of his career.
Weaver, Predators veteran Francis Bouillon and Avalanche rookie Jonas Holos are among the defensive-minded types that are surprisingly averaging better than 20 minutes per game thus far.
There are other blueliners averaging more than 20 minutes per game, that maybe shouldn't be, but we'll save that for another day when the mood isn't so positive.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.