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Neutral Zone Wrap: A look into the future

by | Rotowire.com
  •  

Welcome to March Madness, the hockey edition. The more popular version involves 68 teams, 67 games, and a whole lot of money changing hands. For the ice incarnation, there are fewer teams -- and less interest -- but you'll be able to experience all the same insanity and hoopla from poolies tearing out their hair and consuming supplies for the all-nighters in front of the monitor.

Or perhaps your season is over. I'm afraid that doesn't exempt you from reading this column. As they say, there's always next year. Yeah, good one. They say that every year. In the meantime, you can see what's available in the future. Plan your spending in advance so you won't be caught surprised when the bidding bonanza begins.

To help out, here are a few players who are sure to improve in 2011-12. And while we're in a prediction type of mood, you'll get an extra set of breakout hunches for no extra charge.

Off Until October

Maybe they've waited until the last few games to turn it on. Or perhaps they haven't gotten out of neutral all season. Check back in the fall when these individuals will undoubtedly mature and change their color -- and/or fall off the tree altogether. It's always interesting to see who performs well when a new contract is on the line. The right accompanying personnel couldn't hurt either:

Craig Anderson, G, Ottawa

From a solid backup in Florida to a cult hero in Colorado and then back to nobody in just over one year. The numbers quickly dropped off (from 2.63 GAA, .917 SV%, and seven shutouts to 3.28, .897, and zero) but Anderson has been reborn in Ottawa. He'll be an unrestricted free agent this summer, but he's sure to catch on as a No. 1 or No. 1a goalie somewhere. The Sens should lock him up but may be wary after swinging and missing with Pascal Leclaire.

Marcus Johansson, F, Washington

The young Swede's stats have been boosted playing alongside Alexander Ovechkin (five points in five contests), but Johansson already made a name for himself as a teenager for two seasons in the Swedish Elite League. Nicklas Backstrom can call first dibs on the Great Eight, but Johansson should be able to grab whatever seconds (e.g. Alexander Semin, Mike Knuble) are available.

Dmitry Kulikov, D, Florida

Highly touted after tearing apart the QMJHL is his first North American season, Kulikov's stock dropped as some clubs feared he may leave the continent to go pro. That didn't scare off the Panthers, who selected the rugged Russian with the 14th pick of the 2009 draft. More than half of his 24 points have come in the last two months, where his ice time covers all situations and opportunities. Kulikov is still only 20 but skates as someone about to enter his prime.

Jamie McBain, D, Carolina

The pride of Edina would log more power-play minutes and build on his late 2009-10 surprise (10 in 14) if it weren't for veterans Joni Pitkanen and Joe Corvo. Since the Finn could be lured by more prosperous pastures and as Anton Babchuk serves as a distant memory, McBain is set to step up and take control of his destiny.

James van Riemsdyk, F, Philadelphia

No one can say van Riemsdyk (67 in 140) has turned out to be a flop, but let's not pretend the giant winger has excelled in any part of his two seasons. The pedigree is present, the size is obvious, but the skills just aren't clicking. One could blame the long list of successful forwards already employed in Philly, but that would be a copout. Van Riemsdyk should handle more responsibility - and he will next season. Put him down for 70 points. Book it.

And Now for Something Completely Random

We're allowed to guess, right? The following few skaters will surprise people in a few months. Or they'll go down in history as the quickly forgotten. Nothing much to go on besides a bit of research and a Zamboni-full of intuition. OK, you got us: we wrote every NHLer's name on pieces of scrap paper and pasted them onto a giant dartboard. This is the result of the first five throws:

Jonathon Blum, D, Nashville

With Shea Weber virtually set to head elsewhere for fame and riches, there's no reason to believe Blum will be held back any longer. The early returns (four in 12 to start his career) have garnered mixed reviews, but the lanky Californian has shown enough to be pegged as a long-term starter and one who should carry on the proud Predator blueline tradition.

Darren Helm, F, Detroit

With 10 forwards under contract for 2011-12, you wouldn't expect anyone could move up the Wings' depth chart. Don't tell that to Helm, who works his backside off every night just to stay in the lineup. The kid from Winnipeg is also a jet on the ice and uses these skills to frustrate opposing defensemen and earn a regular shorthanded gig. Here's hoping he makes a lasting impression and adds some scoring to his repertoire.

Taylor Pyatt, F, Phoenix

Not many thought Pyatt could ever return to hockey after the tragic death of his fiancée in 2009, let alone cope with the daily rigors of life. He's exceeded expectations and suited up for nearly every game since his comeback. Those flashes of offense he displayed early in his career (10 goals in 48 for Buffalo in 2001-02) may be gone, but Pyatt can still function as a fine secondary scoring option. A consistent performer who can be counted on for effort and perseverance.

Peter Regin, F, Ottawa

A horrific shoulder injury may have knocked the Danish center out for six months, but he'll have a real shot at a prime job once he completes his rehab. Since Ottawa is in the midst of a rebuilding phase, Jason Spezza and his $8M contract would appear to be moving cities. That leaves the door open for a top-line pivot that can distribute the puck effectively and add a bit of point punch. Enter Regin, who may not have proved his worth yet (only 17 in 55 this year) but is set to bust out if given the chance.

Kris Russell, D, Columbus

Someone who has frustrated owners since his arrival in 2007 might not be a prime choice for improvement since precedent would claim continued anguish. But it appears four seasons and significant work on his defensive game has lifted Russell into a regular role, one where his offensive talent should take over. At least this has been the case of late (eight in 12), but there's no telling when the enigma will once again escape from the cage.

Evan Berofsky enjoys writing. Seriously. When he's not trying to shove hockey miscellany down your throat, he gets his kicks playing tournament Scrabble. If you have anything to say about Evan's work (or need any hot word tips), feel free to contact him at eberofsky@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter (@evanberofsky).

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Player News
Jarret Stoll
Kings' Stoll May See Limited Action In Preseason
Jarret Stoll, C, LA
5:44 AM
News: Jarret Stoll (hip) may only play in one preseason game due to his recovery from hip surgery on June 24, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Analysis: The veteran Jarret Stoll doesn't figure to need much preseason game action in order to get ready for the regular season. He's been a full participant in training camp thus far but may not be up to game speed until the final week of camp.

Michael McCarron
Habs' McCarron A Long Term Project
Michael McCarron, RW, MON
4:54 AM
News: Head coach Michel Therrien described Michael McCarron, Montreal's first-round pick in 2013, as a long-term project, the Montreal Gazette reports.
Analysis: The 20-year-old Michael McCarron had his best day of training camp Monday, but appears destined to open the season with Hamilton of the American Hockey League.

Mikael Backlund
Flames' Backlund More Injured Than Thought
Mikael Backlund, C, CGY
12:55 AM
News: Mikael Backlund's abdominal strain is worse than originally thought, Kristen Odland of the Calgary Herald reports.
Analysis: Mikael Backlund was originally expected to be ready for the start of the regular season, but head coach Bob Hartley stated Monday that he's worried about Backlund's status. The team hasn't given any sort of timetable for the center's return, so keep an eye out for an update in the next few days.

Jhonas Enroth
Sabres' Enroth Starts Tuesday
Jhonas Enroth, G, BUF
9/22/2014
News: The Sabres will start Jhonas Enroth against Carolina on Tuesday.
Analysis: Jhonas Enroth is battling Michal Neuvirth for the starting job and will get his first challenge Tuesday. Nathan Lieuwen played the full game in the Sabres' first preseason game Sunday, so head coach Ted Nolan might play Enroth for the entire game. A strong performance will help solidify Enroth's case to the Sabres' No. 1 goaltender.

Josh Bailey
Bailey Gets First Shot At Top Line For The Isles
Josh Bailey, LW, NYI
9/22/2014
News: Josh Bailey scored his first goal of the preseason Monday versus the Senators.
Analysis: What makes this worthy of an update isn't the goal he scored but rather he was given the first opportunity to play on the top line with John Tavares. Training camp is likely to be an open tryout for several Islanders to prove they should play on the wing opposite Tavares and see their Fantasy value rise accordingly.

Pavel Datsyuk
Red Wings' Datsyuk Suffers Shoulder Injury
Pavel Datsyuk, C, DET
9/22/2014
News: Pavel Datsyuk injured his shoulder in Monday's preseason opener against the Penguins, MLive.com's Ansar Khan reports.
Analysis: Pavel Datsyuk returned to training camp at full health after undergoing a minor knee procedure in April, but it didn't take long for him to get nicked up again. While he played well in his return to the ice, notching a goal and assist Monday, the painful check he absorbed from defenseman Robert Scuderi ended up marring his night. The Red Wings should relay more information on his condition Tuesday, but needless to say, it's not encouraging to see the 36-year-old already falling victim to injury.

Beau Bennett
Pens' Bennett Scores Monday
Beau Bennett, RW, PIT
9/22/2014
News: Beau Bennett scored Pittsburgh's lone goal Monday against Detroit, netting a wrister from 30 feet.
Analysis: The winger ranks near the top of his team in terms of skill, but he's skated on a line with Steve Downie and Brandon Sutter in the early going. Beau Bennett may have to wait for an injury to secure a top-six spot and a place on the first-unit power play, but it's a good bet he ends up on a top-two line -- provided he stays healthy.

Eric Fehr
Caps' Fehr Gets Two Points In Loss To Flyers
Eric Fehr, RW, WAS
9/22/2014
News: Eric Fehr finished with a goal and an assist, along with two shots in 17:12 of ice time during Monday's 5-4 loss to the Flyers.
Analysis: Eric Fehr played on a line with Marcus Johansson, one of the contenders for the team's second-line center job, and rookie Jakub Vrana. Given his versatility, Fehr will be a valuable player for the Capitals this season, but it is not yet clear whether he will get top-six forward minutes yet. Fehr spent most of last season centering Jason Chimera and Joel Ward, and although it was a productive unit, the team looks like they are moving him back to wing for the 2014-2015 season. Unless he becomes a fixture alongside the likes of Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom, Fehr's fantasy value is likely limited to deeper leagues.

Troy Brouwer
Caps' Brouwer Has Goal, Assist In Loss To Flyers
Troy Brouwer, RW, WAS
9/22/2014
News: Troy Brouwer finished with a goal and an assist to go along with three SOG in 18:00 of ice-time during the Capitals' 5-4 loss to the Flyers on Monday.
Analysis: Both of Troy Brouwer's points came on the power-play. He played on an even-strength line with Evgeny Kuznetsov, believed to have the inside track on the team's second-line center job. It's looking like Brouwer will be a fixture on a scoring line in DC this coming season, giving the power-forward some sleeper potential in deeper leagues.

Alexander Semin
Canes' Semin To Miss Second Preseason Game
Alexander Semin, RW, CAR
9/22/2014
News: Alexander Semin will be held out of the Canes' second preseason game Tuesday against the Sabres, Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
Analysis: Alexander Semin had offseason surgery on his wrist, and the move to limit his preseason game action by new coach Bill Peters is reportedly just a cautionary move. So far, there has been no word of Semin re-injuring his wrist in training camp, so we fully expect him to start the regular season on schedule at this point.

 
 
 
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