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Neutral Zone Wrap: Who's hot and who's not?

by | Rotowire.com
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Welcome back to another season of the Wrap. All the pertinent Fantasy hockey information spread over eight months, along with other details I'm sure you won't be looking for. Statistics, anecdotes, recipes, random board-game analysis. Even a few guest appearances thrown in for good measure.

With opening night just days away, it's time to prepare for hours and hours of viewing enjoyment. And, of course, to get ready for your own Fantasy campaign. Even if you have already completed your draft, it's never too late to take a look at what's available or what the other owners are doing. Here's a look at who might peek out from under the radar and who might as well hide under a rock.

Of course, the following examples should not be solely based or influenced by major injuries. So I don't want to hear complaints about how Player X never lived up to my expectations because he missed three-quarters of the season after breaking his leg pulling weeds in his yard.

Top 6 Fantasy Surprises

Some may not yet be household Fantasy names, but they're trying hard to hit a higher level. Others may have been relevant commodities at some point, but have recently undergone a change in circumstances to allow for an upswing:

David Booth, F, Florida: It's been nearly two years since Booth was lying on the ice thanks to a Mike Richards shoulder. Another five months passed before the Michigan State alum was knocked out again. Two concussions may be tough to recover from, but Booth managed to suit up for the entire 2010-11 season (although only counting 40 points). Even though Florida now boasts a deeper forward contingent, Booth remains one of the veterans and should excel with Stephen Weiss in all situations.

Cody Franson, D, Toronto: When the Predators needed to shed salary during the summer, Brian Burke came calling and found two serviceable skaters. While Franson may not wow anyone with spectacular numbers (50 points in 141 games during his Nashville stay) or the solid use of his 6-foot-5 frame (you might have guessed more than 46 combined PIM), he can still hurt anyone with his rocket shot. That trait alone should get a look on the Leafs' top power-play unit, thereby making him a decent Fantasy buy.

Steve Mason, G, Columbus: The 2009 Calder Trophy winner has endured significant setbacks the last two years (GAAs over 3.00, SV percentage in danger of going below .900), but he's done more than enough to learn from his mistakes. While Mathieu Garon had pushed Mason for the starting gig during this downturn, newcomer Mark Dekanich should prove to be a lesser worry. And with the Blue Jackets adding some solid personnel the last few months, there is no reason Mason cannot return to his top-10 form.

Jared Spurgeon, D, Minnesota: With Marek Zidlicky's time winding down and Brent Burns' exodus to the West Coast, the time is right for Spurgeon to shine. Not the tallest blueliner at 5-foot-9, but offensively gifted and someone who will be relied upon to replace Burns on the power-play (thanks to his six power-play points to end 2010-11). The coaches really like the 21-year-old and have publicly stated Spurgeon should receive more ice time. Think that's enough evidence to at least take a flyer on the kid.

Marco Sturm, F, Vancouver: A veteran who knows how to contribute, regardless of location. And with the Vancouver injuries currently rising up front (Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond the notables on this list), Sturm should seamlessly slide in and help the offense for the long haul. He’s a good bet to see action on either the second or third line, mainly as a result of having accumulated seven 20-goal seasons over his career.

Steve Sullivan, F, Pittsburgh: With Sidney Crosby's status still unsettled, there's room for other forwards to grab the leftovers. Enter Sullivan, who was brought in for his experience (13 seasons, 890 games), toughness (comeback after major injury), and power-play skills (192 career power-play points). While he's currently experiencing similar symptoms that necessitated surgery late last season, Sullivan has been given enough rest to recover and provide Pittsburgh with a fine secondary scoring option.

Honorable Mention: Zach Bogosian, D, Winnipeg; Marcus Johansson, F, Washington; David Jones, F, Colorado; Ondrej Pavelec, G, Winnipeg; Ian White, D, Detroit; Colin Wilson, F, Nashville)

Top 6 Fantasy Duds

Want to find a new recruit for your squad? Don't look here! Well, OK, make sure you take a note of the following names to ensure they don't find a way on your roster. A few have held the position of perennial underachiever, while a couple could slip into an unfavorable position:

Brian Campbell, D, Florida: Kudos to Chicago for dumping this albatross of a contract on Florida (at still over $35 million owed). Once regarded as one of the best two-way defensemen, Campbell's role has regressed every year since he signed that monster deal in 2008. He should earn a boost moving to the Sunshine State, but it'll take a hit having to compete with Dmitry Kulikov, Ed Jovanovski, Jay Garrison and even Erik Gudbranson. And forget about that sparkling plus-28 rating from last season, since the Panthers - even with multiple additions - still own a shaky goaltending corps.

Erik Cole, F, Montreal: The stats don't lie and they tell us Cole seems to do well only when paired with Eric Staal. Since their partnership began in 2005-06, the power forward amassed 254 points in 343 outings. That's not to take anything away from Michael Cammalleri, Tomas Plekanec or Brian Gionta, but it may take a little longer for them to synch up with the 32-year old American. It only took 63 games for Edmonton to realize Cole's shortcomings outside of Carolina. Maybe this revelation will come sooner in arguably the most discerning hockey city.

Olli Jokinen, F, Calgary: Like Campbell, another gold member of the where-have-my-skills-gone club. Not too shabby the last three seasons (each one in the 50-point range), but well under his output during the previous cycle (averaging 75). You would have expected hooking up with Jarome Iginla would solve all of Jokinen's problems. But alas, the Calgary captain cannot work miracles inside the enigmatic Finn's head. Mikael Backlund is ready to take the next step at center, while Brendan Morrison and Matt Stajan could easily push Jokinen down the depth chart.

P.A. Parenteau, F, N.Y. Islanders: Parenteau surprised many when he notched 53 points on a mediocre Islander lineup. But while the former ninth-round pick is projected to skate with John Tavares on the first line, the fight on the right side will be intense. With the return of Kyle Okposo for a full season and phenom Nino Niederreiter ready for the big show, Parenteau won't be able to caddy Tavares all the time (unless your name is Matt Moulson). And the Island's other revelation, Michael Grabner, is set to at least maintain his stellar rookie numbers so there's not a lot of room for Parenteau to grow.

Jonathan Quick, G, Los Angeles: Those loud footsteps Quick may be hearing belong to Jonathan Bernier, who has been waiting for his No. 1 moment since being drafted by the Kings in 2006. Both coaching staff and management have continued to stick by Quick, thanks in large part to his stats (74 wins, 10 shutouts the last two years) and durability (132 starts, no injuries over the same time period). Bernier started to eat into the workload last season (25 appearances, three shutouts) and could take an even bigger bite should he string together a series of solid performances.

James Wisniewski, D, Columbus: An above-average power-play quarterback, but well under the mark when it comes to um, well, body positioning. He's already suspended for the first eight regular season contests thanks to a late hit during preseason action. The move to Columbus should perfectly suit Wisniewski, but don't be surprised if others like Fedor Tyutin and Grant Clitsome (and yes, Kris Russell, too) start to snipe his man-advantage minutes as the season progresses.

Honorable Mention: Craig Anderson, G, Ottawa; Brett Clark, D, Tampa Bay; Tim Connolly, F, Toronto; Roman Hamrlik, D, Washington; Tomas Holmstrom, F, Detroit; Ville Leino, F, Buffalo

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Player News
Curtis McKenzie
Stars Reassign McKenzie
Curtis McKenzie, LW, DAL
12:57 AM
News: Curtis McKenzie was reassigned to AHL Texas on Tuesday, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports.
Analysis: With the Stars preparing to welcome Valeri Nichushkin (hip) back into the lineup Thursday following the completion of his conditioning assignment, Curtis McKenzie was likely to be squeezed out of a regular role. He'll help AHL Texas prepare for a playoff run after posting five points in 36 games with the parent club this season.

Nate Guenin
Avs' Guenin Records Assist In Loss
Nate Guenin, D, COL
12:50 AM
News: Nate Guenin tallied an assist in 4-1 loss to Edmonton on Monday.
Analysis: Nate Guenin dished out a helper, recorded a shot and skated to minus-1 rating Monday in a 4-1 loss to Edmonton. The assist gives the defenseman his first point in the last seven games, and he's accumulated a total of 15 points in 70 games this season.

Semyon Varlamov
Avs' Varlamov To Sit Until Saturday
Semyon Varlamov, G, COL
12:46 AM
News: Semyon Varlamov will make his next start in goal Saturday in Los Angeles, Mike Chambers of the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: Coach Patrick Roy will give the first two starts of the Avs' three-game road trip that begins Wednesday to backup goalie Reto Berra, who has seen scarce work this season behind Semyon Varlamov, and in a couple instances, Calvin Pickard. When he hasn't been slowed by groin injuries, Varlamov has just about been an iron man for the Avalanche, and he's beginning to show some chinks in the armor. He's given up exactly three goals in four of his last five starts, while taking a loss to the lowly Oilers in the only start in that stretch where he yielded two tallies. His save percentage stills sits at a robust .921 for the season, but with the Avalanche all but eliminated from the playoff race at this point, it makes sense for the team to rest Varlamov a little more often.

Reto Berra
Berra To Start Next Two Games For Avs
Reto Berra, G, COL
12:40 AM
News: Reto Berra will be in the crease for the Avs' next two games Wednesday in San Jose and Friday in Anaheim, Mike Chambers of the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: The back-to-back starts on tap for Reto Berra are an admission by the Avalanche that the team doesn't view itself as playoff contenders, which seems to be a fairly reasonable assessment given their eight-point deficit from the final wild-card spot out West. Berra delivered an excellent outing in his spot start last week against the Canucks, and with Semyon Varlamov and Calvin Pickard having previously shouldered the bulk of the duties in goal for the Avalanche this season, it makes sense for the team to take a longer look at Berra. While Berra won't make for a strong daily option in either of his starts, those in weekly leagues mining for wins and saves may want to take a look at the 28-year-old, who has a 3-3-1 record, 2.97 GAA, and .906 save percentage over his 16 appearances.

Alex Tanguay
Avs' Tanguay Notches Assist In Loss
Alex Tanguay, LW, COL
12:39 AM
News: Alex Tanguay dished out a helper in a 4-1 loss to Edmonton on Monday.
Analysis: Alex Tanguay recorded an assist, which came off of his only shot on goal in the 4-1 loss to Edmonton on Monday. Tanguay has accumulated 30 assists this season, the 11th time in 15 seasons the forward has recorded at least 30 assists in a season.

Daniel Briere
Avs' Briere Out Next Three Games
Daniel Briere, C, COL
12:33 AM
News: Daniel Briere (foot) will not join the Avalanche for their three-game California trip that begins Wednesday in San Jose.
Analysis: Daniel Briere has already missed the Avs' last four contests after taking a shot off his foot in a March 23 tilt against the Flames. His activity has been limited since then, and the team apparently wasn't optimistic of his chances at being back to full health by the time the road trip concludes. The Avalanche will only have three games remaining on its regular-season schedule after the road trip, and with Briere not necessarily a lineup regular before the injury, it wouldn't be surprised if he was shut down for good.

Clayton Stoner
Ducks' Stoner Still Dealing With Lower-Body Injury
Clayton Stoner, D, ANA
12:30 AM
News: Clayton Stoner continues to deal with a lower-body injury, Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News reports.
Analysis: Clayton Stoner -- who has recorded eight points and 66 PIM in 67 games to date -- thus remains in the day-to-day category as Wednesday's game against the Oilers approaches.

Erik Johnson
Avs' Johnson Out For Three-Game Road Trip
Erik Johnson, D, COL
12:28 AM
News: Erik Johnson (knee) has not been cleared to play and will not join the Avalanche for their three-game road trip through California this week.
Analysis: Optimism seemed to be building over the past weekend that a lineup return was imminent for Erik Johnson, who had been able to skate with the Avalanche on Saturday morning. However, it sounds like the blueliner isn't progressing as quickly as it appeared, and it's now in question whether he'll even play again this season. After the Avalanche complete their road trip, the team will only have three games remaining on its regular-season schedule. With the playoffs likely a pipe dream at this point, it may make sense for the Avalanche to shut him down for precautionary purposes.

Matt Beleskey
Ducks' Beleskey Dealing With Lower-Body Injury
Matt Beleskey, LW, ANA
12:27 AM
News: Matt Beleskey continues to nurse a lower-body injury, Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News reports.
Analysis: Matt Beleskey was a late scratch Sunday after suffering a lower-body injury during warmups, and based on Tuesday's practice lines, it looks like he's a candidate to miss Wednesday's game against the Oilers as well.

Henrik Lundqvist
Rangers' Lundqvist Confirmed To Start
Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR
12:23 AM
News: Coach Alain Vigneault confirmed Henrik Lundqvist would start Tuesday's game against the Jets.
Analysis: After a seven-week absence due to a vascular issue with his neck, Henrik Lundqvist was roughed up in his return to the net Saturday against the Bruins, conceding three early goals and ultimately taking the defeat. Some rustiness should probably be expected in Lundqvist's next couple of turns, but the Rangers believe he'll be sufficiently tuned up in time for the playoffs.

 
 
 
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