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Neutral Zone Wrap: It's time to flex your muscle

by | Rotowire.com
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The road to Fantasy success is rarely paved with good intentions.

You might not want to hurt someone else's team, but that's the price you pay for wanting to do well. So you improve your squad while taking away a key piece or two from a non-contender. Don't worry about it. Just think if the situations were reversed: Your roster would be gutted worse than a turkey before Thanksgiving.

There is no remorse in Roto.

Well, only when you have the chance to strike and you fail to pull the trigger. Now that's something that could haunt you down the line.

So go ahead and take the initiative. Be ruthless. Make that move now. Yes, now. Don't delay. C'mon, time is wasting. After all, being proactive worked for a few NHL clubs. Like, perhaps, one or more of the following:

You would expect a team to struggle after moving across the continent and enduring ridiculous travel schedules. But the Winnipeg Jets have been able to defy the odds to become a respectable outfit (10-4-1 since mid-November). Reason No. 1 for their success would be their top man in net. Ondrej Pavelec (3.11 goals-against average, .903 save percentage) has exceeded expectations by standing on his head most nights (top 5 in shots). Right behind him in importance are the trio of Evander Kane, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler (43 combined points in 13 contests). After a blistering beginning (nine points in nine games) Alex Burmistrov has fallen off the map (two in 10 and a minor injury to boot). Will Antti Miettinen (a double-digit goal scorer in each of his six full seasons) be able to add some offense? Tobias Enstrom (fractured collarbone) is still out, but Zach Bogosian (six points in 10 games, 23 PIM) has been able to carry a bit of the load. Ron Hainsey (back from consecutive maladies) can also add some stats if he feels like it.

The Blues are proving a coaching change and an awful power-play can spur anyone to greatness. (OK, maybe not the latter. But they've promised to improve. And we should take their word for it.) The dynamic duo of T.J. Oshie and Alexander Steen top the charts (with 19 each). Poolies and hockey fans alike have cheered the return of David Perron (three points in four games). Grab Jason Arnott if you need someone who is only useful in one area (half of his 14 points have come on the man-advantage). Meanwhile, Chris Stewart (four-game point streak ended last week) is struggling less than usual. A similar state exists for Patrik Berglund (also had a four-game run halted), a perennial favorite of this column. Another player mentioned often here, Kris Russell, has surprised at times since coming from Columbus (although one point in nine games sounds more like the old Kris). And when will Brian Elliott (with a Parent-like 12-2 mark, 1.46 goals-against average, .947 save percentage and four shutouts) finally show weakness?

It’s good to see Dallas still up in the standings, even with a couple notable absences. When Kari Lehtonen (groin injury, probably gone until 2012) went down, many thought Andrew Raycroft (3.53 goals-against average, .897 save percentage in nine) would be the one to step in, but no one believed Richard Bachman (one goal allowed in three appearances) would turn it into overdrive. Brenden Morrow is back again from his latest training room sabbatical. No worries about Jamie Benn and his mini-slump (one in seven, minus-5). Michael Ryder has made a marked improvement after a slow start. Steve Ott will still earn you enough assorted goodies (68 PIM and 90 hits expected, 12 points added bonus). And where did all those goals from, Eric Nystrom (tied for team lead with 10)? Sheldon Souray (scoreless in 15) has been trending downward for weeks, but Trevor Daley (three in two, more special-teams minutes) deserves an uptick for his recent efforts.

Why can't Buffalo stay consistent (currently at two wins in seven)? Does Sabre life mainly revolve around Ryan Miller (team was 3-5-2 while he recovered)? Is Tyler Myers (broken wrist, close to practicing again) that big an influence? Can Ville Leino's undisclosed, potentially long-term injury be considered catastrophic if he was underperforming (10 in 29, minus-7)? Many questions remain, but there still is hope. Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford have the opportunities and tools to produce. Zack Kassian looks to be developing into a nice all-around winger. Without Myers, the blue line hasn't filled in adequately. Jordan Leopold isn't faring too poorly, although Marc-Andre Gragnani (three in 13) could be contributing a lot more.

And, hey, congrats to Detroit on completing our team tour this season. It's a shame there isn't more we could discuss, but they need more notables injured -- or at least rotate a couple different players in the lineup now and then. It's difficult to ignore Todd Bertuzzi slotted on the top line, although it's easier to discount his mediocrity (still out there between 13-14 minutes a night). Someone has lit a fire under Jiri Hudler (six in four) and Danny Cleary (five in five). The same spark may have transferred to Darren Helm (five in eight), but it was extinguished before reaching Justin Abdelkader. And with five power-play assists and a top-10 rating of plus-17, there’s no need to mention Ian White, right?

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Player News
Ryan Wilson
Flames Ink Wilson To PTO
Ryan Wilson, D, CGY
9/3/2015
News: Ryan Wilson signed a professional tryout offer with the Flames on Thursday, Randy Sportak of the Calgary Sun reports.
Analysis: Ryan Wilson was limited to just three games as a member of the Avalanche last season, as he suffered a shoulder injury in late October that would ultimately require surgery. Prior to the injury, the 28-year-old wasn't expected to be a major part of the Avs' plans on the blue line, and he'll have an even more difficult time trying to carve out a role in Calgary's defensive corps, which may be the deepest in the NHL.

Nicklas Backstrom
Caps' Backstrom (Hip) "Not In A Rush" To Play
Nicklas Backstrom, C, WAS
9/3/2015
News: Nicklas Backstrom (hip) skated during informal workouts Thursday morning, but is "not in a rush" to return to action, Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post reports.
Analysis: Nicklas Backstrom began skating in August following hip surgery during the offseason, and while he hasn't experienced any setbacks, he doesn't appear to have a specific target date in mind for his return. "I'm not going to be back to 100 percent before I start playing," the 27-year-old pivot remarked, "I'm not going to play on 90 percent. We'll see how it goes. We don't know yet." The uncertainty surrounding Backstrom's return has lowered his standing somewhat in fantasy rankings. While the situation should be monitored closely, Backstrom should provide some serious value if he can get up to speed quickly on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and newcomer T.J. Oshie, as he has been one of the more productive playmakers and power-play performers over the last several seasons. Don't sleep on him too long in your draft if he continues to progress according to plan.

Joe Pavelski
Pavelski Expected To Be Named Sharks' Next Captain
Joe Pavelski, C, SJ
9/3/2015
News: Joe Pavelski is expected to be named the Sharks' next captain, CSN Bay Area's Kevin Kurz reports.
Analysis: Captaincy has been a delicate issue in San Jose over the last year, as former coach Todd McLellan stripped longtime leader Joe Thornton of those honors heading into 2014-15, straining the relationship between the star center and team brass. While Thornton is still around, it's clear that the 31-year-old Joe Pavelski is now the face of the franchise, after ranking fourth in the NHL in goals over the last four seasons with 161. Pavelski figures to pace the Sharks in scoring once again during the upcoming campaign, while taking on more of a leadership role in the locker room.

Keith Ballard
Ex-Wild D-Man Ballard Leaning Toward Retirement
Keith Ballard, D, MIN
9/3/2015
News: Keith Ballard (concussion) confirmed last week that he's leaning toward retirement, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Keith Ballard is still experiencing concussion symptoms from the head injury he suffered Dec. 9 of last season, and it sounds like he's leaning toward hanging up his skates rather than risking permanent health issues. The 32-year-old had previously experienced several concussions during his NHL career, likely leaving many teams disinterested in Ballard's services even if he opts to keep playing.

Andrew Copp
Jets' Copp To Challenge For NHL Job
Andrew Copp, C, WPG
9/3/2015
News: Andrew Copp is expected to compete for the Jets' fourth-line center duties during training camp, Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press reports.
Analysis: Andrew Copp, who finished up his sophomore season at the University of Michigan last spring before turning pro, made his NHL debut for the Jets in their final regular season game in 2015-16, when the team was just trying to rest its regulars in advance of the playoffs. The 2013 fourth-round pick went unused during the Jets' first-round series exit, but the size he presents (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) along with the strong leadership and decision-making he demonstrated during his time at Michigan could make him the Jets' best internal option to pivot the checking line. Holdovers Anthony Peluso and Matt Halischuk likely represent Copp's top competition for that role.

Joakim Nordstrom
Nordstrom, Blackhawks Agree On One-Year Deal
Joakim Nordstrom, C, CHI
9/2/2015
News: Joakim Nordstrom signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Blackhawks on Wednesday, Brian Hedger of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Joakim Nordstrom waited several months before agreeing to his qualifying offer, but he's at least in the fold to compete for a spot in the Blackhawks' crowded bottom-six ranks. The forward recorded no goals and three assists in 38 games with the parent club last season, so a return trip to AHL Rockford could be in the works to open 2015-16.

Tom Sestito
Penguins Sign Sestito To PTO
Tom Sestito, LW, PIT
9/2/2015
News: Tom Sestito signed a professional tryout contract last week with the Penguins, Josh Yohe of DKonPittsburghSports.com reports.
Analysis: As a tough guy who gobbles up penalty minutes, Tom Sestito doesn't seem to mesh well with coach Mike Johnston's vision of rolling out four lines with scoring ability. Don't expect him to crack the Penguins' 23-man roster out of training camp, barring a litany of injuries.

Evgeni Malkin
Pens' Malkin Healthy Heading Into Camp
Evgeni Malkin, C, PIT
9/2/2015
News: Penguins coach Mike Johnston said Evgeni Malkin is healthy heading into training camp, NHL.com reports. "[Malkin] was injured before the playoffs last year; he's in skating already," Johnston said.
Analysis: The Penguins are expected to tinker with their top-six ranks in training camp after adding Phil Kessel to the mix in the offseason, but it's expected that Kessel will play on the top line with Sidney Crosby, while Evgeni Malkin centers a line of Patric Hornqvist and a yet-to-be-determined left winger. Regardless of which player among David Perron, Chris Kunitz, and rookie Sergei Plotnikov ultimately settles next to Malkin, staying healthy is more essential to the star center's fantasy production than anything else. Malkin has missed 103 regular-season contests over the last six years.

Peter Budaj
Kings Ink Budaj To Tryout Offer
Peter Budaj, G, LA
9/2/2015
News: Peter Budaj has signed with the Kings on a professional tryout contract, Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider reports.
Analysis: Peter Budaj struggled while seeing limited ice time with AHL St. John's in the Winnipeg organization last season, going 0-9-6 with a 3.55 GAA and .888 save percentage. The 33-year-old clearly seems to be on the downswing of his career, but as a veteran with 296 NHL appearances on his ledger, he could provide insurance in goal for the Kings at the minor-league level.

Markus Soberg
Jackets' Soberg Out 4-6 Weeks
Markus Soberg, RW, CLB
9/2/2015
News: Markus Soberg (groin) will miss the next four-to-six weeks as he recovers from surgery to repair a sports hernia, Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: A sixth-round pick by the Blue Jackets in 2013, Markus Soberg was hampered by an abdominal injury throughout much of last season, ending up with 13 goals and 17 assists in 61 games for OHL Windsor. It's unclear whether he would've been able to make the jump to Columbus this season even if healthy, but the surgery will certainly delay his progress to North American hockey.

 
 
 
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