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Neutral Zone Wrap: Major room for improvement

by | Rotowire.com
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Hope you've enjoyed the holiday season, but please don't tell me you've taken your eye off the game. Now I'm not discouraging people from avoiding others; in fact, I believe you should be spending time with loved ones. But you can always sneak out and devise your next plan of attack. After all, this time of year doesn't have to be a total separation of family and Fantasy.

You've probably ate your weight in cookies by now, so there's some lingering regret. The same feeling may hold true toward some of your players. You expected so much from so few and yet they haven't adequately performed their job. There's always the chance they can turn it around. But then they also might loom one step away from becoming untradeable.

The following NHLers are examples of those who still haven't been brought up to speed. Maybe they were never point-per-game producers, but people expected a lot more from them so far. (See if you can spot your players! And please note I couldn't select more than two listings per team, so don't complain about Jonas Hiller's omission).

Top 5 Fantasy Disappointments Who Can Get Back on Track

These guys have definitely underperformed, but it isn't for a lack of trying…well, maybe not for one of them. Most have received plenty of opportunities to shine, but something just hasn't been clicking. But hope is on the horizon, either in the form of a coaching change, an incentive, or just plain talent kicking in. Maybe a little hope wouldn't hurt either:

Mike Cammalleri, F, Montreal

Cammalleri's current haul (20 points in 32 games) doesn't amount to much of a drop-off (compared to 97 in 132 during the rest of his Habs career), but it is definitely noticeable with Montreal in trouble. The absence of Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez has forced Cammalleri into a greater leadership role up front, something in which he has excelled. Not much room for concern, as the little winger is still being heavily employed in all situations and the stats aren't too shabby (nine in December).

Bobby Ryan, F, Anaheim

If everyone received a nickel for every time a Bobby Ryan trade rumor was announced, then we'd need new pants from all the coinage that would rip the material. But seriously, the numbers don't look awful (18 in 35). The problem becomes evident when you notice he averaged 0.85 points per game and just over 33 goals a season in his first three full Anaheim campaigns. Another worrisome sign is the fact Ryan had been knocked off the top line, including the power-play. As much as this reasoning is cliché, there's simply way too much talent for him to struggle across an entire season.

Alexander Semin, F, Washington

Everybody's favorite slacker has been known to take off a shift or three, but no one truly cares about that. It's only now that he is lagging behind the pack in points (17 in 32) that all this attention -- and, gulp, pressure -- is being placed on Semin. The good news is his success is significantly tied to Alexander Ovechkin, and the Great Eight has had enough of his own on-ice issues. Following the captain's lead, Semin is slowly approaching his usual productive self (six in five) and should be temporarily good to go until the next lapse.

Semyon Varlamov, G, Colorado

The Avs donated a king's ransom (2012 1st rounder, 2012/2013 2nd rounder) to acquire Varlamov, so the up-and-coming Russian was immediately asked to play a major role. And while he hasn't fared too poorly (3.09 goals-against average, .896 save percentage in 25 appearances), Jean-Sebastien Giguere (1.95 goals-against average, .928 save percentage in 15) has served as Colorado's better option between the pipes. A nice comeback performance on Monday helped his cause, not only to regain the #1 spot but also to restore his confidence.

Lubomir Visnovsky, D, Anaheim

The Ducks are quacking their way towards the bottom. Upon first glance, it would seem Visnovsky would be one of the major reasons why. Last season's leading blueliner started off ice cold (four in 16), succumbed to a broken hand (sidelined a month), and now has found himself back on a struggling lineup. However, since returning a couple weeks ago, the Czech D-man has morphed closer to Norris Trophy form (five in six). Another encouraging indication comes from him continuing to log mega minutes (over 23 a game of late) and operating as a fearsome power-play quarterback.

Honorable mention: Martin Brodeur, G, New Jersey; Brent Burns, D, San Jose; Drew Doughty/Jack Johnson, D, Los Angeles; Patric Hornqvist, F, Nashville; Chris Stewart, F, St. Louis

Top 5 Fantasy Disappointments You Might As Well Forget

You know people who can't perform a task even after you repeatedly provide instructions? Well, these skaters are similar in that they keep being sent on the ice and somehow can't get it going. Don't know if they're hiding injuries, some sort of flaw, or merely their age. Send these duds to the curb; they will not be recovering any time soon:

Steve Mason, G, Columbus

Columbus appeared to have turned the corner this past offseason after grabbing both Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski. Naturally, Mason was looked upon to recover from two rather mediocre seasons (combined 3.05 goals-against average, .901 save percentage). Little did we realize neither Mason nor the Blue Jackets were equipped to compete in the NHL on a nightly basis. The top freshman in 2008-09 resides near or at the basement in almost every goaltending category (2nd-last with 3.41 goals-against average and worst at .881 save percentage). And in the off chance Mason were to recover his Calder caliber, he probably couldn't catch a break since Columbus sucks.

Andrej Meszaros, D, Philadelphia

With Chris Pronger out for the season, it was believed most of the available work would be handed to Meszaros based on experience. Unfortunately, Matt Carle (eight in nine) has vaulted ahead of the big Slovak in both minutes and special-teams shifts. And while Meszaros has upped his game the last few weeks (six in nine), he still stands with subpar stats (adding in six from the first 23). Based on history, he's not going above the 30-point mark. In other words, try and stay away from Meszaros unless you are desperate on defense.

Kyle Okposo, F, NY Islanders

Another member of the Islanders' youth revolution, but not the one who has been making news - unless you count missing most of 2010-11 after shoulder surgery. While Okposo was able to fully recover from the injury (and post 20 in 38), he may not have completely regained his grip on a solid roster position. This season has been a disaster and has been characterized by scoring slumps (currently three in seven, three in all of November), a perceived lack of effort, and a short stint in the press box. While Okposo should resume racking up points, his totals will not approach his peak (52 from two years ago).

Magnus Paajarvi, F, Edmonton

The 10th overall pick from 2009 took a little while to get going, but eventually found his confidence by the end of his rookie campaign (including scoring in five of the last six contests). Unfortunately, Paajarvi began this season by stalling out of the gates (didn't point until Game 13) and hasn't shown much improvement (only two since). You might think the Swedish forward can pick up his pace based on skills and pedigree, but Edmonton has found success rolling out other young studs ahead of him on the depth chart.

Marek Zidlicky, D, Minnesota

When you are 34, struggling, and fresh off an injury, then your prospects will probably look bleak. The outlook won't appear any brighter if you factor in teammates who are passing you in the pecking order. Such is the case for Zidlicky, a once-proud defenseman who boasted six straight seasons of 25-plus assists. Reality has set in for the Czech veteran (six in 25 tells the story), who knows his time is running out. Newcomers like Jared Spurgeon (15) and Marco Scandella (six) are being given more chances to shine offensively, thereby relegating Zidlicky to third fiddle at best.

Honorable mention: Mikael Backlund, F, Calgary; Andrew Brunette, F, Chicago; Marc-Andre Gragnani, D, Buffalo; Jarret Stoll, F, Los Angeles; Cam Ward, G, Carolina.

Sorry, but once again there will be no column next week. Not going to explain why, but I'll accept guesses (hint: it's not hockey-related, although it could be). Try to fill your time effectively in the meantime. Maybe by counting down the hours until the Wrap returns.

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Player News
Cedric Paquette
Bolts' Paquette To Play Friday
Cedric Paquette, C, TB
5:12 PM
News: Cedric Paquette will return to Tampa Bay's lineup for Friday's Game 7 against the Rangers, Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune reports.
Analysis: Cedric Paquette missed Game 6 of the series with a hand injury, but is now healthy enough to return to the Bolts' lineup for Game 7 against the Rangers. He'll replace Vladislav Namestnikov, and will center J.T. Brown and Ryan Callahan on Tampa Bay's third line.

Ben Bishop
Bolts' Bishop Will Start Friday
Ben Bishop, G, TB
4:58 PM
News: Ben Bishop will be in the crease for Friday's Game 7 against the Rangers.
Analysis: Ben Bishop will look to bounce back from a poor performance in Tuesday's Game 6 in which he allowed five goals on 26 shots before being pulled in the third period. Bishop has been inconsistent throughout the Eastern Conference Final, but was able to post a shutout performance en route to a victory in Game 5. He'll hope to return to that sort of form in Game 7 of the series.

Henrik Lundqvist
Rangers' Lundqvist Will Start Friday
Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR
4:53 PM
News: Henrik Lundqvist will be in net for Friday's Game 7 against the Lightning.
Analysis: With the exception of Games 2 and 3, in which he surrendered a total of 12 goals, Henrik Lundqvist has been solid against Tampa Bay throughout the Eastern Conference Final. If his teammates are able to carry the offensive momentum they gained after tallying five goals in Game 6 into Game 7, another solid outing from Lundqvist could be enough to propel the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final.

Justin Falk
Jackets' Falk Signs One-Year, Two-Way Deal
Justin Falk, D, CLB
1:10 PM
News: Justin Falk signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Blue Jackets on Friday, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: The 26-year-old appeared in 18 games for the Blue Jackets and Wild in 2014-15, tallying one goal, one assist and 14 penalty minutes. Justin Falk, who was acquired from Minnesota in early March, will likely split time between the NHL and AHL again next season. "Justin is a good, young defenseman who was a solid addition to our hockey club late last season and we are pleased that he will continue to be a part of our group on the blue line next season," Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen said.

Cody Goloubef
Jackets' Ink Goloubef To Two-Year Extension
Cody Goloubef, D, CLB
5/28/2015
News: Cody Goloubef signed a two-year, one-way contract extension with the Blue Jackets on Thursday, Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: Cody Goloubef's role with the Blue Jackets in 2014 expanded largely beyond his two previous seasons. The blueliner dressed for 36 of the team's games, posting 23 shots on goal, nine points (all assists) and a plus-12 rating. Following the strong season, he'll likely enter 2015-16 on firmer footing, and could solidify a roster spot with the club in training camp.

Mats Zuccarello
Rangers' Zuccarello Practices Without Contact
Mats Zuccarello, RW, NYR
5/28/2015
News: Mats Zuccarello (upper body) briefly joined the Rangers during the non-contact portion of Thursday's practice, Andrew Gross of The Record reports.
Analysis: As soon as coach Alain Vigneault blew the whistle for the start of full-contact work, Mats Zuccarello left the ice, suggesting that he's not a candidate to play during Friday's Game 7 against the Lightning. Zuccarello could receive clearance to take contact in the coming days, and should have a decent shot at reentering the lineup in the Stanley Cup Finals if the Rangers are able to advance.

Nicklas Backstrom
Caps' Backstrom Undergoes Arthroscopic Hip Surgery
Nicklas Backstrom, C, WAS
5/28/2015
News: Nicklas Backstrom underwent arthroscopic hip surgery Wednesday afternoon, Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post reports.
Analysis: The Capitals are optimistic that Nicklas Backstrom will make a full recovery and be back to 100 percent health by the start of the 2015-16 regular season. Backstrom didn't indicate during his exit interview following the second round of the playoffs that he had been nursing any sort of injury, but perhaps he elected to get out ahead of the hip issue before it became a recurring problem. Backstrom's recently completed season was a near mirror image of 2013-14, as he finished with the same goal total (18) and one fewer assist (60) while playing all 82 games for the second straight year.

Cam Fowler
Ducks' Fowler Continues Big Series
Cam Fowler, D, ANA
5/28/2015
News: Cam Fowler picked up an assist in his 23:37 of ice time in Wednesday's Game 6 loss to the Blackhawks.
Analysis: Cam Fowler has delivered a four-point series for the Ducks thus far, generating a goal and three helpers. Expect him to rank among the team leaders in minutes for Saturday's series-deciding Game 7 in Anaheim.

Patrick Maroon
Ducks' Maroon Nabs Power-Play Goal
Patrick Maroon, LW, ANA
5/28/2015
News: Patrick Maroon potted a power-play goal in Wednesday's Game 6 loss to the Blackhawks.
Analysis: Patrick Maroon has been outstanding all postseason for the Ducks, but he's really ratcheted up his production in the Western Conference Finals. Through six games, he's recorded three goals on 20 shot attempts, while also posting sizable hit totals on the defensive end.

Nate Thompson
Ducks' Thompson Credited With Assist In Game 6
Nate Thompson, C, ANA
5/28/2015
News: Nate Thompson picked up an assist in Wednesday's Game 6 loss to the Blackhawks.
Analysis: Nate Thompson isn't typically one of Anaheim's more productive scorers, but he's been able to come away with a goal and four assists thus far in the series. Though it's been a nice run for the 30-year-old, his modest track record as a point producer suggests the Ducks shouldn't bank on him driving their offense in Saturday's Game 7.

 
 
 
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