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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
Paul Gaustad
Preds' Gaustad Takes Hit To Upper-Body Area
Paul Gaustad, C, NSH
12:59 AM
News: Paul Gaustad left Tuesday's game against the Canucks after he took a high hit from Alexandre Burrows. The Predators didn't have an update on Gaustad's condition Wednesday, Adam Vingan of The Tennessean reports.
Analysis: Burrows was ejected for the hit, but isn't expected to face any supplementary punishment from the league office. It's possible that Paul Gaustad, who picked up an assist earlier in the contest, suffered a concussion from the impact, but nothing on that front will be known officially until the team provides more information.

Matt Beleskey
Ducks' Beleskey To Remain Out Wednesday
Matt Beleskey, LW, ANA
12:51 AM
News: Matt Beleskey (lower body) will not play Wednesday against the Oilers, Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times reports.
Analysis: Matt Beleskey wasn't able to return to the ice during the Ducks' morning skate, which will prevent him for suiting up for a second straight game. Jiri Sekac is slated to skate on the top line in Beleskey's absence.

Jonas Hiller
Flames Stick With Hiller On Thursday
Jonas Hiller, G, CGY
12:43 AM
News: Jonas Hiller is slated to start Thursday's game against the Blues.
Analysis: Jonas Hiller will thus make his third straight start for the Flames, who compiled a 9-3-3 record in March, a month that was capped by back-to-back triumphs by a combined tally of 10-5, both backstopped by Hiller.

Boyd Gordon
Oilers' Gordon Remains Out Wednesday
Boyd Gordon, C, EDM
12:42 AM
News: Boyd Gordon (back) will not return to the Oilers' lineup Wednesday against the Ducks, Jack Michaels of the Oilers Radio Network reports.
Analysis: Boyd Gordon is traveling with the Oilers on their road trip and was able to skate with the team Wednesday morning, but he'll still need a little more practice time before reentering the lineup. Though he could be ready to play Thursday against the Kings, Gordon will be forced to sit out a fourth consecutive game.

Matt Hendricks
Oilers' Hendricks Out Third Straight
Matt Hendricks, C, EDM
12:40 AM
News: Matt Hendricks (back) will not play Wednesday against the Ducks, Jack Michaels of the Oilers Radio Network reports.
Analysis: Matt Hendricks is traveling with the Oilers on their road trip and was able to skate with the team Wednesday morning, but he'll still need a little more practice time before re-entering the lineup. He'll head to the press box for a third consecutive game and could be a candidate to play Thursday against the Kings.

Clayton Stoner
Ducks' Stoner Likely To Sit Out Another
Clayton Stoner, D, ANA
12:35 AM
News: Clayton Stoner (lower body) isn't expected to play Wednesday against the Oilers, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: Clayton Stoner resumed skating with the Ducks on Wednesday, but his absence from a regular defensive pairing suggests he'll sit out a second straight game. With only eight points in 67 games this season, Stoner will struggle to provide fantasy players with value once he does return to the lineup.

Frederik Andersen
Ducks' Andersen Confirmed For Thursday
Frederik Andersen, G, ANA
12:33 AM
News: Frederik Andersen is confirmed as the starter in goal for Thursday's game against the Oilers, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: After receiving the Ducks' previous game off in favor of John Gibson, Frederik Andersen will get back in the net Wednesday looking to extend his winning streak to three games. Andersen has won his previous three career starts against the Oilers, producing a 1.67 GAA and .935 save percentage.

Martin St. Louis
Rangers' St. Louis Set To Return
Martin St. Louis, RW, NYR
12:32 AM
News: Martin St. Louis (knee) is slated to play Thursday against the Wild.
Analysis: Martin St. Louis, who is bouncing back from a sprained right MCL, last suited up for the Rangers on March 15. Based on Wednesday's practice, look for St. Louis to work on a line with Kevin Hayes and Carl Hagelin upon his return to the Rangers' lineup on Thursday. Prior to his injury, St. Louis had recorded 20 goals and 47 points in 68 games.

Ryan Kesler
Ducks' Kesler A Game-Time Decision
Ryan Kesler, C, ANA
12:27 AM
News: Ryan Kesler (elbow) will be a game-time decision for Wednesday's tilt with the Oilers.
Analysis: Ryan Kesler was on the ice for Wednesday's morning skate, but coach Bruce Boudreau was tight-lipped about the center's status for the evening. Given that the Oilers are one of the NHL's weakest teams, it might make sense for the Ducks to give Kesler the night off to preserve his body for the playoffs. An official decision on his status should come down based on how the Ducks line up during pregame warmups.

Tanner Pearson
Kings' Pearson Not Healing As Quickly As Hoped
Tanner Pearson, LW, LA
12:24 AM
News: Tanner Pearson (leg) underwent an X-ray Tuesday, which didn't show as much healing as he had hoped, Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider reports.
Analysis: Tanner Pearson appeared to be making a bid for returning to the lineup before the end of the regular season, but those plans may have hit some friction with the news he received following his X-ray. While it doesn't sound like the winger is dealing with a major setback, the Kings haven't wavered from the three-month timetable Pearson was issued after suffering the injury Jan. 10. If his subsequent skates with the team continue to go well, Pearson could put himself on track to return for the first round of the playoffs.

 
 
 
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