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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
Tobias Enstrom
Jets' Enstrom Sets Up Two Goals In Loss
Tobias Enstrom, D, WPG
12:07 PM
News: Tobias Enstrom assisted on both of the Jets' two goals in Friday's loss to Tampa Bay.
Analysis: Tobias Enstrom now has six points (all assists) in seven games this season, to go with a minus-1 rating. Playing the point on the top power-play unit and averaging 23:49 of ice time per game, Enstrom will continue to produce offense. After a somewhat disappointing 30-point season in 2013-14, expect Enstrom to return to the 40-50 point range in 2014-15.

Vincent Lecavalier
Flyers Transfer Lecavalier To IR
Vincent Lecavalier, C, PHI
12:47 AM
News: Vincent Lecavalier (foot) was placed on injured reserve Friday, CSNPhilly.com's Sarah Baicker reports.
Analysis: Vincent Lecavalier returned to practice Friday for the first time since suffering the injury Oct. 11. Because he's already missed over a week of action, the Flyers will be able to stash Lecavalier on injured reserve retroactively. Lecavalier looks on track to play at some point next week, perhaps as early as Tuesday against the Kings.

Braydon Coburn
Flyers Place Coburn On IR
Braydon Coburn, D, PHI
12:45 AM
News: Braydon Coburn (lower body) was placed on injured reserve Friday, CSNPhilly.com's Sarah Baicker reports.
Analysis: With Braydon Coburn ruled out four weeks Friday due to the injury, he'll unsurprisingly move to IR to create some roster space. Coburn suffered the foot injury in the Flyers' first game of the season against the Bruins, but had taken pregame warmups as a recently as Tuesday before suffering a setback. Mark Alt will be recalled from AHL Adirondback in a corresponding move.

Alex Stalock
Sharks' Stalock To Start Saturday
Alex Stalock, G, SJ
12:42 AM
News: Alex Stalock will be between the pipes on Saturday against Buffalo, Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area reports.
Analysis: The Sharks started the year alternating games between Alex Stalock and Antti Niemi, but after two consecutive losses by Stalock, Niemi has started the past two. He struggled in those two games, taking 5-3 and 5-4 losses, so Stalock could continue to earn more starts with a solid performance against the struggling Sabres.

Zdeno Chara
Bruins Place Chara On IR
Zdeno Chara, D, BOS
12:35 AM
News: Zdeno Chara (knee) was placed on injured reserve Friday.
Analysis: The move comes as little surprise after Zdeno Chara was ruled out four-to-six weeks after suffering a PCL tear in his left knee Thursday night. Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow were recalled from AHL Providence in corresponding moves to give the Bruins some replacement options on the blue line.

Paul Stastny
Blues' Stastny Skating, But Not Doing Much Else
Paul Stastny, C, STL
12:31 AM
News: Paul Stastny (upper body) has been able to skate the last two days, NHL.com's Lou Korac reports.
Analysis: It seems as though Paul Stastny has returned to the ice strictly for conditioning purposes, as he hasn't attempted shots or taken any contact yet. The Blues remain steadfast in their belief that a lengthy absence isn't in store for Stastny, but it's looking increasingly unlikely that he'll be back before the end of the month.

John Gibson
Ducks Confirm Gibson For Friday
John Gibson, G, ANA
12:25 AM
News: John Gibson has been confirmed as the starter for Friday's game against the Blue Jackets, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: While John Gibson has been surpassed by Frederik Andersen on the team's depth chart, coach Bruce Boudreau stated that he still intends to give the 21-year-old semi-frequent action in order to build his confidence. Boudreau will instead save the red-hot Andersen for the more critical matchup of the weekend, when the division-rival Sharks come to Anaheim.

Mikhail Grabovski
Isles' Grabovski Could Return Saturday
Mikhail Grabovski, C, NYI
12:20 AM
News: Mikhail Grabovski (concussion) felt good while practicing Friday and could play Saturday against the Stars, Arthur Staple of Newsday reports.
Analysis: Mikhail Grabovski took part in Friday's session in a full capacity, joining Frans Nielsen and Cory Conacher on the Isles' second line. The team will reexamine him after Saturday's morning skate before reaching a determination on his status for the game later that evening, but if his concussion symptoms don't resurface, expect the team to activate him from IR.

Sonny Milano
Blue Jackets Activate Milano, Assign Him To OHL
Sonny Milano, LW, CLB
12:13 AM
News: Sonny Milano (face) has been activated from the Blue Jackets' non-roster injury list and assigned to OHL Plymouth.
Analysis: Sonny Milano hasn't played since suffering two fractures in his face during the NHL Prospects Tournament in mid-September. The Blue Jackets' first-round selection in this past June's draft, Milano has elected to bypass a collegiate career with Boston College in favor of testing himself at the junior level. He's probably at least two years away from contributing for the Blue Jackets.

Carl Gunnarsson
Blues' Gunnarsson: (Hip) Still Not Ready To Go
Carl Gunnarsson, D, STL
12:09 AM
News: Carl Gunnarsson (hip) still doesn't sound like he's ready to make his season debut, NHL.com's Lou Korac reports.
Analysis: The Blues' medical staff has granted Carl Gunnarsson clearance to play and is simply waiting for the defenseman to alert them when he's good to go, but he's evidently not comfortable with his hip just yet. Jordan Leopold will continue to occupy a regular spot on defense for the Blues until Gunnarsson feels the pain in his hip has fully dissipated.

 
 
 
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