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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
Brendan Gallagher
Montreal's Gallagher Scores In Loss
Brendan Gallagher, RW, MON
12:00 PM
News: Brendan Gallagher scored his 18th goal of the season and went plus-1 in Thursday night's 4-3 shootout loss to the Kings.
Analysis: Brendan Gallagher is enjoying life since his move to the top line -- that's the place to be for a Canadien forward. He has nine points (five goals, four assists) in the last eight games.

Zack Smith
Blazers' Smith Cleared To Take Contact
Zack Smith, C, OTT
10:17 AM
News: Zack Smith (wrist) has been cleared to take full contact in practices, Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun reports.
Analysis: While an injured player's participation in a full-contact practice would typically signal a forthcoming return, the Senators aren't quite certain when or if Zack Smith will play again this season. His biggest obstacle remaining might be to regain stretch in the wrist to shoot and maneuver with the puck, but there's no clear timetable on how long that might take. Smith shouldn't be viewed as day-to-day quite yet.

Jonas Hiller
Flames' Hiller Slated To Start Friday
Jonas Hiller, G, CGY
10:08 AM
News: Jonas Hiller is slated to draw the start in goal Friday against the Red Wings.
Analysis: Jonas Hiller appears to have surrendered the No. 1 goalie gig to Karri Ramo at least for the time being, but he'll draw the nod Friday after Ramo took the net a night earlier. A 19-17-3 record and 2.46 GAA have put Hiller decidedly in the middle tier of fantasy goalies this season, making him attractive primarily against weaker opponents. Hiller won't be afforded a cushy matchup with the Red Wings, who rank seventh in the league in scoring.

Ryan Suter
Wild's Suter Breaks Out Of Slump With Assist
Ryan Suter, D, MIN
10:05 AM
News: Ryan Suter picked up a secondary assist in Thursday's 2-1 win over the Capitals.
Analysis: Ryan Suter had gone the previous eight games without a point, so the helper was sorely needed. The veteran defenseman is averaging 29:11 of ice time per game, which ranks second in the NHL behind defenseman Drew Doughty of the Kings. It must be discouraging for Suter's fantasy owners that he's doing so little with heavy ice time, but he's a proven commodity and not someone you want to give up on.

Anton Khudobin
'Canes Confirm Khudobin For Friday Start
Anton Khudobin, G, CAR
10:02 AM
News: Anton Khudobin has been confirmed as the starter in goal for Friday's game against the Wild.
Analysis: Anton Khudobin will get a second crack at the Wild after he was bombed for five goals on 23 shots a few weeks ago. The goalie was able to spin his first shutout of the season in his last start against the Capitals, but that shouldn't necessarily be taken as an indicator of his performance to come. He's been merely adequate for much of the season with the Hurricanes, going 7-11-3 with a 2.61 GAA and a .905 save percentage. Moreover, Khudobin will have the tough task of trying to outduel Devan Dubnyk, who has gone 17-3-1 over his 22 starts with the Wild.

Mark Stuart
Jets' Stuart Takes Puck To Face In Practice
Mark Stuart, D, WPG
9:56 AM
News: Mark Stuart left Friday's practice after taking a puck to the face, CBC's Jeff Hamilton reports.
Analysis: The extent of the injury is thus far unclear, and the Jets won't play until Saturday in Nashville. Mark Stuart has not registered a point since January.

Filip Forsberg
Preds' Forsberg Sets Up Tying Goal
Filip Forsberg, C, NSH
9:46 AM
News: Filip Forsberg set up the Predators' game-tying goal in an eventual 4-3 loss to the Islanders on Thursday.
Analysis: Filip Forsberg had been held without a point in the Preds' previous four games, which goes down as his longest drought of the season. It's probably not coincidental that Forsberg's recent struggles have mirrored those of his team, who have since ceded the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference standings to the Ducks. In addition to not scoring over that four-game stretch, Forsberg further compounded the issue by going minus-7. Forsberg still has impressive numbers for the season (21 goals, 53 points, plus-14 rating), but it wouldn't be a surprise if the rookie's production remained a little more muted the rest of the way.

Mike Ribeiro
Preds' Ribeiro Finds Twine In Loss
Mike Ribeiro, C, NSH
9:41 AM
News: Mike Ribeiro notched his 13th goal of the season in Thursday's loss to the Islanders.
Analysis: Mike Ribeiro was able to get a forearm on Ryan Ellis' point shot with 10 minutes remaining in the third period, which ended up deflecting into the net to cut the Preds' deficit to one goal. Though the tally was fluky in nature, it still allowed Ribeiro's bounce-back season to rage on. The center has 13 goals and 40 assists over 66 games.

Chris Higgins
Canucks' Higgins Tallies Goal In Loss
Chris Higgins, LW, VAN
9:37 AM
News: Chris Higgins tallied his eighth goal of the season in Thursday's shootout loss to the Canucks.
Analysis: Chris Higgins ran the give-and-go with teammate Jannik Hansen to perfection, cutting the Canucks' deficit to one goal with under eight minutes remaining in the third period. The Canucks would get the equalizer in the final minute of the period before falling in the shootout, where Higgins' third-round misfire gave the Coyotes the victory. Though he wasn't able to come through in the clutch, Higgins at least extended his point streak to three games, tying his second-longest scoring run of the season.

Mikael Backlund
Flames' Backlund Tallies Assist
Mikael Backlund, C, CGY
9:35 AM
News: Mikael Backlund picked up an assist in a 4-3 shootout victory against Boston on Thursday.
Analysis: Mikael Backlund is having a strong season with 19 points in 34 games, and has three points in his last three games. If you need a fill-in, Backlund is in the midst of a nice streak.

 
 
 
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