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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
Mikael Backlund
Flames' Backlund More Injured Than Thought
Mikael Backlund, C, CGY
12:55 AM
News: Mikael Backlund's abdominal strain is worse than originally thought, Kristen Odland of the Calgary Herald reports.
Analysis: Mikael Backlund was originally expected to be ready for the start of the regular season, but head coach Bob Hartley stated Monday that he's worried about Backlund's status. The team hasn't given any sort of timetable for the center's return, so keep an eye out for an update in the next few days.

Jhonas Enroth
Sabres' Enroth Starts Tuesday
Jhonas Enroth, G, BUF
9/22/2014
News: The Sabres will start Jhonas Enroth against Carolina on Tuesday.
Analysis: Jhonas Enroth is battling Michal Neuvirth for the starting job and will get his first challenge Tuesday. Nathan Lieuwen played the full game in the Sabres' first preseason game Sunday, so head coach Ted Nolan might play Enroth for the entire game. A strong performance will help solidify Enroth's case to the Sabres' No. 1 goaltender.

Josh Bailey
Bailey Gets First Shot At Top Line For The Isles
Josh Bailey, LW, NYI
9/22/2014
News: Josh Bailey scored his first goal of the preseason Monday versus the Senators.
Analysis: What makes this worthy of an update isn't the goal he scored but rather he was given the first opportunity to play on the top line with John Tavares. Training camp is likely to be an open tryout for several Islanders to prove they should play on the wing opposite Tavares and see their Fantasy value rise accordingly.

Pavel Datsyuk
Red Wings' Datsyuk Suffers Shoulder Injury
Pavel Datsyuk, C, DET
9/22/2014
News: Pavel Datsyuk injured his shoulder in Monday's preseason opener against the Penguins, MLive.com's Ansar Khan reports.
Analysis: Pavel Datsyuk returned to training camp at full health after undergoing a minor knee procedure in April, but it didn't take long for him to get nicked up again. While he played well in his return to the ice, notching a goal and assist Monday, the painful check he absorbed from defenseman Robert Scuderi ended up marring his night. The Red Wings should relay more information on his condition Tuesday, but needless to say, it's not encouraging to see the 36-year-old already falling victim to injury.

Beau Bennett
Pens' Bennett Scores Monday
Beau Bennett, RW, PIT
9/22/2014
News: Beau Bennett scored Pittsburgh's lone goal Monday against Detroit, netting a wrister from 30 feet.
Analysis: The winger ranks near the top of his team in terms of skill, but he's skated on a line with Steve Downie and Brandon Sutter in the early going. Beau Bennett may have to wait for an injury to secure a top-six spot and a place on the first-unit power play, but it's a good bet he ends up on a top-two line -- provided he stays healthy.

Eric Fehr
Caps' Fehr Gets Two Points In Loss To Flyers
Eric Fehr, RW, WAS
9/22/2014
News: Eric Fehr finished with a goal and an assist, along with two shots in 17:12 of ice time during Monday's 5-4 loss to the Flyers.
Analysis: Eric Fehr played on a line with Marcus Johansson, one of the contenders for the team's second-line center job, and rookie Jakub Vrana. Given his versatility, Fehr will be a valuable player for the Capitals this season, but it is not yet clear whether he will get top-six forward minutes yet. Fehr spent most of last season centering Jason Chimera and Joel Ward, and although it was a productive unit, the team looks like they are moving him back to wing for the 2014-2015 season. Unless he becomes a fixture alongside the likes of Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom, Fehr's fantasy value is likely limited to deeper leagues.

Troy Brouwer
Caps' Brouwer Has Goal, Assist In Loss To Flyers
Troy Brouwer, RW, WAS
9/22/2014
News: Troy Brouwer finished with a goal and an assist to go along with three SOG in 18:00 of ice-time during the Capitals' 5-4 loss to the Flyers on Monday.
Analysis: Both of Troy Brouwer's points came on the power-play. He played on an even-strength line with Evgeny Kuznetsov, believed to have the inside track on the team's second-line center job. It's looking like Brouwer will be a fixture on a scoring line in DC this coming season, giving the power-forward some sleeper potential in deeper leagues.

Alexander Semin
Canes' Semin To Miss Second Preseason Game
Alexander Semin, RW, CAR
9/22/2014
News: Alexander Semin will be held out of the Canes' second preseason game Tuesday against the Sabres, Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
Analysis: Alexander Semin had offseason surgery on his wrist, and the move to limit his preseason game action by new coach Bill Peters is reportedly just a cautionary move. So far, there has been no word of Semin re-injuring his wrist in training camp, so we fully expect him to start the regular season on schedule at this point.

Adam McQuaid
B's McQuaid Back At Full Strength
Adam McQuaid, D, BOS
9/22/2014
News: Adam McQuaid participated in Sunday's team scrimmage, a sign that he's fully recovered from his May right ankle surgery, Stephen Harris of the Boston Herald reports.
Analysis: An array of second-half injuries limited Adam McQuaid to just 32 games last season, but the physical rearguard should be ready to go for the start of the 2014-15 campaign. Though he's now healthy, the Bruins could transition McQuaid into more of a seventh defenseman role this season, with young guns Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Kevan Miller all on track to earn close to full-time roles along the Bruins' blue line.

Anton Khudobin
Canes' Khudobin To Start Preseason Game Tuesday
Anton Khudobin, G, CAR
9/22/2014
News: Anton Khudobin will start the Canes' second preseason game Tuesday against the Sabres, Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
Analysis: The Canes lost 4-3 to the Blue Jackets on Sunday with Cam Ward starting in net, however Ward did receive a positive review from new head coach Bill Peters. Given Ward's hefty contract, along with the length of his tenure in Raleigh, Anton Khudobin will likely have to stand on his head in the preseason to have a real shot at opening the season as the team's No. 1 netminder.

 
 
 
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