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Neutral Zone Wrap: Get ready for the finals

by | Rotowire.com
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Assuming no one saw this coming. A six seed taking on an eight seed, but it's not as if either finalist finished way behind heading in to the postseason. Let's just call this the usual wackiness that happens this time of the year. For those who don't normally follow hockey, these playoffs have been as easy to predict as guaranteeing which team Rick Nash will end up with this summer. (Spoiler alert: It won't be Columbus).

Congrats to both the Devils and the Kings for reaching hockey's pinnacle. And to that one guy's dog who filled out the only correct playoff bracket on the planet. But enough about fictitious Fantasy glory. Let's see what these two have to do to get a clue. Or win it all. Whatever comes first.

Stanley Cup Finals Preview

New Jersey (No. 6 seed in the East) vs. Los Angeles (No. 8 seed in theWest)

Season series: New Jersey 2-0

Guess Ilya Kovalchuk (now on top in postseason scoring with 18 points) is really worth all that $100 million ... After heating up the first two series, Travis Zajac (10 in 11) fell back to Earth (two in seven)... Paging Patrik Elias (only six, with a lone goal in the Rangers series). Would someone please find out to where he has disappeared? ... Not bad when your fourth line (Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter, and Steve Bernier combining for 19 points) becomes a regular contributor ... Marek Zidlicky (eight, including four on the power-play) may be the blueliner everyone expects to produce but Bryce Salvador not only leads Jersey defensemen in points (11) but can claim the best plus-minus (plus-10) of any Devil...Is there anything Dustin Brown (leads or is tied for first with plus-13, 24 penalty minutes, 49 shots on goal, 67 hits, two short-handed goals) can't do? ... After their adventures in Philly, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter (totaling 20, including four power-play goals) have been able to chip in very nicely ... Never really heard much from Trevor Lewis (13 in 72) during the regular season, but way to step it up lately -- especially against Phoenix (four in five) ... Another surprise up front has been rookie Dwight King (four in five), who posted solid numbers in two different leagues (14 in 27 in the NHL and 29 in 50 in the AHL) ... There is life beyond Drew Doughty (10) on defense, although neither Slava Voynov (three) nor Willie Mitchell (two) has regularly found the scoresheet.

Prediction: Both head-to-head meetings (2-1 and 3-0) were way back in October, so you can't really take much from them...The Devils' roster may contain more playoff experience, but there's no discounting how well the Kings have worked as a unit. The two sides have increased momentum as the rounds have progressed, so no advantage there. The city of Los Angeles has been waiting for a local winner since the franchise began 45 years ago (sorry, Anaheim doesn't count), although many residents still think the Kings play out of Sacramento. So, yeah, I'll stick to the boring pick of ... Kings in six.

The Conn Smythe candidates become increasingly obvious at this stage. You could almost swap any of these players at any spot in the following Top 5: 1. Dustin Brown; 2. Jonathan Quick; 3. Martin Brodeur; 4. Ilya Kovalchuk; 5. Adam Henrique. (Henrique may not possess the eye-popping stats (11), but you can't argue with two overtime game-series winning goals.)

Well, it's been an exciting season. But, as you well know, hockey never sleeps. There's the draft next month, but the real excitement begins July 1 when free agent season opens for business. So after the on-ice activity has concluded, sit tight and dream about the players your team will acquire (or jettison). I will return soon. Promise.

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Player News
Kris Letang
Pens' Letang At 100 Percent In Advance Of Camp
Kris Letang, D, PIT
9/16/2014
News: Kris Letang, who suffered a stroke nearly eight months ago, has been working out without any complications this summer and should be a full participant for the start of training camp, Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Analysis: In addition to the stroke, Kris Letang was limited to 37 games last season due to a knee injury and an elbow infection. Though he's the ultimate health risk after missing 99 games over the last three seasons, but few blueliners possess as much skill offensively as Letang, who still accumulated 11 goals and 11 assists in limited action in 2013-14. Letang compiled 50 points in his last full season in 2010-11, and that peak could be in reach again if he can avoid any long-term health complications.

Derrick Pouliot
Pens' Pouliot Not Expected To Be Ready For Camp
Derrick Pouliot, D, PIT
9/16/2014
News: Penguins coach Mike Johnston said Tuesday that Derrick Pouliot (shoulder) likely won't be ready for training camp, Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Analysis: Johnston said that Derrick Pouliot, one of the team's top prospects, would likely be able to take part in some skating at the start of camp, but he'll be held out of contact drills until further notice. The former No. 8 overall draft pick accumulated 17 goals and 53 assists over 58 games last season with the WHL's Portland Winterhawks.

Olli Maatta
Pens' Maatta To Receive Update Later In Week
Olli Maatta, D, PIT
9/16/2014
News: Olli Maatta could be cleared for physical contact Wednesday or Thursday, Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Analysis: Olli Maatta was ruled out for four-to-six months after undergoing shoulder surgery in May, but there seems to be legitimate optimism that he might beat that timetable and be ready to go for the start of training camp. Even if that materializes, expect the Penguins to limit Maatta's involvement in the early going, with the hope of preparing him for a full slate of minutes for the regular-season opener. The 20-year-old flashed a ton of potential as a rookie last season, accruing nine goals and 20 assists over 78 games.

Anthony Mantha
Wings' Mantha Suffers Injury At Prospects Tourney
Anthony Mantha, RW, DET
9/16/2014
News: Anthony Mantha suffered an undisclosed injury during the NHL's tournament for prospects and will not be available for the Red Wings' finale against the Hurricanes, MLive.com's Brendan Savage reports.
Analysis: Red Wings GM Ken Holland didn't offer any specifics on the nature of the injury other than saying Anthony Mantha was "banged up," but it appears he'll still be ready to return to the ice when training camp commences Friday. The 20-year-old was having an outstanding tournament with five points in three games and should be given a chance to win a spot on the Red Wings' 23-man roster in camp, though it's more likely he opens 2014-15 at the AHL level.

Ryane Clowe
Clowe Looks Ready For Devils Camp
Ryane Clowe, LW, NJ
9/16/2014
News: Ryane Clower (concussion) underwent tests for post-concussion syndrome on Tuesday and should be ready for training camp.
Analysis: Devils GM Lou Lamoriello said the exams were "very positive" and expects that "everything is on track for him to be at camp." Ryane Clowe sustained several concussions last season while scattering, rather unevenly, 26 points over 43 games and expects to be in the lineup on Opening Day. Clowe will see some top-six minutes while in the lineup, but his inconsistency and propensity for injury do not make him the safest pick.

Josh Harding
Wild's Harding Succumbs To Ankle Injury
Josh Harding, G, MIN
9/16/2014
News: Josh Harding has been sidelined by an ankle injury, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Josh Harding was set to enter training camp at full health after missing the second half of last season due to a change in his medication for multiple sclerosis, but it appears the snake-bitten goalie has been dealt another setback. The team won't have an update on Harding's expected timetable until he visits with the team's orthopedic surgeon Wednesday, but it's generally believed that he will miss the beginning of training camp, if not longer. Harding was in the midst of a sensational season prior to succumbing to another complication from MS last December, and was thought to be a frontrunner to claim the No. 1 goalie job in camp. If he ends up missing the start of the regular season, either Darcy Kuemper or Niklas Backstrom would be called upon to assume starting duties.

Eric Gelinas
Gelinas Signs Before Devils Camp
Eric Gelinas, D, NJ
9/16/2014
News: Eric Gelinas signed a one-year, one-way contract worth $900,000 on Monday and will report to training camp.
Analysis: Getting Eric Gelinas, a restricted free agent, back under contract avoids a holdout by the 23-year old blue liner who snagged 29 points in a scattered 60-game campaign as a rookie one year earlier. The majority of Gelinas's points came before the All-Star break but he also saw himself shuttled between the NHL bench and Albany (AHL) in addition to having his ice time cut severely in some games. He played several games as a 13th forward and some as a seventh defensemen, seeing only power-play time. While Gelinas is under contract, he is, by no means, guaranteed a regular role on the team despite his considerable offensive upside. The team's coaching staff regularly made it known they want Gelinas to improve defensively before giving him a larger role on the team. Monitor his ice time in preseaon games but it's too early to go all-in on Gelinas considering the Devils, despite having an opening, had a tendency to play with his ice time, appearing noncommittal as to whether he would have a regular role on the team last season. Tread carefully.

Daniel Alfredsson
Daniel Alfredsson: Seeing Back Specialists
Daniel Alfredsson, RW, DET
9/16/2014
News: Daniel Alfredsson is visiting with back specialists and is not going to training camp with the Red Wings, Helene St. James of The Detroit Free Press reports.
Analysis: With Daniel Alfredsson's back ailing, it's looking more and more likely last year may have been his final season. Alfie has said he won't come back unless he's 100 percent, and although he wants to return to Detroit, it remains to be seen whether his body will let him.

Kevin Westgarth
Westgarth To Try Out With Oilers
Kevin Westgarth, RW, CGY
9/16/2014
News: Kevin Westgarth signed a professional tryout with the Oilers and will join the team for training camp, NHL.com's Aaron Vickers reports.
Analysis: Kevin Westgarth is nothing more than a checking-line pugilist, giving him value primarily in leagues that count penalty minutes. He'll first have to impress the Oilers in training camp before he gets the opportunity to reprise his enforcer role.

Danny DeKeyser
Red Wings' DeKeyser Signs Two-Year Deal
Danny DeKeyser, D, DET
9/16/2014
News: Danny DeKeyser singed a two-year, $4.38 million deal with the Red Wings on Tuesday, TSN's Aaron Ward reports.
Analysis: As expected, the Red Wings finally worked out a deal to bring the 24-year-old back to Detroit following a lengthy standoff. Danny DeKeyser appeared in 65 games for the Wings last season, registering four goals and 19 assists for 23 total points. He also posted a plus-10 rating and 30 penalty minutes.

 
 
 
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