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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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Jason Williams
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Jason Williams, RW, PIT
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Analysis: Jason Williams, 33, last appeared at the NHL level in 2011-12 with the Penguins. He spent the last two seasons with Ambri-Piotta in the Swiss Elite League, charting 34 goals and 30 assists over 79 total games. He'll attempt to parlay his AHL contract into a call-up to the Oilers, but his age will certainly work against him.

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Analysis: Nicolas Deschamps was non-tendered by the Capitals earlier this offseason, after scoring 15 goals and adding 25 assists over 65 games with AHL Hershey last season. The 24-year-old cited a desire to avoid the uncertain nature of a two-way deal as his primary reason for heading overseas, but he does hope to return to North America at some point later in his career.

Keaton Ellerby
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Keaton Ellerby, D, WPG
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Analysis: The Jets didn't extend a qualifying offer to Keaton Ellerby after the season ended, but elected to bring the 25-year-old back in unrestricted free agency to shore up some depth on defense. The blue liner has dealt with much tumult on the personal front this season after three of his extended family members were murdered, which understandably explains why he took until late July to sign with a team. Ellerby is expected to be available once training camp starts, but the Jets will likely be willing to grant him additional time off he might need while coping with the tragedy.

Brandon Burlon
Devils Re-Sign Burlon To Two-Year, Two-Way Deal
Brandon Burlon, D, NJ
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News: Brandon Burlon re-signed with the Devils on a two-year, two-way contract Monday, Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record reports.
Analysis: Brandon Burlon saw the ice in 54 games at AHL Albany last season, charting five goals and six assists. He has yet to make his NHL debut, but the two-way contract will help better facilitate a promotion should it be warranted at some point.

Derek Smith
Former Flames D-Man Smith Signs With Swiss Club
Derek Smith, D, CGY
7/28/2014
News: Derek Smith signed a one-year contract with the Zürcher Schlittschuh Club of the Swiss National League A on Monday.
Analysis: The 29-year-old Derek Smith was non-tendered by the Flames in the offseason, after totaling one point and a minus-10 rating in 14 games with the parent club last season. The one-year deal will allow Smith to return to North America next season, if he so chooses.

Jake Dowell
Canadiens Sign Dowell To AHL Deal
Jake Dowell, C, MIN
7/28/2014
News: Jake Dowell signed a one-year deal with AHL Hamilton on Monday.
Analysis: Jake Dowell, 29, made one NHL appearance with the Wild last season, spending the bulk of his season with AHL Iowa. He registered 19 points and 56 PIM over 57 games with Iowa, and will function as organizational depth for the Canadiens.

Brandon Segal
Free Agent Segal Signs With KHL Squad
Brandon Segal, RW, WAS
7/28/2014
News: Brandon Segal has signed with Medvescak Zagreb of the KHL.
Analysis: Brandon Segal, 31, totaled 17 goals and 27 assists over 63 games with AHL Hershey last season. He's appeared in just 103 NHL games since he was selected in the fourth round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by the Predators.

Matt Watkins
Ex-Capital Watkins Signs With Austrian Club
Matt Watkins, RW, WAS
7/28/2014
News: Matt Watkins signed a one-year contract with the Vienna Capitals of the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga, the top league in Austria, Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post reports.
Analysis: After spending all of last season at AHL Hershey in the Washington organization, Matt Watkins will hop across the Atlantic to join a club that also bills itself as the Capitals. The 27-year-old totaled 27 points in 73 games with Hershey in 2013-14.

Ruslan Fedotenko
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Ruslan Fedotenko, LW, PHI
7/28/2014
News: Ruslan Fedotenko, who signed a three-year, $9 million contract with HC Donbass of the KHL last summer, is looking to return to the NHL for the upcoming season, the Toronto Star reports.
Analysis: HC Donbass, the only Ukrainian team in the KHL, will go on a sabbatical for the upcoming season in light of the ongoing political tumult between Ukraine and Russia, which was recent escalated following the downing of a civilian jet on July 17, resulting in 298 deaths. While the rest of the KHL is expected to proceed operations as normal despite the increasing unrest in the region, several players from Donbass are expected to defect elsewhere, with Ruslan Fedotenko representing the most recognizable name on the roster. The 35-year-old, who scored four goals and nine assists in 47 games with the Flyers in 2012-13, has already had "discussions with multiple NHL teams," according to his agent. Fedotenko would likely be ticketed for no better than a bottom-six role with any NHL club, should he eventually find his way back in the league.

Dana Tyrell
Jackets Re-Sign Tyrell To One-Year, Two-Way Deal
Dana Tyrell, C, CLB
7/28/2014
News: Dana Tyrell re-signed with the Blue Jackets on Monday, inking a one-year, two-way deal.
Analysis: Dana Tyrell spent the bulk of last season in the AHL, splitting time between the Springfield Falcons and Syracuse Crunch. In 63 total games, he recorded 15 goals and 18 assists. Tyrell also made a brief cameo with the Tampa Bay Lightning, appearing in seven contests. Acquired from Tampa Bay in March, Tyrell figures to spend parts of next season in both the NHL and AHL.

 
 
 
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