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Neutral Zone Wrap: Who will avoid the jinx?

by | Rotowire.com
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You've been ready for months with stats in hand and hope in heart. But no matter how long you wait or how hard you will the NHL powers to make a deal, the information becomes stale and slowly slips away from conscious memory. We understand how you feel. That's why this column continues amidst the turmoil. To provide the best in Fantasy coverage so everyone stays sharp in anticipation of the first puck drop.

Many phenomena occur in natural existence and you'll find a bunch of them widely used in sports. The sophomore jinx is a concept as old as the earliest post-secondary academic institution. In 2011-12, we saw the likes of Michael Grabner (slipped from 52 down to 32) and Magnus Paajarvi (34 to eight, but part of that was due to injuries) drop off the expectation charts.

The second-year resurrection is almost as common and, frankly, much more interesting to speculate. Think back to last season, when Tyler Seguin (more than tripling from 22 to 67), David Desharnais (22 to 60), and Nick Leddy (seven to 37) turned around disappointing debut campaigns and rewarded those owners who held on to their stock.

While predicting negative trends may look like a worthwhile hobby, you won't see it detailed in this edition. I've never been shy to bash those who could be best described as overrated and/or underperforming. But when it comes down to it, the idea of boosting rookie morale proves to be a more appealing proposition. And with all the bad vibes surrounding the lockout negotiations, wouldn't it be nice to look at something a little more positive?

Here are the top candidates to break through in their second season, whenever this crazy game resumes. No one who was featured in any of the previous installments will be mentioned, although only Roman Horak and Nino Niederreiter (or possibly Jonathon Blum) would qualify amongst last season's so-called busts. Most of these skaters lasted the bulk of the season in the bigs and some recorded significant ice time. The following is based purely on hearsay and hunches. Fine, and a few pieces of real information for show:

Brett Connolly, F, Lightning: The sixth pick of the 2010 draft has already logged 68 NHL games (but only 15 points) and is tearing it up in the AHL (12 points in 14 games). You'd think there would be no room for Connolly among the glut of Tampa forwards, but the 6-foot-2 sniper can work as the perfect complement for either Steven Stamkos or Vincent Lecavalier.

Ryan Johansen, F, Blue Jackets: The perpetually rebuilding Blue Jackets finally said goodbye to Rick Nash and can now safely look to the future. One of their cornerstones up front looks to be Johansen, who is putting together a nice starting resume in Springfield (10 in 14 after 21 in 67 with Columbus). He's another member of the stellar draft class of 2010 (at No. 4 overall) and someone who isn't afraid to outmuscle and outhustle the opposition to make life easier for his teammates.

Adam Larsson, D, Devils: The Swedish phenom was inserted almost immediately into a regular role after arriving from Europe but ended up struggling on the defensive side. His point totals ended up suffering (18 is respectable, although most of them were concentrated in a four-week stretch) as his shifts dwindled and he disappeared during the Devils' Cup run. But thanks to offseason training and his current success (eight in 13 with Albany), Larsson should be more at ease on the smaller rink.

Marco Scandella, D, Wild: Betcha didn't know Scandella ranked second last year in rookie defensemen minutes per game (21:46, only behind Justin Faulk at 22:50). He earned a fair share on the man-advantage last season (six power-play points) as other Wild regulars went down/out. The good news is that Scandella is continuing this role adequately in the AHL (six of his nine assists are power-play points) and should increase his value with the parent club - even with mega-millions winner Ryan Suter in the fold.

Brayden Schenn, F, Flyers: The numbers weren't terrible in 2011-12 (18 in 54) but the playoff figures (nine in 11, which include two power-play goals) point to Schenn improving the second time around. He has showed off his wheels and playmaking skills (nine goals, 11 assists) in the AHL. And if Claude Giroux's ‘neck' injury turns out to be something worse (like, say, a concussion), then expect Schenn to rise to the occasion. Having older brother Luke join him in town won't hurt his chances either.

I don't really want to delve too deep into the lockout because, well, you are probably as frustrated as I am. The outlook appeared promising from the onset but it has steadily deteriorated in the subsequent weeks. Let's just say a deal is difficult to properly work out if one side doesn't know what the other side really wants. I'd characterize this whole situation as ridiculous but that description clearly doesn't do it justice. How many more steps back must it take to finally bridge the gap and reach a resolution?

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Player News
Braden Holtby
Caps' Holtby Pulled In First Period Saturday
Braden Holtby, G, WAS
3/29/2015
News: Braden Holtby surrendered three goals on thirteen shots, and was pulled late in the first period of Washington's 4-3 loss to the Predators on Saturday.
Analysis: It was a poor outing for Braden Holtby, who had won four of his last five starts heading into Saturday's match against the Predators, a powerhouse in the Western Conference. The decision to pull him early in the game likely means he will be called upon to start Sunday's crucial showdown with the Metropolitan Division leading Rangers, but check before game time to confirm the start. Despite the poor performance, Holtby owns a sterling 36-19-9 record, with a 2.18 GAA and .925 save percentage, on the season.

Jonas Hiller
Flames Turn To Hiller On Sunday
Jonas Hiller, G, CGY
3/29/2015
News: Jonas Hiller will be in the net Sunday against the Predators.
Analysis: Jonas Hiller has been the forgotten man in goal of late for the Flames, but he'll have a chance to stake his claim to the No. 1 gig with a strong outing against the Predators. Coach Bob Hartley has shown a tendency to ride the hot hand this season, and with Ramo's ratios starting to flat line, opportunity knocks for Hiller, who has a 21-18-4 record and 2.44 GAA this season.

Patrick Kane
Hawks' Kane Still On Target For Return
Patrick Kane, RW, CHI
3/29/2015
News: Patrick Kane, who is out with a broken clavicle, is still on track to return by the Western Conference Finals in the Stanley Cup playoffs if the Blackhawks get that far, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
Analysis: The original diagnosis was that Patrick Kane would miss 12 weeks that put his return by the Western Conference Finals. Blackhawks' coach Joel Quenneville though sort of left open the door that he could return earlier. Kane has recently been skating on his own so it has spurred some optimism in the Blackhawks' camp that he will return before the conference finals.

Brandon Sutter
Pens' Sutter Exits With Injury
Brandon Sutter, C, PIT
3/29/2015
News: Brandon Sutter exited Saturday's game against the Coyotes in the third period with an injury, Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Analysis: With only a few minutes left in the match, it appears unlikely that Brandon Sutter will return. He's the second player to exit for the Penguins, after defenseman Kris Letang was removed from the game in the second period following a hit into the boards. Sutter should be viewed as day-to-day heading into Sunday's match against the Sharks.

Trevor Daley
Stars' Daley Back In Saturday
Trevor Daley, D, DAL
3/29/2015
News: Trevor Daley (knee) will return to the lineup Saturday against the Canucks, Elliott Pap of the Vancouver Sun reports.
Analysis: It will be Trevor Daley's first game since March 3, when he suffered a knee injury following a hit from the Isles' Matt Martin. While his return probably comes too late to help the Stars chase down a wild-card spot in the Western Conference, Daley should bolster many fantasy rosters with postseason play underway in many leagues. Despite the missed time, Daley's 16 goals still rank him tied for third among all NHL defensemen.

Jason Garrison
Bolts Rule Out Garrison With Upper-Body Injury
Jason Garrison, D, TB
3/29/2015
News: Jason Garrison was ruled out from returning to Saturday's game against the Red Wings due to an upper-body injury, Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times reports.
Analysis: Jason Garrison skated just two shifts and logged 0:41 of ice time before departing. He should be considered questionable ahead of Monday's game in Montreal until the Lightning issue further word on the severity of his injury.

Markus Granlund
Flu Keep Flames' Granlund Out Of Practice
Markus Granlund, C, CGY
3/29/2015
News: Markus Granlund missed Saturday's practice due to a case of the flu.
Analysis: The illness could put Markus Granlund at missing Sunday's game against the Predators. Josh Jooris centered the Flames' third line at practice with Granlund unavailable.

Kris Letang
Pens' Letang Departs With Injury Saturday
Kris Letang, D, PIT
3/29/2015
News: Kris Letang left Saturday's game in the second period after he was hit into the end boards by the Coyotes' Shane Doan, Shelly Anderson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Analysis: The Penguins haven't ruled Kris Letang out of the game yet, but that seems like a safe conclusion after he was unable to skate off the ice on his own. It appeared that Letang's head backed into the boards on the hit, so the blueliner will undoubtedly be evaluated for a concussion, among other possible injuries. Penguins tough guy Steve Downie quickly got in a skirmish with Doan shortly after play resumed, but that won't make up for any potential absence for Letang, who entered Saturday ranked in a tie for second among all NHL blueliners with 54 points in 68 games.

Cedric Paquette
Lightning's Paquette Not Ruled Out For Monday
Cedric Paquette, C, TB
5:07 PM
News: Cedric Paquette does not have a fracture in his leg, but it's still unclear whether he'll be able to play Monday against Montreal, Reynaud Lavoie of TVA Sports reports.
Analysis: Cedric Paquette suffered the injury while trying to save an empty net goal late in Saturday's game. He has not been ruled out for Monday's game at this point, but the situation should become more clear as puck drop approaches.

Tanner Glass
Rangers' Glass Fined For Butt-Ending Bruins Player
Tanner Glass, LW, NYR
5:06 PM
News: Tanner Glass has been fined $3,897.85, the maximum allowed under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, for butt-ending Boston's Adam McQuaid during a melee at the end of Saturday's game, according to NHL's Department of Player Safety.
Analysis: He received a major penalty and a game misconduct during the game and the league was quick to hand down the fine.

 
 
 
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