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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
Brooks Orpik
Caps' Orpik Undergoes Wrist Surgery
Brooks Orpik, D, WAS
7/28/2015
News: Brooks Orpik underwent a successful surgery on his wrist on Tuesday.
Analysis: Brooks Orpik is expected to resume full workout activities in approximately two weeks, and should be ready to go by the time the puck drops for the Capitals' regular season opener. It sounds as though the veteran defender isn't in danger of missing any time once the season gets underway, but the Capitals should provide an update on his status closer to the start of the regular season. Orpik doesn't offer much in the way of offensive upside, but led all defensemen with 306 hits and ranked fourth with 192 blocked shots.

Sven Baertschi
Baertschi Inks One-Year Deal With Canucks
Sven Baertschi, LW, VAN
7/28/2015
News: Sven Baertschi signed a one-year (one-way), $900,000 contract with the Canucks on Tuesday, Sportsnet's Irfaan Gaffar reports.
Analysis: Sven Baertschi played well with AHL Utica last season, registering 40 points (15 goals, 25 assists) in 51 games with the team. The 22-year old also suited up for 18 regular season games at the NHL level in 2014-15, tallying six points (two goals, four assists) in those contests. He will get a chance to compete for a roster spot with the big club in training camp. If Baertschi is able to lock down a roster spot with the Canucks in training camp, he will likely slot into a bottom-six role with the team.

Sean Couturier
Couturier Signs Six-Year Extension With Flyers
Sean Couturier, C, PHI
7/28/2015
News: Sean Couturier signed a six-year, $26 million contract extension with the Flyers on Tuesday, Sportsnet's Chris Johnston reports.
Analysis: Sean Couturier hasn't developed into the front-line talent that seemed to be his destiny after he recorded 27 points in 77 games as a 20-year-old, but he's been a steady, two-way player for the Flyers the last two years. He finished with 15 goals and 22 assists while suiting up in all 82 games in 2014-15, and should be back to serve as the team's third-line center once again.

Adam Clendening
Canucks Deal Clendening To Pittsburgh
Adam Clendening, D, VAN
7/28/2015
News: Adam Clendening was traded to the Penguins on Tuesday.
Analysis: The Canucks have agreed to send Adam Clendening, Nick Bonino and a 2016 second-round pick to Pittsburgh in exchange for Brandon Sutter and a conditional third-round pick. Clendening, 22, is coming off a season in which he appeared in 21 total NHL games -- 17 for the Canucks and four for the Blackhawks. The 2011 second-round pick cumulatively tallied one goal and three assists.

Nick Bonino
Canucks Send Bonino To Pittsburgh
Nick Bonino, C, VAN
7/28/2015
News: Nick Bonino was traded to the Penguins on Tuesday.
Analysis: The Canucks will send Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening, and a 2016 second-round pick to the Penguins in exchange for Brandon Sutter and a third-round pick. Bonino had 15 goals and 24 assists in 75 contests for Vancouver in 2015, and he tallied a goal and a pair of assists in six playoff games. He'll likely be plugged in as the Penguins' third-line center, assuming Sutter's old spot.

Brandon Sutter
Pens Trade Sutter To Canucks
Brandon Sutter, C, PIT
7/28/2015
News: Brandon Sutter was traded to the Canucks on Tuesday.
Analysis: The Penguins will send Brandon Sutter and a third-round pick to Vancouver in exchange for Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening, and a 2016 second-round pick. Sutter notched 33 points and 14 penalty minutes in 80 games for the Pens last season. In five playoff contests, Sutter recorded a goal and an assist to go with a minus-1 rating. He's expected to center the Canucks' second or third line in 2015-16.

Eric Fehr
Pens Sign Fehr To Three-Year Deal
Eric Fehr, RW, PIT
7/28/2015
News: Eric Fehr signed a three-year deal with the Penguins on Tuesday, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: The deal will keep Eric Fehr in Pittsburgh through the 2017-18 campaign and has an annual value of roughly $2 million. The 29-year-old spent last season with the Capitals, where he accrued 33 points (19 goals) to go with a plus-8 rating. Fehre underwent elbow surgery in early-June and was given an initial timetable of 4-to-6 months, so it's possible he won't be ready for the start of training camp.

Noah Hanifin
Hanifin To Get Chance At Cracking Canes' Roster
Noah Hanifin, D, CAR
7/27/2015
News: Carolina GM Ron Francis said that Noah Hanifin will receive consideration for opening the season with the parent club, the Raleigh News & Observer reports. "We don't want to force him [up to the NHL] if he's not ready," Francis said. "We'll give him time to develop. I'm certainly not ruling [making Carolina's opening roster] out, but we want to be careful and make sure we do what's right for Noah."
Analysis: Noah Hanifin, the fifth overall pick in June's NHL Entry Draft, made the surprise decision to sign an entry-level contract with the Hurricanes two weeks after being selected, thereby foregoing the remaining three years of his eligibility at Boston College. While an assignment of an 18-year-old defenseman to the NHL isn't unprecedented, Hanifin isn't quite on the same level as Florida's Aaron Ekblad, who achieved the rare "exceptional player" status during his time in the OHL before capturing the Calder Trophy last season. The 6-foot-3, 207-pound Hanifin profiles as a top-tier, two-way defenseman in the long run, but he still needs some further refinement, particularly on the offensive end. He should be the Canes' top defenseman before long, though it's more likely he'll spend most of 2015-16 developing at AHL Charlotte.

Carl Soderberg
Avs' Soderberg Could Center Second Line
Carl Soderberg, C, COL
7/27/2015
News: Carl Soderberg is expected to center Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon on the Avs' second line during the upcoming season, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Carl Soderberg was the Avs' most high-profile acquisition of the offseason, with the team acquiring the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent on June 25 and signing him to a lucrative five-year extension before he could reach the open market. The amount of money committed to Soderberg along with the departure of Ryan O'Reilly should open up a fruitful role for the Swedish pivot, as he's have the luxury of skating next to two of the league's last four Calder Trophy winners. If that line arrangement indeed materializes, Soderberg -- who averaged 46 points during his two seasons with the Bruins -- could make a run at 60 points.

Joey Hishon
Hishon Inks One-Year Deal With Avalanche
Joey Hishon, C, COL
7/27/2015
News: Joey Hishon signed a one-year contract with the Avalanche on Monday.
Analysis: Joey Hishon suited up for 13 games with the Avalanche last season, managing to tally two points (one goal, one assist) in those contests. He fared better with AHL Lake Erie, registering 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists) in 53 games with the team. The 23-year-old will get a chance to compete for a roster spot with the big club in training camp.

 
 
 
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