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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
Jack Skille
Jackets' Skille Scores Fifth Of Season
Jack Skille, RW, CLB
4:08 AM
News: Jack Skille scored his fifth goal of the season in Saturday's win over the Blackhawks.
Analysis: Jack Skille now has five goals and six points in 28 games, to go with a minus-7 rating. Skating on the third line, the 27-year-old appears destined to reach the 10-goal mark for the first time in his career. Not known as a key offensive contributor, Skille should only be owned in the deepest of leagues.

Patrick Sharp
Hawks' Sharp Snipes Fifth Of Season
Patrick Sharp, LW, CHI
4:03 AM
News: Patrick Sharp sniped his fifth goal of the season and recorded a game-high seven shots on goal in Saturday's loss to Columbus.
Analysis: A dominant outing from Patrick Sharp, who has now collected two goals in his past three games, recording 14 shots on goal in that span. Sharp may currently be skating on the third line, but he is playing on the top power-play unit and will likely be moved back into the top-six soon. The 32-year-old has put 12 points in 19 games on the season, making him a reliable fantasy option on a Hawks team sitting second in the Western Conference.

Sergei Bobrovsky
Jackets' Bobrovsky Makes 39 Saves In Win
Sergei Bobrovsky, G, CLB
2:27 AM
News: Sergei Bobrovsky was outstanding Saturday against Chicago, stopping 39 of 41 shots in regulation, before denying eight of nine Blackhawks' shooters in the shootout for a 3-2 victory.
Analysis: After allowing five goals in a loss to Washington Thursday, Sergei Bobrovsky got right back on track Saturday, shutting down a Blackhawks team that had won 10 of their last 11 games. The 26-year-old has now won eight of his last nine game, with Thursday's loss to Washington marking the only time in December the Russian has allowed more than three goals in a game. He's an automatic roll every night he gets the call.

Corey Crawford
Hawks' Crawford Suffers Loss In Return To Action
Corey Crawford, G, CHI
2:13 AM
News: Corey Crawford returned to action Saturday, stopping 17 of 19 shots in regulation, before losing in a shootout to the Blue Jackets.
Analysis: It wasn't a bad outing for Corey Crawford, who stood out in the shootout, allowing only two goals on nine attempts. The 29-year-old is now 12-5-2 on the season with a .927 save percentage and 1.87 GAA. Now that he's healthy, Crawford needs to be in your lineup every night he's in action, as the Blackhawks are one of the league's best teams, sitting second in the Western Conference with 46 points.

Derick Brassard
Rangers' Brassard Will Play Saturday
Derick Brassard, C, NYR
12:52 AM
News: Derick Brassard (illness) will play Saturday against the Hurricanes, Andrew Gross of The Record reports.
Analysis: Coach Alain Vigneault signed off on Derick Brassard's return after he was able to take part in the team's morning skate. The center missed the Rangers' last two contests with the mumps virus.

Ryan Carter
Wild Activate Carter (Upper Body)
Ryan Carter, C, MIN
12:50 AM
News: Ryan Carter (upper body) was activated from injured reserve Saturday, Rachel Blount of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: After missing the Wild's previous three games, Ryan Carter was cleared to return after practicing Friday. He'll be reinserted on the fourth line for Saturday's game against the Predators.

Jonathan Quick
Kings Tap Quick For Saturday Start
Jonathan Quick, G, LA
12:48 AM
News: Jonathan Quick led the Kings on to the ice for pregame warmups and will thus get the start Saturday against the Coyotes, Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News reports.
Analysis: Jonathan Quick will likely be a heavy favorite to come away with the victory against a Coyotes squad that has lost eight of its last 10 games, with its lone two wins during that stretch coming against the sad-sack Oilers. The netminder hasn't been particularly sharp lately, so this should represent a good bounce-back opportunity for him.

Matt Cooke
Wild's Cooke (Hip) Activated For Saturday's Game
Matt Cooke, LW, MIN
12:44 AM
News: Matt Cooke (hip) was activated from injured reserve Saturday and will suit up against the Predators, Rachel Blount of the Minneapolis Stat Tribune reports.
Analysis: He'll replace Justin Fontaine in the lineup, joining Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter on the Wild's third line. Matt Cooke last played on Oct. 28 before missing the last 22 games with a hip flexor.

Jonas Hiller
Flames To Start Hiller Saturday
Jonas Hiller, G, CGY
12:31 AM
News: Jonas Hiller will get the start in net Saturday, Scott Cruickshank of the Calgary Herald reports.
Analysis: Jonas Hiller and the Flames have hit the skids in December, as Calgary has lost seven straight and Hiller has lost six in a row. Until they right the ship, Hiller should be avoided, especially with his mates giving him a grand total of four goals combined in his last four outings.

Jake Allen
Allen, Blues Looking For Road Victory
Jake Allen, G, STL
12:16 AM
News: Jake Allen will be between the pipes Saturday against the Sharks, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Analysis: Things have started to turn ugly for Jake Allen here in December, despite the fact that he's won each of his last three starts. He's posted a horrid .884 save percentage in five outings this month, which has resulted in him yielding more work to Martin Brodeur than anticipated. Still, with a powerful offense and strong defense supporting him, the wins should keep coming rather steadily for the struggling netminder.

 
 
 
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