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Neutral Zone Wrap: Juniors drop the puck

by | Fantasy Writer
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Happy folly-days! Yes, the NHL is officially a joke in your town -- provided your town has a sense of humor and even cares about hockey. But never fear, alternative options are here.

With the big kids fighting over who can stay in the sandbox, the young ones are itching to display their wares in the World Junior Hockey Championship. And thanks to the tournament being held in Russia, us Eastern time-zoners are subjected to 4 a.m. wake-up calls and the inevitable office naps that will follow. For those on the left coast, these games are merely an excuse to stay up late.

The next potential stars are ready and able. But can they carry their country to a medal? Here are the players to keep an eye on in Ufa (not to be confused with the acronym for an unrestricted free-agent). No obvious selections like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Nail Yakupov but also no obscure examples from Latvia's practice squad. And here we go:

Goalies

Andrei Makarov/Andrei Vasilevski, Russia

Hard to differentiate between these two netminders due to similar skill sets, although Vasilevski (at 6-foot-3) provides the bigger target. Some would place Makarov as the backup because he went undrafted in 2012 (while Vasilevski was taken 19th overall by Tampa). More likely than not, the two Andreis will continue to rotate unless one of them ends up stealing the show.

Malcolm Subban, Canada

Just like his older brother P.K. Subban, Malcolm plays an aggressive game. The knock on the Bruins first-rounder may be his inexperience and lack of confidence on the larger ice surface. The Canadian coaching staff might want to see more out of Subban before officially anointing him as their No. 1, but Jordan Binnington may end up earning the starting nod when they drop the puck on Boxing Day.

Also keep an eye on: Patrik Bartosak, Czech Republic; John Gibson, USA; Eetu Laurikainen, Finland

Defense

Seth Jones, USA

The son of former NBAer Popeye Jones has been mentioned as a possible #1 pick in next summer's draft. And when you watch him functioning in top gear, you will understand why. Jones captained the US under-18 side to a gold medal in April, shouldering the load from the back line (eight points and a plus-9 in six games). He'll be counted on heavily to make Americans forget about their seventh-place finish from a year ago.

Hampus Lindholm, Sweden

Want to see why the Ducks picked the slick Swede at the six-spot? While Lindholm's offensive resume isn't impressive (six in 19 in the AHL), his stellar work at both ends has turned a lot of heads. He could possibly bulk up a bit (from 195 pounds) to prepare himself for the day-to-day physicality that will hit him hard when he arrives in the NHL.

Olli Maatta, Finland

Pittsburgh may have gotten the blueline special when they selected Maatta at No. 22 a few months ago. Currently anchoring a dominating London Knights squad, where he has excelled as their power-play quarterback (24 in 32 this season after a combined 55 in 77 during 2011-12). He will undoubtedly continue the same role for the Finns.

Also keep an eye on: Tim Bender, Germany; Mirco Mueller, Switzerland; Morgan Rielly, Canada; Rasmus Ristolainen, Finland

Forwards

Aleksander Barkov, Finland

His heritage may be Russian but the kid's got plenty of Finnish. After all, Barkov saw meaningful minutes at last year's event as a 16-year old (four in seven). And it's not as if he is intimidated by older opponents by sitting in the top-10 in the Finnish Elite League scoring race (with 28 in 32). Expect Barkov to be grabbed in the first five picks this coming June -- and more realistically by No. 3.

Marko Dano, Slovakia

Another 2013 hopeful who is earning rave reviews from the scouts. Perhaps not the biggest or fastest skater you'll see but definitely a wizard when it comes to finding the net (14 goals in 15 total underage contests last year). Will Slovakia medal this time? Probably not. Think this youngster can help his country to a respectable finish? Book it, Dano.

Alex Galchenyuk, USA

Yes, you read that right: Galchenyuk is an American, thanks to Dad having played in Milwaukee during the early 90s. The center may actually be better off without former linemate Yakupov in Sarnia, as he can step out from the shadow and show his immense talent (61 in 33). Whether Galchenyuk can transfer this to the WJHC is yet to be seen, but chances are he'll be a star someday in Montreal.

Mikhail Grigorenko, Russia

Buffalo's first 2012 selection (#12) is arguably the purest offensive talent of the bunch (and no offense to teammate Yakupov) who also uses size and strength (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) to his advantage. Clearly a defensive liability but he is bound to improve. And that hardly matters when you're posting gaudy numbers for Quebec of the QMJHL (50 in 30).

Jonathan Huberdeau, Canada

Nathan MacKinnon may be the talk of the Canuck crew but Huberdeau will be the one racking up the most points for the Red and White. Already having served Canada admirably in the last Under-20 (nine in six) and a killer junior contributor (257 in 195!), he's also not afraid to backcheck when necessary. If he can even hit half of his production when the pros come calling, then the Panthers will be happy.

Elias Lindholm, Sweden

No relation to Hampus; after all, Lindholm is like the Swedish version of Jones (no relation to Seth). Like Barkov, Lindholm is proving teenagers can hold their own with much older skaters (21 in 32 in the top Swedish league). With other more recognizable forwards in camp, he tends to get lost. But that hasn't hurt his draft stock, being projected to go somewhere in the first 10 selections.

Also keep an eye on: Filip Forsberg, Sweden; Martin Frk, Czech Republic; Zemgus Girgensons, Latvia; Rocco Grimaldi, USA; Artturi Lehkonen, Finland; Valeri Nichushkin, Russia; Mark Scheifele, Canada

So who do I like to win? Well, I could say Sweden to repeat but that's not very logical or even realistic. Or I might look at an exciting US lineup and tab them for success. Those Russians possess many dangerous skaters and should be front and center for the final. But I think I will stick to my homeland bias and go with Canada to reclaim its junior crown. Who's in your bracket?

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Player News
Mark Visentin
Coyotes' Visentin (Lower Body) Helped Off Ice
Mark Visentin, G, ARI
9/22/2014
News: Mark Visentin suffered a lower body injury during Sunday's training camp scrimmage.
Analysis: Mark Visentin was helped off of the ice, so it's possible the injury is something fairly serious, but it's too early to tell, as the report did not provide definitive details. Another update should be forthcoming once Visentin is evaluated by the team's medical staff.

Nathan Lieuwen
Sabres Start Lieuwen In Preseason Opener
Nathan Lieuwen, G, BUF
9/22/2014
News: Nathan Lieuwen will start and possibly play the whole game in their preseason opener Sunday against Washington.
Analysis: The Sabres are dressing their two AHL goalies with Nathan Lieuwen and Andrey Makarov. Lieuwen, a sixth-round pick, usurped the starting job from Matt Hackett in Rochester last year until a concussion shut Lieuwen down for the season, paving the way for Makarov to finish as Rochester's starter in the playoffs. Lieuwen finished his AHL season with a .922 save percentage and 17 wins in 32 appearances. Interesting to hear that head coach Ted Nolan will likely play Lieuwen the whole game, sending the message loud and clear that each goalie will get a fair shot and a fair look. It's open season in the organization right now as Lieuwen and Makarov vie for the starting job in Rochester while Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth battle for the big league gig.

Ryan Murray
Jackets' Murray (Knee) Skates Sunday
Ryan Murray, D, CLB
11:36 AM
News: Ryan Murray (knee) was able to skate in practice Sunday, Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: Ryan Murray skated as part of the non-contact group, but this is still good news for his recovery. It appears that he is progressing well, and should be ready well before the regular season.

P.A. Parenteau
Montreal's Parenteau Scores Again
P.A. Parenteau, RW, MON
11:25 AM
News: P.A. Parenteau scored a goal in Sunday's intra-squad scrimmage Sunday, Hockey Inside Out reports.
Analysis: It was the second straight scrimmage that P.A. Parenteau has found the net; he scored twice Saturday. Head coach Michel Therrien has not indicated where he sees a best fit for Parenteau, but the right winger appears headed for a top-6 role.

Daniel Cleary
Detroit's Cleary Feels Healthy Heading Into Fall
Daniel Cleary, RW, DET
8:17 AM
News: Daniel Cleary says his knee problems are behind him and he's ready for a bounceback campaign after his worst season with the Red Wings, MLive.com reports.
Analysis: Daniel Cleary signed for less to stay with Detroit but didn't end up doing much, with only eight points in 52 games. Cleary was a fairly strong producer for the Red Wings for several years, but at 35, is more of a veteran depth winger.

Riley Nash
Canes' Nash Promoted To Second Line In Preseason
Riley Nash, C, CAR
8:06 AM
News: Riley Nash will center the second line between Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm in the Canes' first preseason game Sunday against Columbus, the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
Analysis: This looks to be a temporary assignment for now, as coach Bill Peters has decided to rest Eric Staal against the Jackets, meaning second- and third line centers Jordan Staal and Riley Nash move up in the pecking order. Once the regular season begins, Nash is more likely to be back centering the third line with the likes of Nathan Gerbe and either Patrick Dwyer or Zach Boychuk.

Eric Staal
Canes' Staal To Miss First Preseason Game
Eric Staal, C, CAR
7:54 AM
News: Eric Staal will be held out of the Canes' first preseason game as a precaution, reports the Raleigh News & Observer.
Analysis: According to coach Bill Peters, Eric Staal is not injured, and has not not missed any practice time in camp. However, Staal did have surgery for an abdominal injury this summer, and it sounds like Peters is just being cautious with his star center in the early going. For now, this does not appear to be something that will affect Staal's preseason fantasy value, but it's worth keeping an eye on nonetheless.

Derek Stepan
Rangers' Stepan Day-To-Day With Foot Contusion
Derek Stepan, C, NYR
7:30 AM
News: Derek Stepan has a foot contusion after blocking a shot in practice, and is considered day-to-day, Andrew Gross of The Record reports.
Analysis: Derek Stepan's day-to-day injury designation indicates that this is a minor injury, and should be ready start the regular season. Provided he does return to action soon, this injury should not affect Stepan's fantasy value.

Ryan Johansen
Jackets, Johansen Remain $3 Million Per Year Apart
Ryan Johansen, C, CLB
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News: The latest contract offer from the Ryan Johansen camp, rejected by the Blue Jackets on Thursday, is reportedly for two years and $12 million, the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: That's down a million from their last proposal, which is some sign of progress, but it's still double the Jackets' offer of two years and $6 million. With multiple KHL teams inserting themselves into the mix, including a one year, $5 million offer from CSKA Moscow, things could get very interesting over the next few weeks.

Boone Jenner
Jackets' Jenner Shifting To Center
Boone Jenner, C, CLB
6:28 AM
News: With Ryan Johansen not in training camp due to a contract dispute, Boone Jenner will play center rather than left wing in the Blue Jackets' first exhibition game on Sunday, the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: Boone Jenner was an excellent faceoff man in the junior ranks, so Johansen's absence will be a golden chance for the sophomore to prove he shouldn't be playing on the wing.

 
 
 
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