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Neutral Zone Wrap: Don't sleep on these guys

by | Rotowire.com
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We're roughly 60 percent to 65 percent of the way through the schedule and you're looking to improve your chances of winning and/or securing a playoff position. You can sit around and wait for the right player(s) to fall into your lap. Or you can be proactive and seek out that last skater or two to help round out your roster.

Before the season, this column discussed projected sleepers. The ones who had either endured an off-year, returned from significant injury, had been forgotten about, or gained status through opportunity. Through the magic of topicality and redundancy, we can repeat the same topic but (of course) look ahead at similar ventures for the remainder of the schedule.

Many players have definitely underachieved to date, while others literally haven't had a leg to stand on. The benefit of sucking for a while would be that the resulting expectations are lower than normal. So when others have given up on these downtrodden folks, then that's your cue to pick up the pieces. (WARNING: Like I have to mention this, but not everyone who has performed poorly would be worthy of being acquired. And yes, also remember not to ingest tickets.)

Who should you target for the final block to make that glorious climb to the top (or safe standing)? Who will show enough signs of improvement or what notable names have been recalled/returned to warrant ditching others? Here's the short list. No goalies, but that's usually the case at this stage when the available choices are few and the stakes -- for both you and the actual organizations -- are high:

(Stats through Thursday, March 21)

Zach Bogosian, D, Jets: Tobias Enstrom (shoulder strain, gone since mid-February) may have resumed skating with the club but that won't stop Bogosian from enjoying the super Swede's spot for a little while longer. Bogosian went through extensive rehab after offseason wrist surgery, so it's a small miracle he can contribute in any way. It wasn't as if he was lacking in opportunities but the last few have allowed more meaningful minutes (three-game point streak, including one where he racked up 17 PIM) and bonus duty on the power play.

Lars Eller, F, Canadiens: When the Habs were essentially forced to deal Jaroslav Halak a couple years ago, they received two young forwards from St. Louis. One of them was Eller, a 2007 first-round selection with a solid defensive reputation. While the Dane has been key in keeping top opponents at bay, he has recently displayed some sweet stats (seven in 10). Eller's hard work in all areas has earned him increased activity and a prime position in Montreal's surprisingly state-of-the-art system.

Jake Gardiner, D, Maple Leafs: Jake Gardiner has been released into the general population and Fantasy owners could not be happier. While the 22-year old defenseman has only notched one point since being called up (but did skate over 43 minutes over the two), it won't be long until the Minnesota native makes a sizable dent on the Leafs' scoresheet. After suffering a concussion in December, it took Gardiner a couple months to step back on the ice but he continued where he left off in 2011-12 (31 in 43 in the AHL after 30 in 75 with the big boys). His propensity for risk-taking may not be popular with the coaches, but it'll do just fine for those of you in Roto leagues.

Scott Gomez, F, Sharks: Remember when people were making jokes about Gomez's goal-scoring drought last year? Well, this Alaskan may never have served as a sniper in his NHL career, but he's definitely earning more respect since being signed by San Jose in late January. Currently centering the third line but sporting a five-game point streak (eight overall this month, including three PPAs). The other areas may be lacking (minus-10, low in physical categories) but he's still a serviceable forward in a standard 12-team setup.

Tyler Johnson, F, Lightning: Nothing against either Ondrej Palat or the still-relegated Brett Connolly, but Johnson is clearly the one the Lightning were itching to insert into the lineup. Based on their track record with skilled short forwards who just happen to be undrafted (Martin St. Louis, Cory Conacher), it was only a matter of time before the ex-Spokane star got the call-up. When he left for Tampa, Johnson's AHL numbers were staggering (58 in 59, including a league-leading 32 goals). He has extended this run with the Bolts (four in four), even as he's not being implemented in most situations and centers the fourth line.

Magnus Paajarvi, F, Oilers: The 10th pick of the 2009 draft has endured several speed bumps since arriving on the North American scene. And while the team ended up cutting his minutes or demoting him, Paajarvi has maintained his professionalism. The first half wasn't much to talk about (two in 15) but in the last few weeks, MPS has been allowed to shine. Those slick moves and smooth hands now have a purpose and the latest results prove that (six in nine, plus-4, with the latest a 21:35 appearance). The youngster is still only 21, so his talent could take him in either direction. For now, let's hope for the upside.

Tyler Toffoli, F, Kings: Like the other Tyler in this column, Toffoli's offensive skills have only been nurtured in lower leagues to date. So there's no rushing the former OHL scoring champ into a regular role with the Kings. The kid's first professional campaign should be deemed a success (48 in 55 with Manchester) but there's so much more room to grow (two in three to start in LA, including his first goal - but also benched Thursday night). With the Cup holders deep down the middle, Toffoli should be able to find the net a few more times before the regular season concludes.

Honorable mention: Josh Bailey, F, Islanders; Marcus Johansson, F, Capitals; Joni Pitkanen, D, Hurricanes; Andrew Shaw, F, Blackhawks; Jakob Silfverberg, F, Senators; Jared Spurgeon, D, Wild; Ryan Whitney, D, Oilers.

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Player News
Frederik Andersen
Ducks' Andersen Struggles Again
Frederik Andersen, G, ANA
1:16 AM
News: Frederik Andersen allowed four goals on 22 shots in Wednesday's Game 6 loss in Chicago.
Analysis: Although this was Frederik Andersen's first regulation loss of the postseason, questions have arisen regarding his play in the past few games. Andersen is sporting a weak .856 save percentage in the past three contests against the Blackhawks, where he's been beaten 13 times. While Andersen is not necessarily in danger of losing the crease, he will certainly need to turn in a better performance if his Ducks are to have any hope of winning Saturday's decisive Game 7.

Lubomir Visnovsky
Isles' Visnovsky Not Signing In Europe
Lubomir Visnovsky, D, NYI
5/27/2015
News: Lubomir Visnovsky's agent has refuted a report that his client will sign to play in Europe next season, according to Newsday's Arthur Staple.
Analysis: Perhaps Lubomir Visnovsky has had a change of heart about leaving the best league in the world or perhaps this is just a negotiating ploy. Either way it would still seem unlikely that the Isles would be interested in his services as they have quite a few young players in their pipeline that deserve the playing time and don't have anywhere near the injury history of Visnovsky.

Anders Lee
Lee And Isles Have Yet To Begin Negotiations
Anders Lee, C, NYI
5/27/2015
News: The Islanders and Anders Lee have yet to begin negotiations on a new contract, according to Newsday's Arthur Staple.
Analysis: While signing Anders Lee is important for the Islanders, he is a restricted free agent and thus unlikely to get an offer that would force the Islanders hand. They will sign Lee eventually, but he is not a priority at this point in time.

Michael Grabner
Isles' Grabner Has Hernia Surgery
Michael Grabner, RW, NYI
5/27/2015
News: Michael Grabner has had hernia surgery this off-season, according to Newsday's Arthur Staple.
Analysis: This is the second hernia surgery Michael Grabner will have undergone since the start of the 2014-15 season. Grabner was a constant scratch this season whether healthy or not as he just seemed to be constantly in coach Jack Capuano's doghouse. The coming season will likely be his last in an Islanders uniform.

David Rundblad
Hawks' Rundblad Expected To Draw In For Game 6
David Rundblad, D, CHI
5/27/2015
News: David Rundblad is expected to play Wednesday in place of Kimmo Timonen for Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago reports.
Analysis: David Rundblad is taking warmups and is likely to be paired with Johnny Oduya for Game 6. He hasn't played in this series since Game 1, where he was on the ice for one goal-against as the Blackhawks dropped the series opener.

Corey Crawford
Blackhawks' Crawford To Start Game 6
Corey Crawford, G, CHI
5/27/2015
News: Corey Crawford will get the start Wednesday for Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago reports.
Analysis: Corey Crawford will remain in net for Game 6 after Monday's rough outing where he allowed five goals on 28 shots. With Chicago facing elimination, Crawford will need to slow down Anaheim's prolific attack to force a Game 7.

Kimmo Timonen
Blackhawks Expected To Pull Timonen From Lineup
Kimmo Timonen, D, CHI
5/27/2015
News: Kimmo Timonen appears to be headed to the press box for Wednesday's Game 6 against the Ducks, Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune reports.
Analysis: The Blackhawks acquired Kimmo Timonen at the trade deadline with the hope that he'd provide the team with some added scoring punch from the blue line, but he's been a total bust. While it didn't help matters that he missed the first five months of the season while recovering from blood clots, Timonen just hasn't rounded into shape the way the Blackhawks imagined. In his 31 games with Chicago spanning the regular season and playoffs, Timonen has yet to record a single point and has become a defensive liability on the back end. With the Blackhawks facing elimination, it looks like Quenneville will make the tough choice to bench the accomplished veteran and turn to David Rundblad on the defensive pairing next to Brent Seabrook.

Trevor van Riemsdyk
Blackhawks' Van Riemsdyk Not In For Game 6
Trevor van Riemsdyk, D, CHI
5/27/2015
News: Van Riemsdyk (wrist) will not enter the lineup for Wednesday's Game 6 against the Ducks, NHL.com's Brian Hedger reports.
Analysis: While it appears coach Joel Quenneville will adjust his defensive ranks with the Blackhawks facing elimination, it's David Rundblad -- not Trevor van Riemsdyk -- that is in line to replace the struggling Kimmo Timonen. Though van Riemsdyk is probably the more talented of the two players, it's still risky to the throw him back in the lineup after he's barely seen any competitive action over the last six months. He'll continue to work out with the team over the next few days, but don't count on van Riemsdyk warranting consideration for playing until perhaps the Stanley Cup Finals.

Anton Stralman
Bolts' Stralman Nabs Power-Play Assist In Game 6
Anton Stralman, D, TB
5/27/2015
News: Anton Stralman assisted on Ryan Callahan's first-period power-play goal in Tuesday's Game 6 loss to the Rangers.
Analysis: Anton Stralman delivered a beautiful outlet pass to Callahan to trim the Bolts' deficit to 2-1, but it wasn't nearly enough to keep pace with the Rangers, who rode the sensational play of Derick Brassard to a 7-3 victory. Both of Stralman's points in the series against his former team have come in the last two games.

Tanner Glass
Rangers' Glass Registers Assist In Game 6
Tanner Glass, LW, NYR
5/27/2015
News: Tanner Glass recorded an assist in Tuesday's Game 6 win over the Lightning.
Analysis: It's the first point in 18 playoff games for Tanner Glass, who has deferred most offensive responsibilities to the Rangers' top-six forwards. Instead, Glass is relied upon to dish out punishment and kill penalties, a role which seems fairly solidified this deep into the postseason.

 
 
 
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