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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
John Erskine
Caps Move Erskine To IR
John Erskine, D, WAS
10/23/2014
News: Erskien (upper body) was placed on injured reserve Wednesday, Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post reports.
Analysis: The Capitals ruled John Erskine out of the entirety of their three-game road trip to western Canada earlier this week, so the IR move will allow the team to add another defenseman from the minors for depth purposes, if they choose to do so. Erskine had been a healthy scratch for the Capitals in every game even before succumbing to the injury.

Jesse Winchester
Avs' Winchester Gets In Non-Contact Work
Jesse Winchester, C, COL
10/23/2014
News: Jesse Winchester (concussion) has resumed taking part in non-contact drills, the Associated Press reports.
Analysis: Jesse Winchester is still awaiting clearance to participate in full-contact practices, so it's difficult to see him being activated from IR at any point this week. He's been out for three weeks with the head injury.

Ray Emery
Emery Expected To Go Wednesday For Flyers
Ray Emery, G, PHI
10/23/2014
News: Ray Emery is expected to receive the start in goal Wednesday against the Penguins, Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
Analysis: Top goalie Steve Mason has been brutal in five turns this season (0-3-1, 3.83 GAA, .878 save percentage), so opportunity could knock here for Ray Emery if he's able to return in a respectable outing against a tough Penguins squad. Mason's larger contract will probably prevent Emery from displacing him as the team's unquestioned starter, but the backup could possibly take on a larger workload if he can give the Flyers some more stability in goal in his subsequent outings.

Stefan Noesen
Ducks' Noesen (Achilles) Set To Miss Four Months
Stefan Noesen, RW, ANA
10/23/2014
News: The Ducks announced Stefan Noesen is dealing with an Achilles injury and is expected to be sidelined for four months, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: It's yet another devastating injury for the hard-luck Stefan Noesen, who missed nearly all of last season with torn knee ligaments. He had worked his way back from the knee issue to produce three points in his first four games with AHL Norfolk, before suffering his latest long-term setback. The prospect luster is beginning to fade for the 21-year-old former first-round draft choice.

Curtis McElhinney
Jackets' McElhinney Expected To Return Soon
Curtis McElhinney, G, CLB
10/23/2014
News: Curtis McElhinney (head, neck) is feeling better and is expected to rejoin the team later this week, Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: Curtis McElhinney suffered a head injury and was placed on injured reserve on Sunday. As a result, he won't be able to return until the end of the weekend at the earliest, but it's an encouraging sign that he's feeling better, and should travel with the club on their upcoming three-game trip to California beginning Thursday.

Matt Read
Flyers' Read Held Without A Goal Through Six
Matt Read, RW, PHI
10/23/2014
News: Matt Read has no goals and three assists through six games this season.
Analysis: After a 22-goal campaign last season, Matt Read has yet to find the back of the net this year. He should get some more opportunities, as he's been playing on the team's second power-play unit, but for now his slow start should be slightly worrisome.

Marian Gaborik
Kings' Gaborik Remains Out Of Practice
Marian Gaborik, RW, LA
10/23/2014
News: Marian Gaborik (undisclosed) wasn't on the ice for Wednesday's practice, Jon Rosen of LAKingsInsider.com reports.
Analysis: With the Kings hitting the ice Thursday for a game against the Sabres, it's probably safe to rule out Marian Gaborik for a fourth straight game. The team has provided little information regarding the nature or severity of Gaborik's injury, so there's no indication when he might be ready to return to action.

Brad Marchand
Bruins' Marchand Gets First Goal
Brad Marchand, LW, BOS
10/23/2014
News: Brad Marchand scored his first goal of the season in a 5-3 victory over the Sharks on Tuesday.
Analysis: Coach Claude Julien indicated in the preseason that Brad Marchand could see increased action on the power play, a move that paid off Tuesday as his goal came on the man advantage. He logged 16:50 worth of ice time, and now has points in three of the Bruins' last four games after being held off the score sheet in their first four contests.

Michal Neuvirth
Sabres' Neuvirth Expected To Start On Wednesday
Michal Neuvirth, G, BUF
10/23/2014
News: Michal Neuvirth is expected to get the start on Wednesday against the Ducks, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: Michal Neuvirth has appeared in one game this season, incidentally enough, against the Ducks. He didn't fare especially well, giving up five goals on 44 shots in a 5-1 loss Oct. 13. Buffalo has been struggling in all facets of the game this season, but Jhonas Enroth still seems to have a steady hand on the No. 1 gig, even after giving up four goals in his last turn over the weekend. It appears coach Ted Nolan is just looking to rest Enroth for the first game of a back-to-back set.

Tom Wilson
Caps' Wilson Eyeing Oct. 29 Return
Tom Wilson, RW, WAS
10/23/2014
News: Coach Barry Trotz acknowledged Tuesday that Tom Wilson (ankle) could return to the Washington lineup Oct. 29 against the Red Wings, Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post reports.
Analysis: Tom Wilson, who was sent out on a rehab assignment at AHL Hershey on Monday, will play in two minor league games over the weekend, logging top-six minutes in each tilt. If his ankle holds up fine, Wilson will rejoin the Capitals for practice on Monday, when the team returns from its three-game road trip through western Canada. Trotz will then have to decide if he wants to slot Wilson back into his bottom-six, most likely at the expense of Liam O'Brien or Chris Brown.

 
 
 
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