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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
Jonathan Bernier
Bernier, Leafs Rach Two-Year Agreement
Jonathan Bernier, G, TOR
8/2/2015
News: Jonathan Bernier and the Maple Leafs came to terms Sunday on a two-year, $8.3 million contract, thus avoiding an arbitration ruling, Chris Johnston of Sportsnet reports.
Analysis: It initially looked like the two parties were too far apart to agree on a deal, but they were able to find common ground near the midpoint and avoid the risk of an arbitration decision. The deal is closer to Jonathan Bernier's proposed figure, but the second year buys out a year of free agency. Bernier is coming off a disappointing 2014-15 campaign, during which he saw his numbers drop in the wins (21), GAA (2.87), and save percentage (.912) categories from the season prior.

Erik Haula
Wild, Haula Reach Agreement On New Deal
Erik Haula, LW, MIN
8/2/2015
News: Erik Haula signed a two-year, $2 million contract with the Wild on Sunday, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Rather than take their contract dispute to court, Erik Haula and the team were able to come to terms on a new agreement before the arbitration case was slated to be heard. Haula, who was the last of the Wild's unrestricted free agents, is now expected to be penciled in as the team's fourth-line center to open the upcoming campaign.

Brandon Sutter
Canucks, Sutter Closing In On Big Deal
Brandon Sutter, C, VAN
8/1/2015
News: Brandon Sutter and the Canucks are closing in on a contract extension that could be worth more than $20 million over five years, reports Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada.
Analysis: Orca's general manager Jim Benning wasn't kidding when he described Brandon Sutter as a 'foundational' piece for his club. At that cash, the Orcas must believe Sutter is the solution for their second-line woes. He's been a No. 3 guy through his career, but could step up playing alongside scoring wingers. Monitor this heading to camp.

Marcus Johansson
Johansson Inks One-Year Deal With Capitals
Marcus Johansson, C, WAS
7/31/2015
News: Marcus Johansson signed a one-year, $3.75 million contract with the Capitals on Friday, James Mirtle of TSN 1050 Radio reports.
Analysis: Marcus Johansson was a solid offensive contributor for the Capitals in 2014-15, racking up 47 points (20 goals, 27 assists) in 82 games, good for fourth best on the team. He will return to his role as a top-six forward with Washington this season, and will likely continue to be a part of the Capitals' top power-play unit. The 24-year-old is a versatile winger who, barring injury, should be similarly productive this season.

Cam Talbot
Oilers' Talbot Expects Battle For Starting Job
Cam Talbot, G, EDM
7/30/2015
News: Cam Talbot expects to battle for the starting job in training camp, according to the Edmonton Journal.
Analysis: One would think that Cam Talbot is just taking the high road here. Unless he performs miserably in camp he should be the starting goaltender once the season opens. He won't have anywhere near the defense playing in front of him that he had with the Rangers, so there will be off nights, but he's still better and offers much more upside than any other goaltender on the roster.

Alex Galchenyuk
Habs' Galchenyuk Re-Signs On Two-Year Deal
Alex Galchenyuk, C, MON
7/30/2015
News: Alex Galchenyuk re-signed to a two-year, $5.6 million deal with the Canadiens on Thursday, ESPN reports.
Analysis: Alex Galchenyuk will return to the Canadiens on a contract paying him an average of $2.8 million per year. During the 2014-15 season, he played in 80 games for the Canadiens, finishing with 20 goals and 26 assists, both of which were career highs for the forward. The former third overall pick will join the likes of David Desharnais and Lars Eller as depth at center behind Tomas Plekanec. He also could see some time on the wing behind Max Pacioretty.

Jakub Voracek
Voracek Inks Eight-Year Extension With Flyers
Jakub Voracek, RW, PHI
7/30/2015
News: Jakub Voracek signed an eight-year, $66 million contract extension with the Flyers on Thursday, Frank Seravalli of the Philadelphia Daily News reports.
Analysis: It isn't surprising that the Flyers opted to lock Jakub Voracek up long-term after his performance in 2014-15. He exploded last season, racking up a career-best 81 points (22 goals, 59 assists), good for fifth best in the NHL. While fantasy owners shouldn't expect the 25-year-old winger to top 80 points year in and year out, if he can continue to stay healthy, he should continue to be a top fantasy commodity for years to come. Voracek will return to his role on the Flyers' top-line and power play unit in 2015-16.

Brandon Gormley
Gormley Inks One-Year Deal With Coyotes
Brandon Gormley, D, ARI
7/30/2015
News: Brandon Gormley signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Coyotes on Thursday, Craig Morgan of FOX Sports Arizona reports.
Analysis: Brandon Gormley suited up for 27 games with the Coyotes in 2014-15, managing to tally four points (two goals, two assists) in those contests. He fared a little better in the AHL, registering 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 23 games with AHL Portland. He will get a chance to compete for a roster spot with the Coyotes in training camp.

Viktor Arvidsson
Preds' Prospect Arvidsson Hoping To Crack Roster
Viktor Arvidsson, RW, NSH
7/29/2015
News: Viktor Arvidsson could crack the Predators' roster this upcoming season, according to the Tennessean's Adam Vignan.
Analysis: In his first full season in the AHL, Viktor Arvidsson led the Milwaukee Admirals last year with 55 points, and also led the entire league with 272 shots on goal. If Arvidsson can secure himself a roster spot with the Preds, he could flourish under coach Peter Laviolette's uptempo, attacking system and provide the team some scoring depth. In deeper fantasy formats, Arvidsson is one player to keep an eye on.

Oliver Kylington
Flames' Kylington To Play In North America in 2015
Oliver Kylington, D, CGY
7/29/2015
News: Oliver Kylington will play in North America in 2015, Roger Millions of Sportsnet Calgary reports.
Analysis: The defenseman's team in Sweden allowed him to get his path to the NHL started this season, which is good news for both Oliver Kylington and the Flames. Calgary will likely let its second-round pick grow his game in the minors for a while, especially with its current depth on the blue line. Kylington has an abundance of hockey talent, but needs to put it all together to be a standout player.

 
 
 
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