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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
Tom Gilbert
Habs' Gilbert Scores First NHL Playoff Goal
Tom Gilbert, D, MON
12:27 PM
News: Tom Gilbert scored his first career NHL playoff goal in Friday's Game 5 loss to Ottawa.
Analysis: While it was a nice milestone for Tom Gilbert, the Habs are in trouble, having lost two straight games. The 32-year-old isn't a big offensive producer, having registered just one point in these playoffs, but he's logging decent minutes and has posted a 45-point season in his past. Don't expect many more goals, but he does play on the second power-play unit, so he could rack up a few more points if the Habs make it out of the first round.

Mika Zibanejad
Sens' Zibanejad Dishes Out Two Assists In Game 5
Mika Zibanejad, C, OTT
12:15 PM
News: Mika Zibanejad contributed a pair of helpers in Friday's Game 5 win over Montreal.
Analysis: It was the second multi-point outing of the playoffs for Mika Zibanejad, who has collected four points in five games. Trailing the Canadiens 3-2 in their first-round series, the Senators will be looking to Zibanejad's line of Bobby Ryan and Milan Michalek to have another strong showing in Sunday's Game 6 in Ottawa. With Ryan snapping a 16-game goalless drought Friday, Zibanejad's production could increase by association if Ryan is able to parlay the effort into something more.

Mike Hoffman
Sens' Hoffman Collects Two Assists
Mike Hoffman, LW, OTT
12:10 PM
News: Mike Hoffman collected a pair of assists in Friday's Game 5 win over Montreal.
Analysis: After scoring the game-winner in Game 4, Mike Hoffman stepped up his offensive involvement again Friday. Over the last two games, the 25-year-old has fired off seven shots on goal and recorded three points to help the Sens fend off elimination. Hoffman will try to keep the wave of production going Sunday, when the Senators will take on the Canadiens in Game 6 at the Canadian Tire Center.

Joe Colborne
Calgary's Colborne Not Skating Saturday Morning
Joe Colborne, C, CGY
9:57 AM
News: Joe Colborne was missing in action at Saturday morning's skate, Scott Cruickshank of the Calgary Herald reports.
Analysis: There hasn't been any injury information disclosed about Joe Colborne, but a couple players from Calgary were missing from Saturday morning's skate. It remains to be seen whether this affects Colborne's status for Saturday night's Game 6.

Jiri Hudler
Flames' Hudler Misses Morning Skate
Jiri Hudler, LW, CGY
9:52 AM
News: Jiri Hudler was not at practice Saturday morning, Scott Cruickshank of the Calgary Herald reports.
Analysis: Jiri Hudler hasn't played particularly well this playoff series, with two points and a minus-5 in five games. He could be struggling with an injury, as John Ramage was unexpectedly skating with the team Saturday morning. Hudler may be a game-time decision, so best look elsewhere for Saturday's games.

Gabriel Bourque
Preds' Bourque Participates In Morning Skate
Gabriel Bourque, LW, NSH
9:44 AM
News: Gabriel Bourque was on the ice for the Predators' morning skate on Saturday, Brooks Bratten of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: It remains to be seen if Gabriel Bourque will be able to suit up for Saturday's Game 6 against Chicago, but his presence at the Predators' morning skate bodes well for his availability. Nashville will confirm his status prior to puck drop on Saturday.

Matt Cooke
Wild's Cooke Comes Off Bench
Matt Cooke, LW, MIN
9:33 AM
News: Matt Cooke replaced Sean Bergenheim in Friday's Game 5 win over St. Louis and had two shots on goal and four hits in 10:30 of ice time.
Analysis: Matt Cooke and Bergenheim may continue to swap places between the bench and the fourth line the rest of the series.

Vladimir Tarasenko
Tarasenko The Whole Of The Blues' Attack In Game 5
Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, STL
9:22 AM
News: Vladimir Tarasenko scored the first goal of Friday's Game 5 against the Wild, but it would represent the entirety of the Blues' output in the 4-1 defeat.
Analysis: Vladimir Tarasenko has absolutely feasted on the Wild during the past six games, with the first of those contests coming in the regular-season finale April 11. During that span, the Russian sniper has netted an absurd seven goals and two assists, including the winning tallies in Games 2 and 4. Even if the Blues -- who trail 3-2 in the series -- end up exiting the postseason after one round, those who selected Tarasenko in pool play have probably received sufficient return on their investment.

Jamie McGinn
Avs' McGinn Expects To Be Ready For Camp
Jamie McGinn, LW, COL
8:55 AM
News: Jamie McGinn (back) is expected to be 100 percent healthy for the start of training camp in the fall, Mike Chambers of the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: Jamie McGinn, who underwent season-ending back surgery in December, said he recently endured a setback in his recovery, but it's not something significant enough to challenge his availability for the start of the 2015-16 campaign. The back injury limited McGinn to just 19 games this season, during which he produced four goals, two assists, and a minus-9 rating.

Gabriel Landeskog
Avs' Landeskog Undergoes Wrist Surgery
Gabriel Landeskog, LW, COL
8:50 AM
News: Gabriel Landeskog recently underwent offseason wrist surgery, the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: Gabriel Landeskog, who was still wearing a cast as of Friday, will not be able to play for Sweden during May's World Championships as a result of the procedure. The winger is expected to be healthy for training camp and ready to reprise his top-six role for the Avalanche. He finished the recently completed season with 23 goals, 59 points, and a minus-2 rating over 82 games.

 
 
 
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