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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
Luke Adam
FA Adam Agrees To Terms With Rangers
Luke Adam, C, CLB
8:01 AM
News: Luke Adam agreed to terms with the Rangers on Friday.
Analysis: The 25-year-old spent most of last season in the AHL, appearing in 73 games for the Rochester Americans and registering 16 goals and 26 assists. He saw time in only three NHL games for Columbus, recording four penalty minutes. Luke Adam will likely again see time at both the AHL and NHL levels next season.

Jordan Caron
Caron Signs Two-Way Deal With Blues
Jordan Caron, RW, COL
12:59 AM
News: Jordan Caron signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Blues on Thursday.
Analysis: Jordan Caron saw time with the Bruins and Avalanche last season, but failed to register a single point in 30 games. The Blues boast an overwhelming stable of talent at forward, so it seems unlikely that he'll be able to claim a roster spot with the team out of training camp. Look for him to head to AHL Chicago to open the 2015-16 campaign.

Robert Bortuzzo
Blues Agree To New Contract With Bortuzzo
Robert Bortuzzo, D, STL
12:56 AM
News: Robert Bortuzzo agreed to a two-year, $2.1 million contract with the Blues on Thursday, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Analysis: The Blues elected to retain both Robert Bortuzzo and Chris Butler in free agency, likely ensuring that both players will compete for the sixth defenseman spot during training camp. In 51 games spent with the Penguins and Blues last season, Bortuzzo compiled three goals, five assists, and 93 PIM.

Slava Voynov
Kings' Voynov To Spend Three Months In Jail
Slava Voynov, D, LA
12:51 AM
News: Slava Voynov (Achilles) accepted a plea deal Thursday for his domestic assault charges and will spend 90 days in jail and face three years of probation, ESPN.com's Katie Strang reports.
Analysis: Slava Voynov was arrested on charges of domestic violence back in October and suspended indefinitely by the league. The defenseman has yet to be reinstated by the NHL, which will conduct its own investigation before making a ruling on his eligibility. Further complicating matters is that the Kings have instituted their own suspension on Voynov for suffering a torn Achilles tendon in a non-hockey related activity this past spring. His future with the Kings and in the NHL remains up in the air, and it's uncertain when a resolution might be reached.

Tyson Strachan
Strachan Signs Two-Way Deal With Wild
Tyson Strachan, D, MIN
12:43 AM
News: Tyson Strachan signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Wild on Thursday, Chad Graff of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.
Analysis: Tyson Strachan was able to stick in the NHL with the Sabres all of last season, but he'll face a much more difficult ascent up the depth chart on a deep Minnesota squad. The 30-year-old didn't help his cause by registering only five points in the 46 games he played with the Sabres in 2014-15, production that doesn't hint at much upside if he's able to earn ice time with the Wild.

Cole Schneider
Sens Sign Schneider To One-Year Deal
Cole Schneider, LW, OTT
12:34 AM
News: Cole Schneider signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Senators on Thursday.
Analysis: The 24-year-old Cole Schneider will more than likely return to AHL Binghamton for the fourth straight season. He recorded 29 goals and 58 points in 69 games for Binghamton in 2014-15.

Cameron Schilling
Hawks Sign Schilling
Cameron Schilling, D, CHI
12:34 AM
News: The Blackhawks signed Cameron Schilling to a two-year, two-way contract Thursday, the Chicago Tribune reports.
Analysis: Cameron Schilling, who spent the bulk of the 2014-15 season with AHL Hershey, recording three goals and 15 assists in 63 games, will bolster Chicago's depth on defense, but he's off fantasy radar in all but the deepest of formats.

Korbinian Holzer
Ducks Sign Holzer
Korbinian Holzer, D, ANA
12:12 AM
News: The Ducks signed Korbinian Holzer to a one-year, $750,000 contract on Thursday.
Analysis: Korbinian Holzer, who the Ducks acquired this past March in a trade with Toronto, saw action in 34 NHL games last season (all with the Leafs), recording six assists and 25 PIM in the process. He'll continue to provide the Anaheim blue line with depth this coming season.

Brandon Halverson
Halverson Inks Entry-Level Contract With Rangers
Brandon Halverson, G, NYR
12:11 AM
News: Brandon Halverson signed an entry-level contract with the Rangers on Thursday.
Analysis: Brandon Halverson sits at 19 years of age and is a budding prospect who'll stick with the junior club this coming season, as he's not yet AHL eligible. He's likely several years away from reaching the NHL, making him a consideration only in dynasty leagues.

Will O'Neill
O'Neill Signs With Penguins
Will O'Neill, D, WPG
12:02 AM
News: Will O'Neill signed a two-way contract with the Penguins for the 2015-16 season.
Analysis: Will O'Neill spent last season with AHL St. John's in the Jets organization, where he compiled 48 points after 72 outings. Without any NHL appearances to his credit throughout his career thus far, he'll likely spend the majority of the upcoming season in the AHL yet again.

 
 
 
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