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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
Nick Bjugstad
Panthers' Bjugstad In A Rough Patch
Nick Bjugstad, C, FLA
2/28/2015
News: Nick Bjugstad posted a minus-2 with one shot on goal in Thursday night's 3-0 loss to the Blackhawks.
Analysis: Nick Bjugstad started February on fire with seven points in his first nine games of the month including a stretch with four goals in five games. However, the past five games have not been as kind to the 22-year-old. Bjugstad has only taken 11 shots on goal and has posted a minus-7 plus/minus, dragging his plus/minus for the season to minus-9. He still leads the team in points (36) and goals (21), but will need to regain his scoring form for the already light-scoring Panthers.

Jonas Gustavsson
Red Wings' Gustavsson To Start Saturday
Jonas Gustavsson, G, DET
2/28/2015
News: Jonas Gustavsson will start Saturday's game in Nashville, MLive.com's Ansar Khan reports.
Analysis: It's a bit surprising to see Jonas Gustavsson get the nod, as Detroit won't play again until Wednesday's game against the Rangers. The matchup is as tough as they come, with Nashville currently leading the race for the President's Trophy.

Bobby Ryan
Sens' Ryan Records Five SOG, Assist In Win
Bobby Ryan, RW, OTT
2/28/2015
News: Bobby Ryan assisted on the game's lone goal in Thursday's 1-0 win over the Kings.
Analysis: Bobby Ryan is working on a modest three-game point streak, which are starting to become ordinary for him in his second season in Ottawa. The Sens' leading scorer with 45 points, Ryan has been especially productive since the All-Star break. He's accumulated three goals and nine assists in his last 12 games.

Sergei Bobrovsky
Jackets' Bobrovsky (Groin) May Start Saturday
Sergei Bobrovsky, G, CLB
2/28/2015
News: Sergei Bobrovsky (groin) will skate on his own Saturday morning, and the Blue Jackets will then make a decision on their starter for Saturday's game against the Devils, Shawn Mitchell of the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: The team will not skate until 5 PM, but Sergei Bobrovsky is going to work out on his own in the morning. If he doesn't make it back for Saturday's game, Bobrovsky could still start Sunday's contest in Pittsburgh.

Craig Smith
Preds' Smith Pots 20th In Loss
Craig Smith, C, NSH
2/28/2015
News: Craig Smith netted his 20th goal of the season in Thursday's 3-2 loss to the Wild.
Analysis: Craig Smith is on track to fall short of last year's career-high total of 52 points, but he's at least in the midst of his hottest run of production of the season. He's accumulated six goals and two assists in his last seven games, making him a trendy waiver wire addition in recent days.

Brian Elliott
Blues' Elliott To Start Vs. Oilers On Saturday
Brian Elliott, G, STL
2/28/2015
News: Brian Elliott will start Saturday's game in Edmonton, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Analysis: With Brian Elliott starting Saturday night, there's a good chance Jake Allen will get the nod for Sunday's game in Vancouver. However, the Blues have yet to name a starter for that game. First, Elliott will try to make the most of a favorable matchup, facing an Edmonton team with just 46 points this season.

Nate Thompson
Ducks' Thompson (Lower Body) Out Friday
Nate Thompson, C, ANA
2/28/2015
News: Nate Thompson (lower body) remains day-to-day, but he will not play in Friday's game against the Kings, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: Chris Wagner will center the Ducks' fourth line, working in between Tim Jackman and Patrick Maroon.

Bobby Sanguinetti
Canucks Reassign Sanguinetti
Bobby Sanguinetti, D, VAN
4:54 PM
News: Bobby Sanguinetti was reassigned to AHL Utica after Thursday's loss to the Sabres, Irfaan Gaffar of Sportsnet reports.
Analysis: Bobby Sanguinetti, who was recalled by the Canucks on Feb. 19, was a healthy scratch for the entirety of his four-game stint with the parent club.

Johnny Oduya
Blackhawks Place Oduya On IR
Johnny Oduya, D, CHI
4:35 PM
News: Johnny Oduya (upper body) was placed on injured reserve Friday, Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago reports.
Analysis: Johnny Oduya has missed nearly a week with the injury and is slated to miss at least another one, so the decision to place him on IR doesn't register as much of a surprise. The transaction will open up a spot on the 23-man roster for an extra player, should the Blackhawks choose to fill the vacancy.

P.A. Parenteau
Habs' Parenteau Expected Back Saturday
P.A. Parenteau, RW, MON
4:26 PM
News: P.A. Parenteau (concussion) is expected to return to the Canadiens' lineup Saturday against the Maple Leafs, Dave Stubbs of the Montreal Gazette reports.
Analysis: The Canadiens announced that earlier Friday that Christian Thomas was reassigned to AHL Hamilton, a move that likely wouldn't have been made if the team didn't anticipate the return of P.A. Parenteau. The winger has been cleared of concussion symptoms for a few days now, but his return to the action won't be verified until he's officially activated from injured reserve, which would likely come following Saturday's morning skate.

 
 
 
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