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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
Drew Doughty
Kings' Doughty (Upper Body) Listed As Day-To-Day
Drew Doughty, D, LA
11:32 AM
News: Drew Doughty (upper body) is listed as day-to-day according to general manager Rob Blake, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Analysis: Drew Doughty isn't currently participating in training camp due to an upper-body injury that he suffered while training in the offseason. Considering that the Kings' don't kick off their season until Oct. 8, Doughty's chance of playing in the opener increased with this news.

Claude Giroux
Flyers' Giroux (Lower Body) Out 2 Weeks
Claude Giroux, C, PHI
11:17 AM
News: Claude Giroux is expected to miss the next two weeks with a lower-body injury, The Record reports.
Analysis: Considering that the Flyers' opening game isn't until Oct. 9, Claude Giroux doesn't seem to be in danger of starting the season on the bench. However, he'll miss a substantial part of training camp and may suffer in terms of conditioning. With updates to come, the 26-year-old still seems to be a valuable addition at this point.

Kyle Palmieri
Ducks' Palmieri Hopes To Play In Final Exhibition
Kyle Palmieri, RW, ANA
10:56 AM
News: Kyle Palmieri sprained his ankle during training camp and hopes to return for the team's final preseason game, the Ducks' official site reports.
Analysis: The injury is not good news for Kyle Palmieri's fantasy value, but he should be able to do most of his recovery before the regular season starts. How and if he plays in the final preseason game will be important in determining his value for the start of the season.

Shea Theodore
Ducks' Theordore Out 4-To-6 Weeks
Shea Theodore, D, ANA
10:49 AM
News: Shea Theodore will miss 4-to-6 weeks with an ulnar collateral ligamen sprin in his elbow, which he suffered in the rookie game Sunday, Duck's official site reports.
Analysis: This timetable places Shea Theodore out until at least a week into the regular season. He was Anaheim's first round pick in the 2013 draft, and expected to contribute to the Ducks after spending most of last season with the Seattle Thunderbirds

Sidney Crosby
Pens' Crosby Practices Friday
Sidney Crosby, C, PIT
10:21 AM
News: Sidney Crosby (undisclosed) practiced Friday, despite an early report that stated the MVP would be held out of the beginning of training camp, ABC News reports.
Analysis: Not only did Sidney Crosby practice, but he did not wear a red non-contact jersey, and participated in most of the practice. If Crosby is still battling an injury, it appears that it is not serious enough to keep him off the ice. If he is already healthy enough to participate in training camp, expect Crosby to be near 100 percent when the regular season rolls around, though we'll place the caveat that obviously something's been bugging him to some degree - such as a shoulder injury or minor soreness from his wrist issues last season. Or it could be some combo of both, that again, is not enough to keep him off the ice.

Mikhail Grigorenko
Sabres Pair Grigorenko With Armia
Mikhail Grigorenko, C, BUF
10:11 AM
News: Mikhail Grigorenko will open camp on a line with Joel Armia, reports The Buffalo News.
Analysis: Though Mikhail Grigorenko and Armia represent two of Buffalo's most offensively gifted players, neither can be expected to play with the Sabres this year. Grigorenko is coming off a rough two-year stretch after playing on three separate teams and Armia is coming off a tough rookie season hampered by a wrist injury. The Sabres have more experienced players to rely on for scoring and Brendan Lemieux, the line's third player, is not expected to make the team either. However, Grigorenko and Armia should form a dynamic duo in the AHL, and if both players perform beyond expectations they will both earn call-ups at some point during the season.

Luke Adam
Sabres' Adam On The Outside Looking In
Luke Adam, C, BUF
10:05 AM
News: Luke Adam is on the bubble and fighting for a roster spot based on the depth charts published by The Buffalo News.
Analysis: Luke Adam will play on center Johan Larsson's left wing and opposite of right winger Zac Dalpe. Dalpe was signed over the summer as additional depth while Larsson is also fighting for a roster spot. Adam returned to the Sabres after signing a one-year extension, but time is running out for the former second-round pick. In 12 games with the Sabres he recorded just one goal and 16 shots. When Adam is on his game, he can be a serviceable power forward, but his consistency has been poor. Adam will need to go through waivers if he is demoted, which provides an extra wrinkle to his situation. Last year, the Sabres waived Corey Tropp, and the same fate could await Adam if he has a poor showing at camp.

Tyler Myers
Sabres' Myers Begins Camp With Gorges
Tyler Myers, D, BUF
9:57 AM
News: Tyler Myers will be paired with veteran shutdown defenseman Josh Gorges to begin the training camp, reports The Buffalo News.
Analysis: As expected, the mercurial Tyler Myers will be paired with the dependable Gorges to begin the season as the Sabres' top pairing. Myers has struggled over the past few seasons since winning the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie, and often looks overwhelmed by the amount of pressure placed on him. The 6-foot-8 defenseman has plenty of talent but just hasn't been able to realize it. Hopefully, Gorges will take some pressure off his shoulders and also allow Myers to take more of an offensive role. If all goes well, Myers could be in line for the best season in his rookie year. He is, without a doubt, the Sabres' best defenseman in fantasy, though the team is expected to finish near the bottom of the standings again.

Zemgus Girgensons
Sabres' Girgensons Centers Second Line
Zemgus Girgensons, C, BUF
9:52 AM
News: One of Buffalo's best players last year, Zemgus Girgensons is penciled in as the team's second-line center, reports The Buffalo News.
Analysis: Head coach Ted Nolan and the rest of the Sabres staff love Zemgus Girgensons. An excellent two-way player with great wheels, Girgensons was one of Buffalo's more consistent players and was the standout forward for Latvia at the Sochi Olympics. Delivering on their promise to give Girgensons a bigger role, the Sabres are experimenting with him in an offensive role, playing alongside playmaker Cody Hodgson on the left wing and former Habs captain Brian Gionta on the right wing. Girgensons is scratching the surface of his offensive ability, who scored just eight goals in 70 games last year. He's often overlooked because Hodgson and Tyler Ennis are more well-known names in fantasy, but it's possible Girgensons provides better value than both of them this season with faceoff wins and hits, if your league counts them.

Keith Ballard
Wild's Ballard Full Participant In Camp
Keith Ballard, D, MIN
9:42 AM
News: Keith Ballard (hernia) was a full participant in the first practice and scrimmage of Minnesota's training camp, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Keith Ballard had sports hernia surgery after the season, but looks at full strength as training camp begins. He played just 45 games last season as he struggled to stay healthy due to a groin injury and concussion.

 
 
 
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