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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
Landon Ferraro
Red Wings Ink Ferraro To One-Year Deal
Landon Ferraro, C, DET
7:57 AM
News: Landon Ferraro signed a one-year deal with the Red Wings on Friday.
Analysis: Landon Ferraro inked a two-way contract, meaning he can be assigned to AHL Grand Rapids at will by the Red Wings. He played just four games for Detroit in 2013-14, with the majority of his time coming with Grand Rapids. In the minors, Ferraro was responsible for 31 points (15 goals) over 70 games.

Lars Eller
Eller Signs Four-Year Deal With Habs
Lars Eller, C, MON
12:37 AM
News: Lars Eller signed a four-year, $14 million deal with the Canadiens on Thursday, the Canadian Press reports.
Analysis: The deal will pay Lars Eller $3.5 million each of the next four seasons. Coming off of a relatively average 2013-14 season in which he scored 26 points (12 goals) and recorded a career-worst minus-15 rating, Eller will look to prove he's worthy of the new deal.

Cory Sarich
Sarich Injured In Cycling Accident
Cory Sarich, D, COL
7/24/2014
News: Cory Sarich, who was injured in a cycling accident on Monday, is recovering in a Calgary hospital, TSN.ca reports.
Analysis: The report adds that Cory Sarich, who was hit by a car while training in B.C., was airlifted to a hospital in Calgary and is in stable condition, with non-life-threatening injuries. "It's been a rough couple of days and I'm grateful for the support I've been receiving from the medical team here and from family and friends" said Sarich, via a news release. At this stage, the timetable for the free agent blueliner's recovery is unclear. Sarich spent the 2013-14 season with the Avs, notching 10 points in 54 games.

David Warsofsky
Bruins Ink Warsofsky To One-Year, Two-Way Deal
David Warsofsky, D, BOS
7/24/2014
News: David Warsofsky agreed to a one-year, two-way contract with the Bruins on Thursday.
Analysis: The diminutive blueliner is coming off a productive season at AHL Providence, where he supplied six goals and 26 assists over 56 games, ranking fourth on the team in points. He parlayed that minor league success into his first NHL call-up in December, ultimately finishing with two points in six games. With no present openings on the Bruins' top three pairings, David Warsofsky is likely bound for Providence to start the upcoming season, but should be one of the team's top replacement options should the parent club suffer an injury on defense.

Taylor Pyatt
Ex-Penguin Pyatt Signs With Swiss Club
Taylor Pyatt, LW, PIT
7/24/2014
News: Taylor Pyatt signed a one-year contract with Geneve-Servette of Switzerland on Wednesday, Seth Rorabaugh of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Analysis: Taylor Pyatt was only a bit contributor for the Rangers and Penugins last season, totaling five points over 56 NHL games. The former No. 8 overall pick in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft will attempt to restore some value overseas before returning stateside, perhaps next season.

Kevin Poulin
Isles, Poulin Reach New Deal
Kevin Poulin, G, NYI
7/24/2014
News: Kevin Poulin and the Islanders came to terms Thursday on a one-year, two-way contract, avoiding arbitration, Sportsnet reports.
Analysis: The offseason additions of Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson probably relegates Kevin Poulin to AHL Bridgeport to open the 2014-15 campaign, but the Islanders still seem bullish on Poulin's long-term potential. Only 23 years old, Poulin could end up pushing Halak for the starting job as soon as next season if he shows some growth in the minors.

Rasmus Rissanen
Rissanen Signs With Hurricanes
Rasmus Rissanen, D, CAR
7/23/2014
News: Rasmus Rissanen has signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Hurricanes, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: The 23-year-old Rasmus Rissanen, who notched 10 points and 91 penalty minutes in 62 games with AHL Charlotte in 2013-14, is in line to reprise his role as an organizational depth blueliner for the Hurricanes.

Andre Benoit
Sabres, Benoit Agree To One-Year Deal
Andre Benoit, D, BUF
7/23/2014
News: Andre Benoit signed a one-year, $800,000 contract with the Sabres on Wednesday, TSN's Aaron Ward reports.
Analysis: Andre Benoit, 30, logged 79 games with the Avalanche last season, accumulating 28 points and 26 PIM. The blue line was a major area of weakness in the Sabres' dismal 2013-14 campaign, and the additions of Benoit, Josh Gorges and Andrej Meszaros over the summer should only improve the team on that side of the ice during the upcoming season. Also expect the 30-year-old to mentor some of Buffalo's top young defensemen, including Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Pysyk.

Ryan O'Reilly
Avs, O'Reilly Strike Deal
Ryan O'Reilly, C, COL
7/23/2014
News: Ryan O'Reilly agreed to a two-year, $12 million contract with the Avalanche on Wednesday to avoid arbitration, Darren Dreger of TSN reports.
Analysis: The Avs and Ryan O'Reilly had been far apart on a new deal in recent weeks, but with the prospect of an arbitration hearing closing in, both sides were motivated to strike a quick deal. Still, O'Reilly has been angling for a long-term deal with the Avs for quite some time, to no avail, so he could be motivated to join another organization when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2016.

Chris Kreider
Rangers, Kreider Strike Deal
Chris Kreider, LW, NYR
7/23/2014
News: Chris Kreider was able to avoid an arbitration hearing by agreeing with the Rangers on a two-year, $4.95 million contract Wednesday, The Record's Andrew Gross reports.
Analysis: The 23-year-old reached the deal just before his scheduled 9 a.m. hearing, leaving the Rangers with approximately $6 million remaining under the salary cap. As a rookie last season, Chris Kreider produced 17 goals and 20 assists in 66 games before hand surgery in late March cost him much of the final quarter of the campaign. He ended up providing a big boost to the Rangers in the playoffs as they made their run to the Stanley Cup Finals, totaling five goals and eight assists in 15 contests.

 
 
 
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