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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
Colton Sceviour
Stars' Sceviour Gets Goal, Assist In Win
Colton Sceviour, C, DAL
10:39 AM
News: Colton Sceviour recorded a goal and assist in Thursday's 6-3 win over the Senators.
Analysis: Though Patrick Eaves has since displaced him on the Tyler Seguin-Jamie Benn line, Colton Sceviour may warrant another look after Tuesday's performance. He notched the goal on a deflected shot by fellow fourth-liner Vernon Fiddler, then picked up the secondary helper as a member of the Stars' No. 2 power-play unit. He accomplished all of that in less than nine minutes of ice time, which should allow him to maintain his spot in the lineup a little while longer, even if it doesn't result in a promotion.

Jamie Benn
Jamie Benn Pots Two In Stars Victory
Jamie Benn, LW, DAL
10:35 AM
News: Jamie Benn potted even-strength and shorthanded goals and added two PIM in Thursday's win over the Senators.
Analysis: The shortie came with less than 30 seconds remaining when the Senators were running an empty net. In any case, it amounted to another impressive showing for Jamie Benn, who has churned out four goals and four assists over his last five games.

Dmitry Orlov
Caps Say "Nothing's Been Decided" About Orlov
Dmitry Orlov, D, WAS
10:34 AM
News: The Capitals remain uncertain about what they will do about Dmitry Orlov (wrist) this season, indicating that "nothing is off the table, including a second procedure", Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post reports.
Analysis: It's been a frustrating season for Dmitry Orlov who has yet to play in any games this season as a result of ongoing, post-surgical complications to repair a broken wrist suffered during the 2014 IIHF World Championships in Belarus last summer. Orlov has been reportedly making progress, but this report casts doubt on his short-term future. It's looking increasingly likely that Orlov will not return to the NHL ranks this season, and thus his value remains limited to keeper leagues, although given his struggles in recovering from this injury, one now wonders if this will cast a shadow on his long-term prospects. For now, monitor his progress and keep any eye on him for next season.

John Klingberg
Stars' Klingberg Tallies Winner, Gets Assist
John Klingberg, D, DAL
10:33 AM
News: John Klingberg recorded a power-play assist and the game-winning goal in Thursday's 6-3 victory over the Senators.
Analysis: John Klingberg put the Stars on top for good with an unassisted tally, his seventh marker of the season. The 22-year-old hasn't been shy about looking for his own offense since arriving in Big D, racking up 55 shots in 34 games en route to 20 points and a plus-8 rating. That's good enough to warrant roster spot in most leagues.

Bobby Ryan
Another Two-Point Game For Sens' Ryan
Bobby Ryan, RW, OTT
10:29 AM
News: Bobby Ryan registered a goal and assist in Saturday's 6-3 loss to the Stars.
Analysis: That's three consecutive two-point games for Bobby Ryan, who has really seemed to rediscover the mojo he appeared to leave behind in Anaheim during his first season with the Senators. He's rebounded from a sluggish start to the 2014-15 campaign to carry the offense the last two months, recording 21 points in his last 20 games.

Andre Burakovsky
Caps' Burakovsky Practices On Top Line Friday
Andre Burakovsky, LW, WAS
10:27 AM
News: Andre Burakovsky took line rushes with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom during Friday's practice, Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post reports.
Analysis: Andre Burakovsky was a surprise healthy scratch for Washington's 4-0 victory over Pittsburgh despite registering two goals and two assists in Washington's prior three games. The rookie was replaced by Jay Beagle for that game, and Beagle was also practicing with Ovechkin and Backstrom on Friday. With Washington facing a back-to-back situation with Montreal and St. Louis this weekend, it's likely Burakovsky will draw back into the lineup in one of the next two games. However, Burakovsky's value is tied significantly to his keeping the RW spot opposite Washington's premier offensive talents. While this appears to be a short-term experiment, the situation is worth monitoring.

Trevor Daley
Stars' Daley Explodes For Three Points
Trevor Daley, D, DAL
10:25 AM
News: Trevor Daley tallied a goal and two assists to claim first star honors in Thursday's 6-3 win over the Senators.
Analysis: Trevor Daley excelled in all three phases Thursday, recording a shorthanded goal and adding an assist at both even strength and with the man advantage. The shortie was just an empty-netter in the game's final minute, but it shouldn't obscure a extremely productive night for Daley and his fantasy owners. Daley's 12 goals put him in a four-way tie for first in the NHL among blueliners.

Jason Garrison
Bolts' Garrison Chips In With Assist
Jason Garrison, D, TB
10:21 AM
News: Jason Garrison contributed an assist in Thursday's 5-1 win over the Red Wings.
Analysis: He would finish the night with a plus-2 rating, adding five PIM and two hits. The 30-year-old has supplied only two points in 11 January contests.

Jay Beagle
Caps' Beagle Skating With Ovechkin, Backstrom
Jay Beagle, C, WAS
10:19 AM
News: Jay Beagle took line rushes with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom during Friday's practice, Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post reports.
Analysis: Jay Beagle played alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom during Washington's 4-0 victory over Pittsburgh on Wednesday, replacing rookie Andre Burakovsky who had been entrenched on the top unit in games prior. It's worth noting that Burakovsky also practiced with the Capitals' top duo, so it's unclear who what the top line will be for the Capitals as they face Montreal and St. Louis this weekend. As long as Beagle is getting such a prominent assignment, he's worth a look in deeper leagues, but it's hard to see this as more than a short-term experiment.

Jonathan Drouin
Bolts' Drouin Adds Two Assists In Win
Jonathan Drouin, LW, TB
10:17 AM
News: Jonathan Drouin added two helpers in Tuesday's 5-1 win over the Red Wings.
Analysis: Jonathan Drouin finished as the game's third star, setting up the second of Cedric Paquette's three goals and picking up a secondary assist on Steven Stamkos' power-play tally. The rookie has gone without a goal since Dec. 15, but has recorded seven assists over his last nine contests.

 
 
 
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