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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
Calvin Pickard
Avs' Pickard Makes 17 Saves For First NHL Win
Calvin Pickard, G, COL
12:54 PM
News: Calvin Pickard stopped all 17 of the shots he faced for his first NHL win Saturday against Carolina.
Analysis: Pikcard didn't start Saturday's game, but was called upon in the first period after starter Reto Berra was pulled. Berra gave up three goals on 10 shots, but Calvin Pickard was able to step in and help the team comeback to defeat the Canes. With the way Berra has struggled this season, there is a chance Pickard could stick with the Avalanche once starter Semyon Varlamov (groin) returns from injury. The 22-year-old youngster is 1-2-0 this season with a respectable .913 save percentage and 2.66 GAA.

Andrei Markov
Montreal's Markov Scores On Power Play
Andrei Markov, D, MON
5:01 AM
News: Andrei Markov's first-period, power play goal held up as the game winner in Saturday night's 2-0 win over Boston.
Analysis: The goal was Andrei Markov's 100th of his career and joins legendary Canadiens Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Guy LaPointe as defensemen in the 100-goal club.

Antti Niemi
Sharks' Niemi Continues To Pick Up Losses
Antti Niemi, G, SJ
4:56 AM
News: Antti Niemi picked up his sixth loss in seven games Saturday, giving up three goals on 25 shots against the Coyotes.
Analysis: While the game was lost in a shootout, it wasn't a great outing for Antti Niemi, who now drops to 7-6-3 on the season. Although Niemi is struggling to win games, he hasn't been horrible, allowing only eight goals over his last four starts. He will continue to be a workhorse in the San Jose crease, but monitor the headlines, as it is possible the 31-year-old might be traded from the slumping Sharks at some point this season.

Devan Dubnyk
Coyotes' Dubnyk Wins Fourth Straight
Devan Dubnyk, G, ARI
4:45 AM
News: Devan Dubnyk stopped 40 of 43 shots in regulation before denying all three Sharks' shooters in the shootout for his fourth straight win Saturday against San Jose.
Analysis: Devan Dubnyk is now 5-0-1 this season with a .926 save percentage and 2.34 GAA. Considering starer Mike Smith has lost five straight games, the team won't hesitate to start Dubnyk, especially considering that the former Oilers has given up only four goals over his last three games. Dubnyk is emerging as one of the best backup goalies this season.

Tommy Wingels
Sharks' Wingels Bags Sixth Of Season
Tommy Wingels, C, SJ
4:31 AM
News: Tommy Wingels scored his sixth goal of the season and had five hits in Saturday's shootout loss to Arizona.
Analysis: The goal was Tommy Wingels' first in 11 games, as the 26-year-old has been struggling to produce on the team's third line. He remains on the power-play though, where he has scored two of his goals this season. After posting a career-high 16 goals in 2013-14, Wingels should be able to reach the 20-goal mark in 2014-15.

Mikkel Boedker
Coyotes' Boedker Contributes Two Assists In Win
Mikkel Boedker, LW, ARI
4:24 AM
News: Mikkel Boedker contributed a pair of assists in Saturday's win over San Jose.
Analysis: Mikkel Boedker has produced steadily this season, collecting seven goals and 14 points in 21 games. After posting a career-high 19 goals and 51 points in 2013-14, Boedker could very well surpass those totals this season. Skating on the top line and top power-play unit, Boedker could hit the 25-goal mark for the first time in his career.

Shane Doan
Coyotes' Doan Scores Seventh Of Season
Shane Doan, RW, ARI
4:18 AM
News: Shane Doan scored his seventh goal of the season, had an assist, and picked up four PIM in Saturday's win over San Jose.
Analysis: Shane Doan now has a respectable 14 points in 21 games this season, to go with a minus-5 rating. The 38-year-old is on track for another season in the 25-goal and 50-point range.

Viktor Fasth
Oilers' Fasth Makes 15 Saves In Relief Duty
Viktor Fasth, G, EDM
4:10 AM
News: Viktor Fasth stopped 15 of 17 shots in relief duty Saturday against the Blackhawks.
Analysis: Starter Ben Scrivens was pulled after giving up five goals on 13 shots, so Viktor Fasth was thrown in to try and fend off the dominant Blackhawks. While it was Scrivens who was credited with the loss, Fasth is still winless in his last two starts and has posted a lackluster .890 save percentage and 3.337 GAA on the season. It's best just to stay away from Fasth right now, as the Oilers have lost seven straight and Fasth has done nothing to show he should start ahead of Scrivens.

Ben Scrivens
Oilers' Scrivens Pulled In Blowout Loss
Ben Scrivens, G, EDM
4:03 AM
News: Ben Scrivens was pulled Saturday against the Blackhawks after giving up five goals on 13 shots.
Analysis: Because the Oilers only mustered one goal on the night, Ben Scrivens was credited with the loss -- his seventh straight. Scrivens is now 4-9-1 on the season with a disastrous .887 save percentage and 3.35 GAA. Unless the Oilers start to turn things around, it's best just to stay away from Scrivens for now.

Corey Crawford
Hawks' Crawford Makes 24 Saves In Win
Corey Crawford, G, CHI
3:54 AM
News: Corey Crawford stopped all but one of the 25 shots he faced in Saturday's blowout victory over Edmonton.
Analysis: Corey Crawford wasn't expected to start Saturday, but was called upon after news surfaced that expected starter Antti Raanta was ill. Crawford has now won three straight games, advancing to 9-4-1 on the season. He has simply been one of the best fantasy options in net thus far, recording a .928 save percentage and 1.90 GAA. If Raanta isn't good to go Sunday, Crawford will make the start against the resurgent Canucks.

 
 
 
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