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Neutral Zone Wrap: Rookie on the rise

by | Rotowire.com
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It's early, so the numbers may look somewhat skewed. Not only for individual results to date, but also for group accomplishments. Can you name the four teams who haven't lost in regulation? The fact all of them come out of the Western Conference may not shock you. San Jose and St. Louis undefeated? Hardly surprising. Colorado? OK, mildly interesting. But Calgary posting a 3-0-2 record?!? Fine, now you've got our complete attention.

Back East, the theme has been one of slow starts - concentrated mainly in the posh Metropolitan Division. Congrats to those who picked Philly to kick off the coach cleansing, albeit a move that was expected in the preseason. Washington's attacking futility does not compare to their defensive ineptitude. But the biggest nuclear meltdown has to be the Rangers, who recently endured a horrific West Coast trip that saw their opponents embarrass them all the way up and down the Pacific Coast Highway.

Let's return to the standard fare of this column and focus on five of the aforementioned clubs who should catch your fantasy eye:

The Flames are scorching ... for now. So try not to go overboard and snap up every possible Calgary waiver option. Especially rookie Sean Monahan, who has excelled in the offensive end (six points) but may be shipped back to juniors before he hits the 10-game mark (i.e. the point where he would burn a year of his entry-level contract). And neither goalie - Joey MacDonald nor Karri Ramo (combined 3.11 GAA, .897 save percentage) - elicits any form of excitement. Don't sell the farm for Jiri Hudler (team-leading seven points), but consider he may be the top option with Michael Cammalleri (broken hand) missing indefinitely. No worries about Dennis Wideman, as his numbers (three points despite sitting second in the league at 27:46 a game, including 4:24 on the power-play) will eventually catch up and surpass those belonging to Mark Giordano (six).

Colorado's blue-chip talent looks to be maturing at the perfect time. Is it any surprise that first pick Nathan MacKinnon (six) leads the Avs in scoring? Or that Steve Downie (goal, three assists) can do more than drop the gloves or earn suspensions (17 PIM)? Good to see Ryan O'Reilly take charge (four, with two on the PP), but the best story must be Alex Tanguay's triumphant return to the Rockies (five, two PPAs). Not many noticed when Andre Benoit signed in July but he's currently on the radar (three assists, 21:41). Beware of Jamie McGinn (five, but 13 hits and five blocked shots), who has never performed at this level with any significant consistency. And good news for anyone who read last week's NZW, as Erik Johnson (zero) is living up to advanced billing.

With all the hype surrounding other Western outfits, the Blues can boast one of the most skilled lineups from top to bottom. There is almost a perfect mix of veteran leadership to complement the burgeoning youth. For every Vladimir Tarasenko (four) and Jaden Schwartz (three) exist an Alexander Steen (eight, plus-5) and Derek Roy (five, including four PPPs). A little bit of patience for Chris Stewart (two and 17 PIM, but a spot on the first man-advantage unit), who perhaps hasn't hit his stride. Look away from Brenden Morrow (PP goal, assist); he's too far down on the depth chart to serve any important role. Ditto for Jay Bouwmeester (two assists), no matter how many minutes he sees.

Keeping the fans happy in Philadelphia isn't as much a concern as putting some pucks in the net. The Flyers' goaltending, which had been a long-standing concern, is clearly not the problem. With several glowing production resumes, there's no reason they should rank 29th on goals per game (at 1.33). Unless your name is Brayden Schenn (four, two PPPs), improvement should be the main priority. Vincent Lecavalier (lower body injury, out a week) had also been decent (three), but now spends time in the press box. While Claude Giroux (one) is virtually a shoo-in to regain his form, others like Wayne Simmonds (one), Matt Read (none), and Kimmo Timonen (none) will require more of a push to recover. With Scott Hartnell (upper body injury) gone up to a month, Read receives more minutes. And with Lecavalier's absence, Timonen returns to a lead role on the power-play point.

Unless you're late for a dinner reservation, there's no need to hit the panic button on Broadway. With one head coach gone, one could assume Alain Vigneault would become the next sacrifice. Fortunately, several signs of promise exist. Brad Richards (five, including four goals) is once again a valuable fantasy commodity. Ryan Callahan (two PPGs and 20+ minutes Saturday) is back to full capacity. It's unknown how long Rick Nash (concussion) will be sidelined, but that should allow guys like Benoit Pouliot (zip) and J.T. Miller (3:21 PP time in his first appearance) to climb the ranks and contribute immediately.

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Player News
Brett Bellemore
Hurricanes Sign Bellemore To One-Year Deal
Brett Bellemore, D, CAR
7/25/2014
News: Brett Bellemore agreed to a one-year, two-way contract with the Hurricanes on Friday, the Hurricanes' Official Site reports.
Analysis: Brett Bellemore played in 64 games for the Hurricanes last season as it was the first time that he spent the entire year in the NHL. He has been able to contribute two goals and eight assists over the stretch of his two-year tenure with Carolina. The defenseman stands to improve on those numbers since he's slowly but surely gaining professional experience.

James Reimer
Leafs Agree To Two-Year Deal With Reimer
James Reimer, G, TOR
7/25/2014
News: James Reimer agreed to a two-year, $4.6 million deal with Toronto on Friday, Toronto Sun writer Rob Longley reports.
Analysis: After posting a 19-8-5 record in 2012 to go along with a GAA of 2.46, James Reimer struggled last year, finishing with a GAA of 3.29 and a record of 12-16-1. The Leafs are banking on him returning to the form he showed in the three years before last, in which case he would be a useful backup to Jonathan Bernier.

Landon Ferraro
Red Wings Ink Ferraro To One-Year Deal
Landon Ferraro, C, DET
7/25/2014
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
7/25/2014
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.

 
 
 
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