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Neutral Zone Wrap: Exceeding our expectations

by | Rotowire.com
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Looking at the current state of NHL clubs, it clearly appears as though the Eastern Conference is the weaker of the two. One could argue the four worst overall teams reside on the right side of the continent, unless you want to include perennial underperformer Edmonton somewhere in the mix.

But you probably don't care about that. You want the fantasy info and you want it without filler.

While we've previously discussed trying not to dwell on early stats and standings, trying to separate the reality from the illusion can be a difficult task. A bunch of players have already matched or exceeded expectations. So how can you tell which ones will stay on course and which ones will crash and burn?

Others have already warned about Tomas Hertl, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and other hotshots not on San Jose reaching ripe trade values, so here are a few different examples who have started on fire but history -- and fate -- say they will continue on a more molasses-like pace. Take note of the following:

Ben Bishop, G, Lightning: Pretty sweet early line from the ex-Senator/Blue (nine wins in 11, 2.15 GAA, .925 SV%), especially considering the Lightning defensive effort has sucked since, well, the 2004-05 lockout. And that last part is why you shouldn't expect to see this progression from the 6-foot-7 netminder for an entire season. Tampa has improved on the back end of late but not enough to claim Bishop as a yearlong top-5 (or even top-10) Fantasy goalie.

Mikhail Grabovski, F, Capitals: The career of Grabovski has been highlighted by the frequent alternation of hot and cold streaks. Just when you think he's holding it all together, the Belarusian flakes out and suddenly stops contributing. While these types of episodes happened at times during his Montreal and Toronto days, that by no means guarantees a repeat with the Caps. But at the same time, we've already just witnessed a minor lull (stretch of one point in six games, declining minutes) bookended by outstanding performances (hat-trick/four points opening night and three assists Friday evening). Tread lightly.

David Legwand, F, Predators: Perhaps you remember Legwand as the #2 pick of the 1998 draft. Or the guy who is now in his 14th full season with Nashville and leads the team in scoring (12 in 14). While he's not young (33), neither is his competition at center (Mike Fisher is also 33, while Matt Cullen is four years older). Not too many injuries over his career, although he never matched his junior offensive numbers (peaked at 63 in 2006-07). Even with the Preds' improved offense, hoping Legwand to top 60 points again is asking for too much.

Frans Nielsen, F, Islanders: While Kyle Okposo has also shot out of the gates (17 in 14), let's focus on the Islander forward who is more likely to take a dip. In his six full campaigns, the Danish center has excelled as a shorthanded skater (seven SHGs in 2010-11) and has firmly stuck his foot in on the power-play (no worse than eight PPPs per season). His hard work is finally paying off (eight goals, eight assists) and the Islanders may finally be experiencing a resurge. But I'm sorry, there is no way a healthy Nielsen will reach 80 points over an 82-game schedule. Don't even think about it.

Matt Niskanen, D, Penguins: The return of Kris Letang has rearranged the Pens' blueline ladder. Even though the two share time as a regular-strength pair, Niskanen will no longer see the big man-advantage minutes. Since Letang's first game back, the Minnesotan's production has slipped (one in five) as a result of losing his prime scoring role (lost almost two minutes of PP action a night). Any total over 30 points should be a bonus.

(Honorable mention: Mark Arcobello, F, Edmonton; Kari Lehtonen, G, Dallas; Mathieu Perreault, F, Anaheim; Chris Tanev, D, Vancouver; Antoine Vermette, F, Phoenix)

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Player News
Andrew Ebbett
Ex-Penguin Ebbett Bound For KHL
Andrew Ebbett, C, PIT
8/4/2015
News: Andrew Ebbett has agreed to a contract with Barys Astana of the KHL, Igor Eronko of Sports-Express reports.
Analysis: It was reported earlier in the summer that Andrew Ebbett had signed on to join SC Bern in Switzerland's top league, but it looks like he'll have a different international destination in 2015-16. The forward was a frequent call-up from the minors in the Penguins last season, logging 24 appearances. The move to Europe should give him a little more stability.

Brandon Sutter
Sutter Signs Five-Year Contract With Canucks
Brandon Sutter, C, VAN
8/4/2015
News: Brandon Sutter signed a five-year, $21.875 million contract with the Canucks on Tuesday.
Analysis: Canucks GM Jim Benning had previously stated that he viewed Brandon Sutter as a cornerstone player for the team, and Tuesday's move certainly confirms that sentiment. Benning and the Canucks will hope that Sutter can step in as a legitimate second-line center in 2015-16, a commodity the team hasn't enjoyed for quite some time. Sutter registered 33 points (21 goals, 12 assists) in 80 games with the Penguins last season, and even though an upgraded role awaits him, it's difficult to imagine the 26-year-old taking a huge step forward in his production. Beyond projected top liners Daniel Sedin and Radim Vrbata, the Canucks aren't particularly rich in scoring wingers that could complement Sutter.

Brennan Evans
Evans Signs With Texas Stars
Brennan Evans, D, DET
8/4/2015
News: Brennan Evans signed an AHL contract with the Texas Stars on Tuesday, 100 Degree Hockey reports.
Analysis: Brennan Evans is a veteran of the AHL, where he's spent a total of 12 seasons without ever getting an opportunity at the NHL level. Unsurprisingly, the defender is expected to mentor the younger talent with Texas and isn't expected to receive a promotion at any point during the 2015-16 season.

John Muse
Muse Signs AHL Deal With Texas
John Muse, G, CAR
8/4/2015
News: John Muse signed an AHL contract with the Texas Stars on Tuesday, 100 Degree Hockey reports.
Analysis: John Muse is expected to serve as the backup goalie in Texas behind Jack Campbell. The Massachusetts native has yet to make an appearance in the NHL, and that won't likely change during the 2015-16 season.

Mike Hoffman
Hoffman Awarded One-Year Deal In Arbitration
Mike Hoffman, LW, OTT
8/4/2015
News: Mike Hoffman was awarded a one-year, $2 million contract Monday after going to arbitration with the Senators.
Analysis: It's a bargain deal for the Senators, especially when considering Mike Hoffman was reportedly seeking a $3.4 million contract, while Ottawa countered with $1.75 million. Hoffman was certainly justified in requesting the larger amount. The 25-year-old racked up 48 points (27 goals, 21 assists) over 79 games in what was his first full-time NHL campaign in 2014-15. He will return as a top-six forward for the Senators this season, and could take his production up a notch if he can stay healthy.

James Reimer
Leafs' Reimer: "Open Competition" In Net At Camp
James Reimer, G, TOR
8/3/2015
News: James Reimer will enter training camp with the opportunity to seize the number one role or at least a platoon, according to Toronto Star. "I think that right now I have a total open mind [to both goalies], and certainly I know Mike has the same," said new general manager Lou Lamoriello.
Analysis: James Reimer started 27 games in 2014-15 and delivered a meagre 9-16-1 record with a 3.16 GAA and .907 save percentage. He sure didn't do enough to earn starter's minutes, but will enter camp in an open competition with Jonathan Bernier. It's the third straight season with Reimer and Bernier splitting goaltending duties.

Jonathan Bernier
Bernier Not Guaranteed Leafs' Starting Job
Jonathan Bernier, G, TOR
8/3/2015
News: New general manager Lou Lamoriello envisions the Leafs' goaltending job as an open competition and indicates that head coach Mike Babcock feels the same way, according to the Toronto Star. "I think that right now I have a total open mind, and certainly I know Mike has the same," Lamoriello said. This will be the third straight season with Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer splitting goaltending duties.
Analysis: Lamoriello did indicate that Jonathan Bernier "has the ability, no question" to be a number one goalie in the NHL, but the twinetender hasn't shown the consistency in his game to take that job. And it's that inconsistency that has prevented him from getting a long-term deal with the Leafs. He just inked a two-year contract with the hope he can show the team he deserves a long-term, big-money deal. "Hopefully he has a year that pushes us, that is the organization, to speak to him next summer and looking for long term," continued Lamoriello.

Louis Domingue
Coyotes' Domingue Bound For Europe In 2015-16
Louis Domingue, G, ARI
8/3/2015
News: Louis Domingue will head to Europe for the 2015-16 season after opting not to sign his two-way qualifying offer with the Coyotes, Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic reports.
Analysis: With the Coyotes adding Anders Lindback to presumably serve as the backup to starter Mike Smith next season, Louis Domingue determined that playing overseas would be preferable to spending another year in the minors. The Coyotes will still retain his rights for the next four years, and with Lindback set to become a free agent next summer, it's quite possible that Domingue will be brought back in as one of Arizona's two goalies in 2016-17. The 23-year-old fared reasonably well in limited duty with the parent club last season, going 1-2-1 with a 2.73 GAA and .911 save percentage over seven appearances.

Aaron Dell
Dell Inks One-Year Deal With Sharks
Aaron Dell, G, SJ
8/3/2015
News: Aaron Dell signed a one-year contract with the Sharks on Monday.
Analysis: The 26-year-old goaltender was solid in 26 games with AHL Worcester in 2014-15, posting a 2.06 GAA and a .927 save percentage in those contests. He will likely serve as the Sharks' primary AHL goaltender this season.

Brooks Orpik
Caps' Orpik Likely Ready For Opener
Brooks Orpik, D, WAS
8/3/2015
News: General manager Brian MacLellan indicated Monday that he expects Brooks Orpik (wrist) to be ready for the beginning of the season, Dan Rosen of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Brooks Orpik is expected to begin full workout activities within a week or two, barring a setback, so it should provide him plenty of time to recover before the season begins. Assuming that's indeed the case, he should open the season among the top two pairings, and could pick up a fair number of assists while working with the likes of Alex Ovechkin and offseason addition T.J. Oshie.

 
 
 
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