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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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Steve Mason
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Analysis: Steve Mason figures to make a full recovery well before the season, as the Flyers' first preseason game is scheduled for Sept. 22. Following a strong 2013-14 campaign, he's locked in as the team's top netminder.

Scott Glennie
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News: Scott Glennie signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Stars on Thursday, NHL.com's Mark Stepneski reports.
Analysis: Scott Glennie, 23, spent the entirety of the 2013-14 season at AHL Texas, scoring 15 goals and 13 assists over 50 games. He'll vie for a roster spot with the parent club in training camp, but seems likely to see most of his time in the minors again during the upcoming campaign.

Mikael Samuelsson
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Mikael Samuelsson, RW, DET
7/31/2014
News: Mikael Samuelsson signed with Djurgarden of the Swedish Hockey League on Thursday, Brian Manzullo of the Detroit Free Press reports.
Analysis: Now 37 years old, Mikael Samuelsson seems content to conclude his career in his native country. The winger was limited to 26 games with the Red Wings last season due to injury, finishing with just three points.

Nick Spaling
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7/31/2014
News: Nick Spaling and the Penguins came to terms on a two-year, $4.4 million contract Thursday, avoiding arbitration, Shelly Anderson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Analysis: The restricted free agent was a secondary piece acquired by the Penguins in the June 27 trade that sent James Neal to the Predators. Nick Spaling, who produced 13 goals and 19 assists in 71 games last season, could see his scoring numbers take a step back in 2014-15, as the Penguins' current crop of wingers will likely push him into a bottom-six role.

Robin Lehner
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Robin Lehner, G, OTT
7/31/2014
News: Robin Lehner agreed to terms on a three-year, $6.675 million contract with the Senators on Thursday, Chris Johnston of Rogers Sportsnet reports.
Analysis: Injuries and ineffective play by No. 1 netminder Craig Anderson opened the door for Robin Lehner to make 36 appearances last season, but the young goalie didn't seem prepared for the opportunity, yielding a 3.06 GAA and .913 save percentage. Anderson's similarly meager numbers open the door for Lehner to stake a claim to the starting goalie job, with the Senators likely content to ride the hot goalie most nights. Even so, it likely won't be until the 2015-16 season that Lehner will enjoy long-term job security, as Anderson's contract isn't set to expire until next summer.

Carey Price
Montreal's Price To Begin Skating In August
Carey Price, G, MON
7/30/2014
News: Carey Price (knee) won't begin skating until mid-August, the Tri-City Herald reports.
Analysis: Carey Price injured his knee in the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals and was knocked out of the playoffs, but he did not need surgery. The knee has healed enough for him to play in a charity golf event, but we won't know if the knee is in hockey shape until August.

Andy Greene
Devils, Greene Agree On Long-Term Deal
Andy Greene, D, NJ
7/30/2014
News: Andy Greene and the Devils reached an agreement on a long-term contract Wednesday, Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record reports.
Analysis: The team hasn't specified the exact length of the contract, but it sounds like the 32-year-old Andy Greene could be locked in with the Devils for the rest of his career. He's entrenched himself as the team's top defenseman over the past two seasons, leading the unit in ice time while registering eight goals and 24 assists in 2013-14.

Dwight King
King Re-Signs with Kings
Dwight King, LW, LA
7/30/2014
News: Dwight King signed a three-year, $5.85 million deal to remain with the Kings on Wednesday, LAKingsInsider.com reports.
Analysis: The two sides completed the deal just in time to avoid a salary arbitration hearing that was set for Friday. Coming off of his best NHL season in which he played 77 games, Dwight King was productive cog in the machine for the Stanley Cup champs. He netted 15 goals along with 30 points, and had an overall rating of plus-16 when he was on the ice.

Matt Halischuk
Halischuk Signs With Jets
Matt Halischuk, RW, WPG
7/30/2014
News: Matt Halischuk has signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Jets worth $725,000, the Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun reports.
Analysis: Matt Halischuk thus returns to the Jets, on the heels of his first season with the team, in which the winger recorded a modest total of 10 points (including five goals) in 46 contests.

Nail Yakupov
Oilers' Yakupov Back To Full Strength
Nail Yakupov, RW, EDM
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News: Nail Yakupov (foot) is skating and fully healthy, the Oilers' official site reports.
Analysis: Nail Yakupov was injured back in February when he took a slap shot from teammate Justin Schultz off his foot. If the season started now, he'd be ready to go -- now it's just a matter of him bouncing back from last year's brutal campaign.

 
 
 
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