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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
Michael Chaput
Jackets' Chaput Making Push For Roster Spot
Michael Chaput, C, CLB
8:57 AM
News: Michael Chaput had another strong exhibition game Monday, picking up an assist and winning seven of 12 faceoffs, the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: With Ryan Johansen, Boone Jenner and Nathan Horton all now likely to miss the beginning of the regular season, Michael Chaput stands a good chance of making the NHL roster and centering the fourth line, which would allow coach Todd Richards to use Mark Letestu higher up in the lineup. Chaput wouldn't have much fantasy upside in that role, but he was able to provide some offense last season in the AHL, and once he gets a foot in the door he has the grit and skill to earn Richards' trust.

Boone Jenner
Jackets' Jenner Out With Broken Hand
Boone Jenner, C, CLB
8:52 AM
News: Boone Jenner suffered a broken left hand during Sunday's practice after being struck by a puck, the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: He'll undergo more tests before the Jackets have a clear idea regarding the timetable for his return, but initial reports suggest Boone Jenner could be out as long as two months. Combined with Ryan Johansen's contract dispute and Nathan Horton's lingering back issues, the club will begin the regular season missing an entire line's worth of top six forwards.

Curtis McElhinney
Jackets' McElhinney Notches Preseason Shutout
Curtis McElhinney, G, CLB
8:48 AM
News: Curtis McElhinney made 36 saves Monday as the Blue Jackets downed the Predators 2-0 in preseason action.
Analysis: He won't see much action behind Sergei Bobrovsky, but Curtis McElhinney looks ready for the regular season to begin.

Alexander Steen
Blues' Steen Expected Back Tuesday
Alexander Steen, LW, STL
8:15 AM
News: Alexander Steen (undisclosed) is expected to be back in the Blues' lineup Tuesday against Carolina, according to Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Analysis: Alexander Steen missed the Blues' last pre-season game with a "minor injury," but should be ready for the regular season. Health is a concern for Steen after he missed a dozen games last season, but the fact he scored 33 times shows that he can be very productive when he is near 100%.

Jaden Schwartz
Blues' Schwartz To Make Debut Thursday
Jaden Schwartz, LW, STL
8:09 AM
News: Jaden Schwartz is expected to make his pre-season debut Thursday against Minnesota, according to Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Analysis: Jaden Schwartz will get back on the ice with teammates in a game for the first time since re-signing with the Blues. He is looking to build on his breakout season by getting into camp early enough to be ready for the Blues' opener on October 9.

Michael Stone
Coyotes' Stone In Mix for Top Six
Michael Stone, D, ARI
8:04 AM
News: Michael Stone, who scored eight times last season, is in line for a top six pairing, but who he will be partnered with is unclear, according to the Arizona Republic's Sarah McLellan. He will also get a look for the Coyotes' second power play unit.
Analysis: The Coyotes are playing with their defense pairings in training camp and pre-season games. If he gets some power play time, Michael Stone's value will increase, but it's too early to read much into the team's plans at this point. Still, this is positive news for the 24 year-old.

Mike Smith
Coyotes' Smith Sharp In Win
Mike Smith, G, ARI
7:54 AM
News: Mike Smith stopped 23 of 25 shots he faced in a pre-season win over the Canucks on Monday. He played all 60 minutes in the victory.
Analysis: Mike Smith appears to be fully recovered from an MCL injury suffered late last season. He is one of the keys to the Coyotes making it back to the playoffs after two straight years falling short.

Gustav Nyquist
Wings' Nyquist Practices Tuesday
Gustav Nyquist, C, DET
7:13 AM
News: Gustav Nyquist (knee) was on the ice for practice Tuesday, Chuck Pleiness of the Macomb Daily reports.
Analysis: Even if he's limited in the final preseason contests, Gustav Nyquist appears to be on track to play Opening Night, but it sounds like there is a good chance he'll be back on the ice for game action before then.

Jonathan Ericsson
Wings' Ericsson Sits Again Tuesday
Jonathan Ericsson, D, DET
7:11 AM
News: Jonathan Ericsson (groin/hip flexor) was held out of practice for the second straight day Tuesday, Ansar Khan of MLive.com reports.
Analysis: He's considered day-to-day, and the Wings continue to suggest that the injury is not serious.

Jonathan Drouin
Bolts' Drouin Practicing Without Contact
Jonathan Drouin, LW, TB
6:51 AM
News: Jonathan Drouin (thumb) was on the ice in a non-contact jersey Tuesday, Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune reports.
Analysis: That he's on the ice in any capacity is certainly a good sign in his recovery. The current expectation is that Jonathan Drouin will miss at least the first week of the regular season as a result of the injury which is believed to have been suffered earlier this month.

 
 
 
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