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Neutral Zone Wrap: Injuries are piling up

by | Rotowire.com
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One quarter of the way through and all is well in the NHL. The action is quick, the competition is intense and the excitement is indescribable. And the fans are eating it up, right down to the final second of every game.

But then there are the injuries. Oh boy, how they've multiplied lately. Don't think a recent list of casualties needs to be mentioned, so let's just say their absence affects many fantasy teams – enough to make the average owner contemplate undertaking a new hobby.

If you lost a player to a serious injury, then there's nothing you can do. Move on. But if he is carrying some form of non-threatening physical issue, then evaluation is required. Based on the injury, can he return within a week? A month? Longer? Has this problem been lingering and/or possibly hindering performance?

Only when these questions have been answered can you properly assess the status of your lineup. Then you can decide how to fix the holes and reach a point where injuries don't matter. (Except if more than, say, three or four are out. Then you may want to consult a fantasy expert for further consultation.)

After a couple weeks of fooling around with projections, we're back to the five-team format. Let's check the latest talk:

(Stats as of Monday November 18)

The Lightning may have blown a fuse but that won't discourage the current Eastern Conference leaders. Yes, Steven Stamkos (broken tibia) is All-World and will be missed. But his absence only allows others their chance to shine. Valtteri Filppula becomes the obvious beneficiary as he moves up on the power-play (where he has already amassed seven points). Alex Killorn (seven in eight) had already been promoted to the top line but now he moves to center, which allows hotshot Brett Connolly (one goal in nine) to slot in at wing. Tyler Johnson began with a bang last season (six in his first five) and has the chance to build upon this. At 39, maybe we shouldn't expect a lot from Sami Salo (scoreless in 11). And if you haven't heard of Radko Gudas by now (six points, 61 PIM, 74 hits), then you've surely missed the boat.

If you're looking for bargain replacements, then Phoenix is your place to shop. Beyond the obvious leaders, Lauri Korpikoski (five in four) remains your first cheaper option. Give David Moss (five in nine) a chance as long as he continues to skate with the first unit. Rob Klinkhammer (three in 11 after four goals in the opening half) has slowed enough to avoid recommendation. Michael Stone (six points -- all goals) serves as the newest blueline flavor of the week, but keep an eye on repeated letdown David Rundblad (he of the one PPP and 14 healthy scratches) to see if he can string a few decent efforts together.

Defense wins championships, but you probably won't go far if you can't score enough. Minnesota may own the best statistical goalie and uplifting story in Josh Harding (12-2-2, 1.25 GAA, .946 SV%), but they're a few markers short of becoming elite (19th in the league with a 2.47 average). Any one of Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, or Nino Niederreiter (combined seven goals) could find the net a little more. Oh, and that former 50-goal man Dany Heatley (four points matching his fourth-line service) must surely be able to recall what he used to do regularly. Jared Spurgeon (seven, including three PPPs) looks to be maintaining his position but one would like to see more from Jonas Brodin (nothing in nine) based on the massive minutes (25:03 a night).

Perhaps we need to see more from Columbus before we can judge their overall worthiness. Management gave up quite a bit to acquire Marian Gaborik (11 in 17, out at least a month), yet Brandon Dubinsky (15, 40 PIM, 53 hits) continues to assert himself as the more consistent arrival from NYC. Don't discount R.J. Umberger, whose hard work has usually translated to the stat sheet (four goals in seven). Both Ryan Johansen (13) and Cam Atkinson (eight) appear to be able to hold their own. No need to highlight James Wisniewski (leads club with 16 points) but here's a thumbs-up for both veteran Fedor Tyutin (four PPPs) and rookie Ryan Murray (only four but up to almost a 19-minute average). As for Jack Johnson (five, minus-7), well, he better improve or else we'll begin to associate that full name with some sappy songwriter/surfer.

Nashville sure picked the wrong division to be in, as they sit last in the Central even though they own a non-losing record. Ain't no slowing down David Legwand (12 in 10) and no need to rush two-time wounded Mike Fisher (eight in 13). Much more is required from both Gabriel Bourque (five) and Colin Wilson (four-point game in between 11 zeroes). Seth Jones started off his pro career with promise (four in first eight) but now he's truly learning the ropes (one in six, demoted to third defensive pairing). That means Roman Josi (two PPAs Saturday) has been reunited with Shea Weber. Even with Pekka Rinne (hip infection) out indefinitely, stay away from either Carter Hutton (3.39 GAA, .891 SV% in 10) or Marek Mazanec (3.16 GAA, .911 SV% in four).

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Player News
Valeri Nichushkin
Stars' Nichushkin Says Injury Is Behind Him
Valeri Nichushkin, RW, DAL
5:49 PM
News: Valeri Nichushkin missed most of last year after an early-season hip injury, but is expected to be healthy for the start of the season. In an update at the Stars' site he said, "Everything feels so good now. I don't feel pain anymore."
Analysis: The promising young winger played only four games before getting injured, then played just four of the team's final five games after coming back. If healthy, he is expected to get top six minutes this season playing wing for either Tyler Seguin or Jason Spezza, which should make the big winger a potential fantasy sleeper.

Anze Kopitar
Extension Talks Lagging Between Kings, Kopitar
Anze Kopitar, C, LA
4:53 PM
News: Kings GM Dean Lombardi said that Anze Kopitar and the team are "not even in the ballpark" when he was asked if the two parties were close to reaching agreement on a long-term extension, Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider reports.
Analysis: Anze Kopitar, who is entering the final season of a seven-year, $47.6 million pact, has been eligible to sign an extension with the Kings since July 1, but the team's unfavorable cap situation coupled with the star center's justifiably high salary demands have made negotiations difficult. While a deal isn't likely to be finalized in the near future, the Kings are still likely to hammer out a deal with Kopitar before he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Brad Marchand
Bruins' Marchand Recovering From Elbow Issue
Brad Marchand, LW, BOS
4:41 PM
News: Brad Marchand revealed Tuesday that he's recovering from an offseason procedure to repair torn tendons in his elbow, CSN New England's Joe Haggerty reports.
Analysis: The Bruins were initially tight-lipped regarding the nature of Brad Marchand's surgery earlier this summer, but the winger relayed that he'd been playing through the injury since before the team's playoff run in 2014. While the elbow issue was never severe enough to sideline him for significant stretches of action last season, it may have been responsible for the decline in scoring he noticed, despite a nearly full-minute uptick in average ice time. Marchand said he's still rehabbing the elbow following his surgery, but he expects to be fully recovered by the time training camp opens.

Tuukka Rask
Bruins' Rask Eyeing Another 70-Game Season
Tuukka Rask, G, BOS
4:27 PM
News: Tuukka Rask, who appeared in 70 of the Bruins' 82 games last season, believes he can withstand the rigors of a similar workload in 2015-16, Joe Haggerty of CSN Boston reports.
Analysis: The 70 appearances matched a team record and represented a career high for Tuukka Rask, who was called upon so frequently due to both the Bruins' tenuous presence on the bubble of the Eastern Conference race and the lack of a reliable backup behind their star netminder. Last year's understudy, Niklas Svedberg, has since returned to Russia, but new backup candidates Jeremy Smith, Malcolm Subban, and Zane McIntyre are likewise unproven at the NHL level, likely putting pressure on Rask to bear a heavy slate of starts. The 12-game increase in appearances from his Vezina-winning 2013-14 campaign saw Rask notice a fairly significant drop in both his GAA (2.04 to 2.30) and save percentage (.930 to .922), which could temper enthusiasm about a bounce back if coach Claude Julien is unable to scale back the goalie's workload.

Joel Ward
Role On Middle Lines Likely Waits For Sharks' Ward
Joel Ward, RW, SJ
4:06 PM
News: Joel Ward is expected to slot in on the Sharks' second or third line during the upcoming season, CSN Bay Area's Kevin Kurz reports.
Analysis: Joel Ward occasionally saw time with Alex Ovechkin and Niklas Backstrom last season, but with Joe Pavelski locked in as the Sharks' top-line right wing, such a favorable role won't await the winger in San Jose. That said, a gig next to second-line center and rising star Logan Couture would be a good consolation prize for Ward, whose reputation as a clutch scorer and power-play asset may be enough for him to leapfrog the team's other uninspiring depth forwards.

Charlie Coyle
Wild's Coyle To Open Training Camp At Center
Charlie Coyle, C, MIN
3:39 PM
News: Wild coach Mike Yeo said Charlie Coyle would open training camp as a center, Chad Graff of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.
Analysis: Charlie Coyle is the leading candidate to pivot Minnesota's third line, with Nino Niederreiter and Justin Fontaine expected to join him at either wing. The 23-year-old has tallied 30 and 35 points in each of his full two seasons in Minnesota, but he'll likely need to find himself in a top-six role before a more notable breakout comes to fruition.

Ryan McDonagh
Rangers' McDonagh Back To Full Health
Ryan McDonagh, D, NYR
3:25 PM
News: Ryan McDonagh (foot) has resumed skating at 100 percent and began his normal training regimen in August for the upcoming season, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: After spending six weeks in a walking boot upon breaking his foot in the Eastern Conference Finals, Ryan McDonagh rested up for another month before taking the ice again. Since he's only been healthy for a few weeks, it could take McDonagh until the middle or latter portion of training camp before he gets back to full speed. In addition to the broken foot, McDonagh dealt with a separated shoulder for much of last November, which may have explained his 10-point drop in scoring from the season prior. McDonagh has historically done well to avoid the injury bug, so it wouldn't be a surprise if he returns a 40-point scorer with a better run of health likely on the horizon.

Scottie Upshall
Upshall Agrees To PTO With Blues
Scottie Upshall, LW, FLA
2:56 PM
News: Scottie Upshall signed a professional tryout offer with the Blues on Tuesday, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Analysis: After totaling 37 points in 76 games for the Panthers in 2013-14, Scottie Upshall saw both his minutes and scoring tail off considerably last season, finishing the season with just 15 points while averaging 12:41 of ice time. Upshall's decline was accelerated by a number of younger forwards claiming bigger roles, and aside from a bump up in plus/minus rating, the 32-year-old's situation isn't likely to change for the better if he's able to claim a spot on the Blues' roster. The Blues iced one of the league's most productive attacks last season, and probably wouldn't have room for Upshall in anything more than a fourth-line role, where he'd receive few opportunities to generate points.

Nikolaj Ehlers
Jets' Ehlers Expected To Contend For NHL Gig
Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, WPG
2:40 PM
News: Nikolaj Ehlers is expected to contend for a 23-man roster spot with the Jets during training camp, the Winnipeg Sun reports.
Analysis: Nikolaj Ehlers, the No. 3 overall pick by Winnipeg in 2014, cemented himself as the team's top prospect -- and one of the best under-20 players in any organization -- after turning in a scintillating 2014-15 campaign for QMJHL Halifax. For the second straight season, he tallied over 100 points, showcasing the necessary tools to become one of the NHL's top scorers in due time. The Jets don't appear to have any immediate openings in their top-six ranks, so Ehlers would likely have to fight for a third-line role out of training camp, while potentially seeing time on the team's second power-play unit. Those types of duties won't lend themselves to premium offense, but if Ehlers can score at a high clip in limited minutes, it might not be long before the Jets carve out an even larger role for him.

Joshua Morrissey
Jets' Morrissey Expected To Open Year In AHL
Joshua Morrissey, D, WPG
2:31 PM
News: Joshua Morrissey is expected to open the upcoming season with AHL Manitoba, the Winnipeg Sun reports.
Analysis: Joshua Morrissey, the Jets' top defenseman prospect who oozes offensive upside, is coming off a stellar junior-league campaign in which he produced 13 goals and 25 assists over 47 WHL games. The 20-year-old isn't far away from being NHL ready, but with nine defensemen on one-way contracts entering training camp, the Jets already have a wealth of options at the position to depend on. Though injuries could pave the way for Morrissey to see time with the big club this season, he'll be better served developing his skills further at the AHL level.

 
 
 
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