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Neutral Zone Wrap: Setting realistic goals

by | Rotowire.com
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Anyone familiar with New Year's resolutions knows this process is confusing and often disappointing. Let's face it: you can't fulfill all your goals if you list the first things that come to mind or take suggestions from the hottest Twitter trends. So instead of wishing for several things to change, your best bet is to focus on improving one specific area and setting realistic goals to do so.

As average citizens strive for something better in 2014, so do professional athletes. No matter how successful a player may be, there is always room for improvement -- no matter how minor it is. NHLers are no different, since they've worked hard for years to refine their game and then maintain their position in the top flight. So as a Fantasy owner, you need to decide which slackers you can trust and which ones don't deserve your time and effort.

Using indicators such as underperformance and relative health, who can step up immediately? We've assembled the top candidates below, based mainly on previous results and current opportunities. As was the case last week, no players from the November edition of this topic will be repeated here.

(Stats as of Monday December 30)

Patrik Berglund, F, Blues: When he was selected in the first round back in 2006, Berglund had been touted as a future No. 1 center. The size, the hands, the vision. For one reason (former defensive liability) or another (perceived lack of effort), the anointing never materialized. A few flashes of brilliance here and there (like the 47 points in his rookie year) but nothing consistent over a significant period. Now that a couple of Blues forwards are dinged up (most notably, Alexander Steen), the supine Swede has the chance to provide more in all situations (and five in his last five is a good start).

Tyler Ennis, F, Sabres: Pick a Sabre forward, any Sabre forward. Heck, we could've included Marcus Foligno, Drew Stafford or even (shudder) Ville Leino here. But Ennis has been selected since he skates on the top unit (whatever that would qualify as on Buffalo), has underachieved to date (15 in 39), and owns the moves to break out at any moment. The speedy sniper has proved this in his first three full seasons in the Queen City (114 in 177, 45 of them goals). You may want to lower your expectations based on the complementary offense, but you could pick worse.

Tobias Enstrom, D, Jets: One may be frustrated by Enstrom's performance this season (12 in 40) but it isn't as if he is being prevented from doing well. Check his overall minutes (just under 24 a night) and pay special attention to his solid stint on the power-play (averages 3:30). So the Nordingra native isn't clicking at his normal 0.6 (or higher) points per game rate but at least he notched his first PPP since October 11th (a gap of 32 (!) games). Be patient with this blueliner and you should be rewarded.

Adam Henrique, F, Devils: Ever since his junior days in Windsor with Taylor Hall, Henrique has played second fiddle to some other talented scorer. The 82nd pick in the 2008 draft began his pro career in good company, usually centering a line that included Ilya Kovalchuk. Following an outstanding opening campaign (Calder finalist with 51 in 72), Henrique dropped off considerably in his second spell (16 in 42). And when the Russian superstar opted to retire from North American duty this past summer, it was assumed his numbers would stay low. And while the total isn't awesome (eight goals and eight assists), there is recent hope (tallies in consecutive outings).

Mike Smith, G, Coyotes: Many will remember Smith as that goalie who almost led the Coyotes to the Western Conference Final in 2012. Since then, nothing of note. His record is encouraging (15 wins versus eight losses) but the other indicators would never be categorized as elite (2.83 GAA places him near the bottom, .914 SV% gets him in the middle of the pack). The good news is the lack of competition for the starting job in Phoenix (he ain't afraid of no Greiss), meaning Smith doesn't really have to worry about being replaced unless he really, really sucks.

Honorable mention: Erik Cole, F, Stars; Cory Conacher, F, Senators; David Desharnais, F, Canadiens; Dmitry Kulikov, D, Panthers; Cam Ward, G, Hurricanes

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Player News
Chris Driedger
Sens Send Driedger To Minors
Chris Driedger, G, OTT
12:54 AM
News: The Senators assigned Chris Driedger to ECHL Evansville on Sunday.
Analysis: Chris Driedger heads back down to the minors Sunday in a move that corresponds with the team's activation of fellow goalie Craig Anderson.

Jonathan Quick
Kings Start Quick On Sunday
Jonathan Quick, G, LA
12:36 AM
News: Jonathan Quick is slated to start Sunday's game against the Jets, Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times reports.
Analysis: Jonathan Quick, who stopped 27 of 28 shots in a 1-0 shutout loss Thursday to the Senators, returns to the Kings' net Sunday to square off against Winnipeg's Michael Hutchinson.

Keith Aulie
Aulie Placed On Waivers By Oilers
Keith Aulie, D, EDM
12:12 AM
News: Keith Aulie was placed on waivers by the Oilers on Sunday, according to the Edmonton Journal.
Analysis: Keith Aulie was not in the Oilers' future plans, as he has only played 18 games this season. If he passes through waivers, he will likely be sent to AHL Oklahoma City.

Jake Allen
Blues Go With Allen on Sunday
Jake Allen, G, STL
12:12 AM
News: Jake Allen is slated to start Sunday's game against the Canucks, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Analysis: Jake Allen, who has given way Brian Elliott over the Blues' last two games, will look to bounce back from Tuesday's tough outing, in which he gave up five goals on 23 shots in a 5-2 loss to Montreal.

Curtis McElhinney
Blue Jackets Turn To McElhinney On Sunday
Curtis McElhinney, G, CLB
12:06 AM
News: Curtis McElhinney is slated to start Sunday's game against the Penguins, Jeff Rimer of Fox Sports Ohio reports.
Analysis: Per the report, Curtis McElhinney will be backed up Sunday by Sergei Bobrovsky, who may play Tuesday against the Capitals.

Mats Zuccarello
Rangers' Zuccarello Signs Extension
Mats Zuccarello, RW, NYR
3/1/2015
News: Mats Zuccarello agreed to a four-year, $18 million contract extension with the Rangers on Sunday, ESPN New York reports.
Analysis: The 27-year-old Norwegian is now signed through 2018-19 for $4.5 million per year. He has 35 points (12 goals) through 59 games this season, after scoring a career-high 59 points (19 goals) over 77 games in 2013-14.

Tim Jackman
Ducks' Jackman Considered Day-To-Day
Tim Jackman, RW, ANA
3/1/2015
News: Tim Jackman (lower body) is considered day-to-day, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: The designation doesn't mean much, as it comes just a few hours after Tim Jackman suffered the injury. He managed only 38 seconds of ice time in Sunday's game against the Stars, and he may not be available for Tuesday's game in Arizona.

Nikita Kucherov
Tampa's Kucherov Continues Strong Season
Nikita Kucherov, RW, TB
3/1/2015
News: Nikita Kucherov picked up an assist in Sunday's loss to Florida. He has eight points, including four goals, in his last 10 games.
Analysis: Nikita Kucherov's outstanding season simply keeps chugging along. He has 54 points in 64 games, a pace that could net him 70 points this season. Keep him in your lineup.

Brian Boyle
Bolts' Boyle: Point In Each Of Last Two Games
Brian Boyle, C, TB
3/1/2015
News: Brian Boyle picked up an assist in Sunday's loss to the Panthers. He now has a point in each of his last two games.
Analysis: He's not really known for his scoring, so these points are a bonus. He has delivered at least 100 each of shots and hits this season, so he does have some value in leagues with a wide range of scoring categories.

Marcus Johansson
Caps' Johansson Adds Goal In Win
Marcus Johansson, LW, WAS
3/1/2015
News: Marcus Johansson picked up a power-play goal in Sunday's 4-0 win over the Maple Leafs.
Analysis: After being stuck at 14 for six games, Marcus Johansson broke his old career-best mark with his 15th goal of the season. The 24-year-old has been ticking along at a fairly consistent pace, and needs just 10 points in the team's last 18 games to match his 46-point total from three seasons ago.

 
 
 
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