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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
Dan Ellis
Ellis Inks Deal With Washington
Dan Ellis, G, FLA
8:37 AM
News: Dan Ellis signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Capitals on Saturday, Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post reports.
Analysis: The 35-year-old will provide Washington with additional goaltender depth at the AHL level, but likely won't get asked to make many NHL starts in 2015-16, as he'll probably slot in as the Caps' fourth string goaltender behind Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer, and Justin Peters. However, Dan Ellis was solid when called upon by the Panthers last season, going 4-3-1 with a 2.35 GAA and a .914 save percentage in eight games with Florida.

Jamie McBain
McBain Re-Signs With Kings
Jamie McBain, D, LA
8:28 AM
News: Jamie McBain re-signed Friday with the Kings on a one-year, two-way contract, Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times reports.
Analysis: With Slava Voynov's status uncertain for 2015-16 following his jailing for domestic violence as well as an Achilles injury, Jamie McBain could have a shot at settling into a regular role on defense for the Kings. He provided better-than-expected results as a fill-in last season when injuries compromised the Kings' depth, contributing three goals and nine points in 26 games while seeing limited ice time.

Derek Smith
FA Smith Heads To Arizona On A Two-Way Deal
Derek Smith, D, ARI
8:25 AM
News: Derek Smith signed Friday with the Coyotes on a one-year, two-way contract.
Analysis: Derek Smith played in Switzerland last season for Zurich, recording five points and four PIM over 25 games. The 30-year-old will function as organizational defensive depth at AHL Portland.

Eric Selleck
Coyotes Re-Sign Selleck
Eric Selleck, LW, ARI
8:23 AM
News: Eric Selleck re-signed Friday with the Coyotes on a one-year, two-way contract.
Analysis: Eric Selleck will more than likely return to AHL Portland this season, after accruing eight goals and 23 points with them over 74 games in 2014-15. The 27-year-old isn't likely to be near the top of the list for the Coyotes as a potential forward call-up.

Cory Conacher
Former Senator Conacher Heads To Switzerland
Cory Conacher, LW, VAN
8:16 AM
News: Cory Conacher signed a contract Thursday with SC Bern of the Swiss Elite League, David Pagnotta of TheFourthPeriod.com reports.
Analysis: After flaming out with a number of NHL clubs over the last two seasons, Cory Conacher will now try to recoup some value over in Europe. Conacher is still just 25 years old, so the door is hardly closed for a return to the NHL down the road.

Andrew Ebbett
Ex-Penguin Ebbett Headed To Switzerland
Andrew Ebbett, C, PIT
8:13 AM
News: Andrew Ebbett signed a contract Thursday with SC Bern of the Swiss Elite League, David Pagnotta of TheFourthPeriod.com reports.
Analysis: Andrew Ebbett split his action between the Penguins and their AHL affiliate at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season. Seeing light minutes with the parent club, he finished with a goal and six points in 24 games, but scored at a point-per-game clip with the AHL club. He'll have a chance to shoulder a large offensive burden with Bern, and if he performs well enough, he could earn himself a one-way NHL deal if he elects to return to North America next season.

Cody Bass
Bass Inks One-Year Deal With Predators
Cody Bass, C, CHI
8:06 AM
News: Cody Bass signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Predators on Saturday, Adam Vingan of The Tennessean reports.
Analysis: Cody Bass, who registered 14 points in 61 games with AHL Rockford in 2014-15, was signed by the Predators on Saturday in order to provide the team with some depth at forward at the AHL level in 2015-16. He will likely spend most of his time with AHL Milwaukee next season.

Andrew MacWilliam
Jets Ink MacWilliam To Two-Way Deal
Andrew MacWilliam, D, WPG
7:41 AM
News: Andrew MacWilliam signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Jets on Friday, Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun reports.
Analysis: The Maple Leafs didn't tender Andrew MacWilliam a qualifying offer after he split time between AHL Toronto and the parent club last season, appearing in 12 games at the latter and recording no goals and two assists. The 25-year-old will provide the Jets with organizational defensive depth from the left side.

Ryan O'Reilly
Sabres' O'Reilly Extended For Seven Years, $52.5M
Ryan O'Reilly, C, BUF
7/3/2015
News: Ryan O'Reilly's contract extension with the Sabres will be for seven years and $52.5 million, Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada reports.
Analysis: The $7.5 million annual average value on the deal makes Ryan O'Reilly one of the game's highest-paid players. The Sabres and O'Reilly structured the contract in an atypical fashion, as the salary for each season is only $1 million, with the remainder of the money coming in the form of a signing bonus. It's a steep price to pay for Buffalo, but one the franchise deemed necessary in order to continue its overhaul of one of the league's weakest forward corps. It's worth noting that O'Reilly has scored over 20 goals just once in his career, and the Sabres' previous big money signings - including Christian Ehrhoff and Cody Hodgson - haven't panned out at all. Still, O'Reilly figures to get a lot of ice time in Buffalo and should provide some decent fantasy value.

Joel Ward
Sharks Sign Ward To Three-Year Deal
Joel Ward, RW, SJ
7/3/2015
News: Joel Ward signed a three-year, $9.825 million contract with the Sharks on Friday, CSN Bay Area's Kevin Kurz reports.
Analysis: After the Capitals replaced him with Justin Williams on the first day of free agency, Joel Ward ended up finding a home on the West Coast, where he'll join a veteran forward corps. Ward skated primarily on the third line with the Capitals in 2014-15, notching 19 goals and 34 points in 82 games. Historically, Ward has saved his best work for the postseason (14 goals, 21 assists in 53 playoff games), where the Sharks have infamously failed to come up in the clutch in recent seasons. The 34-year-old Ward probably isn't alone going to get them over the hump or even back in the playoffs, but he'll at least provide the Sharks with a serviceable third-line sniper.

 
 
 
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