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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
Nathan MacKinnon
Avs' MacKinnon Dishes Out Two Assists
Nathan MacKinnon, C, COL
12:53 PM
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Analysis: The two points snapped a three-game scoring drought for Nathan MacKinnon, who now has nine goals and 29 points in 50 games. While he's been held off the scoresheet in seven of his last nine games, the Avs are playing good hockey right now, picking up at least one point in six of their last seven games. MacKinnon's only 19, so we wouldn't give up on him just yet this season. His whopping 152 shots on goal indicate more goals are on the way. Patience is a virtue.

Mike Ribeiro
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Mike Ribeiro, C, NSH
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Analysis: While Mike Ribeiro has 43 points (33 assists) in 48 games this season, he is also now among the league's top-100 PIM leaders. Producing at basically a point-per-game pace and sporting a steady plus-15 rating, Ribeiro is worth owning in most formats.

Marek Mazanec
Preds' Mazanec Gives Up Two Goals In Loss
Marek Mazanec, G, NSH
12:35 PM
News: Marek Mazanec gave up two goals on 27 shots in Friday's loss to Colorado.
Analysis: It was a good effort from Marek Mazanec, who got no offensive support in the shutout loss. It was the first start of the season for the 23-year-old, who had been giving way to Carter Hutton in Pekka Rinne's (knee) absence. Considering Hutton has given up seven goals in his last two starts, Mazanec could be worth a temporary pick-up until Rinne returns.

Semyon Varlamov
Avs' Varlamov Makes 23 Saves, Blanks Predators
Semyon Varlamov, G, COL
12:24 PM
News: Semyon Varlamov stopped all 23 shots he faced in Friday's shutout win over Nashville.
Analysis: A perfect outing for the workhorse, who has started 14 of the Avs' past 15 games. Semyon Varlamov is now 13-10-7 on the season with a .922 save percentage and 2.62 GAA. He's delivered some consistency play of late, allowing more than three goals just once in his last 10 appearances. Considering he's starting almost every game for an Avs team that has picked up at least one point in six of their last seven games, Varlamov is a great own in almost all formats.

Dustin Tokarski
Habs' Tokarski Likely Starter Sunday
Dustin Tokarski, G, MON
5:15 AM
News: Dustin Tokarski is the likely starter for Sunday's matinee game against Phoenix, the Montreal Gazette reports.
Analysis: The Canadiens have back-to-back games at the Bell Centre this weekend beginning Saturday against Washington. Carey Price gets the start against the Capitals and we anticipate head coach Michel Therrien taking the usual course of getting Dustin Tokarski one of the starts in a back-to-back set.

Cory Schneider
Devils' Schneider Turns In Another Strong Outing
Cory Schneider, G, NJ
1:17 AM
News: Cory Schneider was outstanding Friday against the Penguins, stopping 41 of 43 shots in an overtime loss.
Analysis: It was just Cory Schneider's first loss in four starts, as he has been a brick wall of late. He leads the NHL with 43 starts this season and his save percentage has climbed to .922 -- seventh best in the NHL. The workhorse, who owns a 17-19-5 record on the year, is playing like a top-10 NHL netminder right now. You know what to do.

Jarome Iginla
Avs' Iginla Scores For Third Straight Game
Jarome Iginla, RW, COL
1:10 AM
News: Jarome Iginla scored for the third straight game in Friday's win over the Predators.
Analysis: It was Jarome Iginla's 1,200th career NHL point, as he now has 16 goals and 33 points in 50 games on the season. Iginla is worth looking at right now, as he's skating on the second line for an Avs team that has picked up a point in six of their last seven outings.

Patrick Eaves
Dallas' Eaves Posts Assist In Second Game Back
Patrick Eaves, RW, DAL
12:32 AM
News: Patrick Eaves had an assist and two shots in Thursday's win over the Senators.
Analysis: Patrick Eaves has collected a point in both of the games since he returned from injury. The former 20-goal scorer and first round pick isn't as reliable as he was in his first couple of seasons, but if you're in a deep league it may be worth keeping an eye on him to see if he can keep it up.

Cody Eakin
Eakin Goes Plus-3 In Stars Win
Cody Eakin, C, DAL
12:30 AM
News: Cody Eakin had an assist and was a plus-3 in the Stars' 6-3 win over Ottawa.
Analysis: Cody Eakin continues to develop into a reliable source of secondary scoring. He finished last season with 16 goals and 19 assists in 81 games and is on pace to best both of those numbers this season.

Brad Richardson
Canucks Place Richardson On IR
Brad Richardson, C, VAN
12:25 AM
News: Brad Richardson (ankle) was placed on injured reserve Friday.
Analysis: The Canucks recalled forward Ronalds Kenins in a corresponding move. Brad Richardson's activity remains limited while he recovers from the ankle injury, taking him out of the running to return to the lineup Friday. Since he's already missed over a week due to the injury, he'll be eligible for activation as soon as the Canucks deem his ready to go.

 
 
 
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