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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
Antoine Roussel
Stars' Roussel Tallies Empty-Net Goal
Antoine Roussel, LW, DAL
5:49 AM
News: Antoine Roussel potted an empty-net goal -- his seventh marker of the season -- in Wednesday's 2-0 win over the Canucks.
Analysis: The Stars' resident pest now has 16 points and 50 shots to go with his 62 PIMS, making him relevant in nearly all formats that count PIM this season. Antoine Roussel has four points in his last four games after being held off the scoresheet for the previous six, so owners may want to get him back in their lineups if they haven't done so already.

Kari Lehtonen
Stars' Lehtonen Pitches Shutout Wednesday
Kari Lehtonen, G, DAL
5:40 AM
News: Kari Lehtonen stopped all 27 shots in a 2-0 shutout win over the Canucks on Wednesday. It was his second shutout of the season.
Analysis: The goose egg improves Kari Lehtonen's record to 12-7-5 on the year, although his numbers (2.97 GAA, .906 save percentage) are slightly worse than his career averages of 2.68 and .914. He's still one of the more talented goalies in the league and has a shot at becoming a top-10 fantasy netminder if the Stars can find a way to play well more consistently as the first half of the season winds down.

Eddie Lack
Canucks' Lack Allows One Goal In Loss
Eddie Lack, G, VAN
5:35 AM
News: Eddie Lack turned aside 28 of 29 shots but came away the loser as the Stars blanked the Canucks 2-0 on Wednesday. The second goal was an empty netter.
Analysis: Eddie Lack has been mediocre in relief of Ryan Miller this season, posting a 2-4-2 record with a 2.59 GAA and .916 GAA in 11 appearances. He was solid enough to deserve the win in this one, but the Stars' Kari Lehtonen's 27-save shutout thwarted all the Canucks' attempts at providing goal support for the Swede.

David Desharnais
Habs' Desharnais Adjusting
David Desharnais, C, MON
3:36 AM
News: David Desharnais, who was dropped to the third line recently, has a goal and two assists in the last two games.
Analysis: David Desharnais is adjusting to his new linemates, centering Brandon Prust and P.A. Parenteau for the time being. At some point, when Lars Eller returns from an upper-body injury, the lines may be tweaked again.

Taylor Hall
Oilers' Hall In Midst Of Cold Spell
Taylor Hall, LW, EDM
12:43 AM
News: Taylor Hall has tallied just one point in the Oilers' last seven games.
Analysis: Taylor Hall hasn't seen his shot attempts take a dramatic dip during the scoring drought, but if he's not finding the back of the net with regularity, the Oilers are in a serious trouble. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that with Hall slumping, the Oilers haven't mustered more than two goals in any match during that seven-game stretch. The burden of carrying the Oilers for the past five seasons clearly seems to be weighing down Hall, whose name has been starting to show up in trade rumors more frequently of late.

Reilly Smith
Bruins' Smith Producing Steadily
Reilly Smith, RW, BOS
12:34 AM
News: Reilly Smith netted a goal in Tuesday's shootout loss to the Predators.
Analysis: After a meager start to the season, Reilly Smith has really clicked since joining Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron on the top trio, tallying four goals and two assists over the last five games. Smith's recent surge in production could make it tough on coach Claude Julien to break up the trio once David Krejci (groin) returns, which could happen as soon as Wednesday's game against the Wild.

Chris Thorburn
Jets' Thorburn Scores Goal In Win
Chris Thorburn, RW, WPG
12:30 AM
News: Chris Thorburn scored his second goal of the season in Tuesday's victory over the Sabres.
Analysis: As his two points in 31 games would suggest, Chris Thorburn isn't someone the Jets are looking to for offense most nights. Instead, he'll carry most of his value as a grinder on the checking line and a leader in the locker room.

Carl Hagelin
Rangers' Hagelin Bags Goal Tuesday
Carl Hagelin, LW, NYR
12:25 AM
News: Carl Hagelin tallied his seventh goal of the season in Tuesday's 5-2 victory over the Oilers.
Analysis: Carl Hagelin has notched goals in back-to-back contests, giving him 13 points in 29 contests this season. However, he's currently skating on the third line with Kevin Hayes and Lee Stempniak, a role that won't afford him much more than 15 minutes per night. He's a solid depth scorer for the Rangers, but fantasy owners can likely do better.

Josh Harding
No Timetable For Harding's Return From MS Setback
Josh Harding, G, MIN
12:21 AM
News: Josh Harding has yet to return to practice with Iowa teammates since being hospitalized for dehydration after playing two periods for AHL Iowa on Dec. 6, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. The dehydration episode was related to his multiple sclerosis.
Analysis: There's no timetable for his return and it sounds like this could be a significant setback to his multiple sclerosis issues.

Bryce Salvador
Devils' Salvador Still Not Skating
Bryce Salvador, D, NJ
12:11 AM
News: Bryce Salvador (lower body) has yet to resume skating since landing on injured reserve Nov. 17, Tom Gulitti of The Record reports.
Analysis: Bryce Salvador suggested that he's making progress, but he has yet to show anything tangible that would indicate as much. The 38-year-old is in the final year of his contract with the Devils and could be headed for retirement once the season concludes.

 
 
 
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