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Neutral Zone Wrap: No time to sleep in Fantasy

by | Rotowire.com
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Welcome to 2014. The holiday season hangover may still be lingering, but there's no time to sit back and relax. Fantasy doesn't wait for you to react; it hits back with force if you're not ready to take charge. Fall asleep and you can miss out on the hottest free agent or the chance to pluck a few valuable resources from other owners.

But you don't need to hear the same repeated warning week after week. That is, unless your memory is awful or you have a thing for the sight of reinforced instructions. (And if it's the latter, then you don't need to admit this to continue reading.)

As we begin a new year, we finish off our initial team reviews with the final five. A couple strong contenders appear below, with the remainder looking questionable at best. Your job, should you choose not to ignore it, is to separate the good guys from the bad buys:

(Stats as of Monday January 6)

It's no surprise the Penguins are ahead of the field in the East. And with a couple of their major pieces (No. 71 and No. 58) back in the fold, the rest of the league should tremble. With his regular caddy by his side, Jussi Jokinen (seven points in his last five) should continue to get his chances on net. Without Pascal Dupuis (torn ACL, see you next season), recent call-up Brian Gibbons (four in 10 after 27 in 23 for SWB in the AHL) has been gifted a top-six spot. While Matt Niskanen (points in four straight and seven of the last nine) is posting the better stats, rookie defenseman Olli Maatta (13 as a 19-year old) receives more of the attention. Even helping out on the fourth line won't guarantee Deryk Engelland (three in five since his five-game suspension) a significant role when Paul Martin (broken leg rehab, two more weeks) returns.

Like Pittsburgh, Chicago owns the depth and experience to lead their conference. And, heck, they are dangerous no matter which line is on the ice. Kris Versteeg proves you can always come home Ð and inject immediate influence (12 in his last 16). No signs of Brandon Saad (31 in 45) slowing down anytime soon. Andrew Shaw (one in 11) gives it his all, so his status (dabbling on the first power-play) probably buys him more time. Nothing happening for Bryan Bickell (eight all season, meager minutes, set to be benched), so don't rush out to acquire his services. Even with Corey Crawford entrenched in net, Antti Raanta (11-1, 2.27 GAA, .911 SV% in 16 appearances) earned the right to at least fill in on a more regular basis.

Another season, another year of waiting in Edmonton. Going No. 1 overall doesn't guarantee you anything, which is something Nail Yakupov (at a horrible minus-25) has slowly started to learn. After spending a couple weeks on the sidelines, Mark Arcobello will have to climb his way back (scoreless in six) if he wants to attempt to repeat his early exploits (10 in his first 10). Age is only a number, as Ryan Smyth (five in six) has shown. Lack of consistency, thy name is Ales Hemsky (three in 13 following five consecutive on the scoreboard). And if you're searching for the next short-term defenseman tease, look no further than the newly promoted Brad Hunt (15 in 27 for OKC, possible regular second-shift power-play duty).

If financial hockey success were built solely on defensive prowess, then Florida (fifth worst in the league with a 3.01 GAA) would be stuck in the poorhouse. But you already knew that for years, so let's concentrate on the real info. Many questioned the Panthers front office when they opted for Aleksander Barkov with the number two pick last summer, but the Finn has clearly cemented their choice (leads club with 21). The kid's success can be partially attributed by the assistance of veteran linemates Brad Boyes (five in three) and Sean Bergenheim (five in five, including two PPGs). And don't look now, but 2010 first-rounder Nick Bjugstad (top line ice time) is creeping his way into the Fantasy mindset.

In case you haven't heard, Winnipeg boasts a solid contingent up front; too bad their work on the back end leaves a lot to be desired. Holy Olli! Olli Jokinen, that is (eight in 12). Michal Frolik's rejuvenation (eight in 13 as an old man at 25) has earned him a call to the Czech Olympic squad. An extra year in junior seems to have done Mark Scheifele (12 in 12, averaging around 18 minutes) a lot of good. Skip past the goalies and make a beeline to the blueline. There is an abundance of offense at this position, including the oft-touted hotshot Jacob Trouba (seven in nine, plus-four) and the formerly mentioned underperformer Tobias Enstrom (has to improve from 13 in 45 when logging nearly 24 minutes a night).

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Player News
Joakim Nordstrom
Nordstrom, Blackhawks Agree On One-Year Deal
Joakim Nordstrom, C, CHI
9/2/2015
News: Joakim Nordstrom signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Blackhawks on Wednesday, Brian Hedger of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Joakim Nordstrom waited several months before agreeing to his qualifying offer, but he's at least in the fold to compete for a spot in the Blackhawks' crowded bottom-six ranks. The forward recorded no goals and three assists in 38 games with the parent club last season, so a return trip to AHL Rockford could be in the works to open 2015-16.

Tom Sestito
Penguins Sign Sestito To PTO
Tom Sestito, LW, PIT
9/2/2015
News: Tom Sestito signed a professional tryout contract last week with the Penguins, Josh Yohe of DKonPittsburghSports.com reports.
Analysis: As a tough guy who gobbles up penalty minutes, Tom Sestito doesn't seem to mesh well with coach Mike Johnston's vision of rolling out four lines with scoring ability. Don't expect him to crack the Penguins' 23-man roster out of training camp, barring a litany of injuries.

Evgeni Malkin
Pens' Malkin Healthy Heading Into Camp
Evgeni Malkin, C, PIT
9/2/2015
News: Penguins coach Mike Johnston said Evgeni Malkin is healthy heading into training camp, NHL.com reports. "[Malkin] was injured before the playoffs last year; he's in skating already," Johnston said.
Analysis: The Penguins are expected to tinker with their top-six ranks in training camp after adding Phil Kessel to the mix in the offseason, but it's expected that Kessel will play on the top line with Sidney Crosby, while Evgeni Malkin centers a line of Patric Hornqvist and a yet-to-be-determined left winger. Regardless of which player among David Perron, Chris Kunitz, and rookie Sergei Plotnikov ultimately settles next to Malkin, staying healthy is more essential to the star center's fantasy production than anything else. Malkin has missed 103 regular-season contests over the last six years.

Peter Budaj
Kings Ink Budaj To Tryout Offer
Peter Budaj, G, LA
9/2/2015
News: Peter Budaj has signed with the Kings on a professional tryout contract, Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider reports.
Analysis: Peter Budaj struggled while seeing limited ice time with AHL St. John's in the Winnipeg organization last season, going 0-9-6 with a 3.55 GAA and .888 save percentage. The 33-year-old clearly seems to be on the downswing of his career, but as a veteran with 296 NHL appearances on his ledger, he could provide insurance in goal for the Kings at the minor-league level.

Markus Soberg
Jackets' Soberg Out 4-6 Weeks
Markus Soberg, RW, CLB
9/2/2015
News: Markus Soberg (groin) will miss the next four-to-six weeks as he recovers from surgery to repair a sports hernia, Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: A sixth-round pick by the Blue Jackets in 2013, Markus Soberg was hampered by an abdominal injury throughout much of last season, ending up with 13 goals and 17 assists in 61 games for OHL Windsor. It's unclear whether he would've been able to make the jump to Columbus this season even if healthy, but the surgery will certainly delay his progress to North American hockey.

Marcel Goc
Ex-Blues Center Goc Returns To Germany
Marcel Goc, C, STL
9/2/2015
News: Marcel Goc signed a one-year contract Tuesday with Adler Mannheim of the German Ice Hockey League.
Analysis: Marcel Goc will return to his native country after failing to attract NHL interest following a nine-point campaign while skating as a fourth-line player in 74 games for the Penguins and Blues. At 32 years old, Goc's career in North America could very well be over.

Maxim Lapierre
Ex-NHLer Lapierre Signs With Swedish Club
Maxim Lapierre, C, PIT
9/2/2015
News: Maxim Lapierre signed a one-year contract Tuesday with MODO of the Swedish Hockey League, Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports reports.
Analysis: After skating in 80 games with the Blues and Penguins last season while scoring two goals and nine assists, Maxim Lapierre was unable to generate much interest from other teams as a fourth-line option in free agency. Rather than having to enter an NHL training camp on a professional tryout offer, Lapierre determined it was in his best interest to take the guaranteed money overseas in attempt to rebuild value. The 30-year-old's deal with MODO contains an option for a second season, allowing him to return to North America next summer if he so chooses.

Bryce Salvador
Ex-Devil Salvador Announces Retirement
Bryce Salvador, D, NJ
9/2/2015
News: Bryce Salvador (back) announced his retirement Wednesday in an article on The Players' Tribune.
Analysis: Bryce Salvador skated 14 seasons in the NHL, recording 24 goals and 86 assists over 786 games. The 39-year-old spent his final eight years in the league with New Jersey, captaining the team for the last three seasons. Injuries dogged him later in his career, but his leadership and sound positional play from the blue line were attributes that outweighed his lack of offensive contributions. He'll remain in the New Jersey organization as an ambassador for the sport.

Patrick Kane
Image Conscious Hawks Fielding Trade Calls On Kane
Patrick Kane, RW, CHI
9/1/2015
News: The Hawks have apparently fielded speculative trade calls about Patrick Kane from more than five different teams, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. There is no indication the Hawks would trade him, but the team is extremely image conscious and there are suggestions they feel "disrespected" by Kane's alleged actions this summer.
Analysis: No charges have been laid in the investigation into an alleged rape of a woman at Patrick Kane's home. The team has largely remained quiet on the issue, but it was already displeased that he used the Hawks' Stanley Cup rally to proclaim he intended to act like a fool again while celebrating the Cup win. Optics matter to the Hawks and the team may be forced to do something to maintain its image. Others have been quick to distance themselves from Kane. He has been quietly removed from the cover of EA Sports NHL '16 video game and his former OHL squad (London Knights) dropped the moniker "Team Kane" from its annual training camp agenda. Camp is only a few weeks away and things could change dramatically for Kane and the Hawks before then.

Valeri Nichushkin
Stars' Nichushkin Says Injury Is Behind Him
Valeri Nichushkin, RW, DAL
9/1/2015
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.

 
 
 
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