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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
Philip Samuelsson
Samuelsson Signs With Penguins
Philip Samuelsson, D, PIT
7/11/2014
News: Philip Samuelsson has signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Penguins.
Analysis: The 22-year-old blueliner saw action in five games with the big club in 2013-14, but spent the bulk of the season with AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, where he notched 22 points in 64 games. He'll compete for a depth spot on the Pittsburgh back line in training camp this fall.

Alexander Wennberg
Jackets' Wennberg To Get Look In Training Camp
Alexander Wennberg, C, CLB
9:18 AM
News: Alexander Wennberg will get a chance to earn an NHL roster spot in training camp, the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: The new regime under GM Jarmo Kekalainen isn't afraid to give young players opportunities, as Boone Jenner and Ryan Murray proved, and Alexander Wennberg seems ready for North America after an impressive showing at the world juniors and a 16-goal campaign in the Swedish Hockey League. He's most likely ticketed for the AHL, but if last year's 14th overall pick wows in camp, don't be surprised if he starts the year in Columbus.

Vladimir Sobotka
Blues' Sobotka Leaves NHL For KHL
Vladimir Sobotka, C, STL
8:48 AM
News: Vladimir Sobotka agreed to a three-year, $12 million contract with the KHL's Avangard Omsk on Thursday, Roman Jedlicka of the TV Nova Sport reports.
Analysis: The Blues' re-signing of Steve Ott to a fairly sizable contract earlier in the day signaled that the team likely wouldn't have room to keep all of its forwards in tow, and it looks like Vladimir Sobotka will be the first domino to fall. Money was likely the motivating factor in Sobotka opting to leave the NHL, while heading to Russia also allows him to be closer to his home country, the Czech Republic. Sobotka, who netted nine goals and 24 assists in 61 games last season, will be allowed to opt out of his contract with Omsk at the end of any of the three years, with the Blues retaining his rights if he decides to head back to the NHL.

Jesse Blacker
Ducks Re-Sign Blacker
Jesse Blacker, D, ANA
8:38 AM
News: Jesse Blacker re-signed with the Ducks on a one-year, two-way contract Thursday, Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports reports.
Analysis: Acquired from the Maple Leafs in November, Jesse Blacker went on to spend 50 games with AHL Norfolk last season, totaling 24 points and a minus-16 rating. Even if Blacker somehow earns a promotion to Anaheim during the upcoming season, the Ducks don't figure to keep him around for very long.

Mat Clark
Clark Re-Signs With Ducks
Mat Clark, D, ANA
8:35 AM
News: Mat Clark re-signed with the Ducks on a one-year, two-way contract Thursday, Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports reports.
Analysis: Mat Clark appeared in 23 games for AHL Norfolk last season, finishing with no goals and two assists. He's unlikely to find his way to Anaheim this season barring a rash of injuries.

Derek Grant
Sens Bring Back Grant
Derek Grant, C, OTT
8:31 AM
News: Derek Grant re-signed with the Senators on a one-year, two-way contract Thursday, Wayne Scanlan of the Ottawa Citizen reports.
Analysis: Derek Grant saw 20 games with the Senators last season, contributing two points and finishing with a minus-3 rating. He'll get the opportunity to compete for a fourth-line role in training camp, but more than likely will spent most of the upcoming season with AHL Binghamton.

Erik Gudbranson
Panthers Re-Sign Gudbranson
Erik Gudbranson, D, FLA
8:28 AM
News: Erik Gudbranson re-signed with the Panthers on a two-year contract Thursday, George Richards of the Miami Herald reports.
Analysis: Erik Gudbranson, the third overall choice in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, hasn't shown much offensive ability during his career, with just 21 points over 169 career games. However, he has shown the ability to provide some fantasy utility in the form of PIM (114 in 2013-14), hits (158), and blocks (91). He could see his minutes count rise during the upcoming campaign following the offseason departure of Tom Gilbert.

Nick Johnson
Ex-Bruin Johnson Heads To Sweden
Nick Johnson, RW, PIT
8:03 AM
News: Nick Johnson signed with the Vaxjo Lakers of the Swedish Hockey League on Thursday.
Analysis: Nick Johnson spent most of the past season at AHL Providence, where he compiled 18 goals and 24 assists over 51 games. The 28-year-old has struggled to find a permanent place in the NHL despite 113 career games at the level, so he opted for the stability of Sweden rather than another year slumming it in the minors.

Pierre-Marc Bouchard
Bouchard Signs With Swiss Club
Pierre-Marc Bouchard, C, CHI
7:47 AM
News: Pierre-Marc Bouchard signed with EV Zug of the Swiss National League A on Wednesday.
Analysis: The 30-year-old Pierre-Marc Bouchard saw action in 28 games with the Islanders last season, logging nine points and 12 penalty minutes. In heading back overseas to resume his career, it won't be surprising if Bouchard never logs another NHL minute.

Steve Ott
Blues Re-Sign Ott For Two Years
Steve Ott, C, STL
7:42 AM
News: Steve Ott (abdomen) re-signed with the Blues on a two-year, $5.2 million extension on Thursday, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Analysis: Steve Ott was a disappointment for the Blues after coming over in a deadline deal last season with the Sabres, totaling only three points in 23 games. However, the Blues apparently view him as a key cog on the second or third line, after Vladimir Sobotka decided to take his career to the KHL. Ott underwent surgery to repair his abdominal area after the season ended, but should be fully healthy by the time training camp commences.

 
 
 
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