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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
John Erskine
Caps Move Erskine To IR
John Erskine, D, WAS
10/23/2014
News: Erskien (upper body) was placed on injured reserve Wednesday, Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post reports.
Analysis: The Capitals ruled John Erskine out of the entirety of their three-game road trip to western Canada earlier this week, so the IR move will allow the team to add another defenseman from the minors for depth purposes, if they choose to do so. Erskine had been a healthy scratch for the Capitals in every game even before succumbing to the injury.

Jesse Winchester
Avs' Winchester Gets In Non-Contact Work
Jesse Winchester, C, COL
10/23/2014
News: Jesse Winchester (concussion) has resumed taking part in non-contact drills, the Associated Press reports.
Analysis: Jesse Winchester is still awaiting clearance to participate in full-contact practices, so it's difficult to see him being activated from IR at any point this week. He's been out for three weeks with the head injury.

Ray Emery
Emery Expected To Go Wednesday For Flyers
Ray Emery, G, PHI
10/23/2014
News: Ray Emery is expected to receive the start in goal Wednesday against the Penguins, Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
Analysis: Top goalie Steve Mason has been brutal in five turns this season (0-3-1, 3.83 GAA, .878 save percentage), so opportunity could knock here for Ray Emery if he's able to return in a respectable outing against a tough Penguins squad. Mason's larger contract will probably prevent Emery from displacing him as the team's unquestioned starter, but the backup could possibly take on a larger workload if he can give the Flyers some more stability in goal in his subsequent outings.

Stefan Noesen
Ducks' Noesen (Achilles) Set To Miss Four Months
Stefan Noesen, RW, ANA
10/23/2014
News: The Ducks announced Stefan Noesen is dealing with an Achilles injury and is expected to be sidelined for four months, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: It's yet another devastating injury for the hard-luck Stefan Noesen, who missed nearly all of last season with torn knee ligaments. He had worked his way back from the knee issue to produce three points in his first four games with AHL Norfolk, before suffering his latest long-term setback. The prospect luster is beginning to fade for the 21-year-old former first-round draft choice.

Curtis McElhinney
Jackets' McElhinney Expected To Return Soon
Curtis McElhinney, G, CLB
10/23/2014
News: Curtis McElhinney (head, neck) is feeling better and is expected to rejoin the team later this week, Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: Curtis McElhinney suffered a head injury and was placed on injured reserve on Sunday. As a result, he won't be able to return until the end of the weekend at the earliest, but it's an encouraging sign that he's feeling better, and should travel with the club on their upcoming three-game trip to California beginning Thursday.

Matt Read
Flyers' Read Held Without A Goal Through Six
Matt Read, RW, PHI
10/23/2014
News: Matt Read has no goals and three assists through six games this season.
Analysis: After a 22-goal campaign last season, Matt Read has yet to find the back of the net this year. He should get some more opportunities, as he's been playing on the team's second power-play unit, but for now his slow start should be slightly worrisome.

Marian Gaborik
Kings' Gaborik Remains Out Of Practice
Marian Gaborik, RW, LA
10/23/2014
News: Marian Gaborik (undisclosed) wasn't on the ice for Wednesday's practice, Jon Rosen of LAKingsInsider.com reports.
Analysis: With the Kings hitting the ice Thursday for a game against the Sabres, it's probably safe to rule out Marian Gaborik for a fourth straight game. The team has provided little information regarding the nature or severity of Gaborik's injury, so there's no indication when he might be ready to return to action.

Brad Marchand
Bruins' Marchand Gets First Goal
Brad Marchand, LW, BOS
10/23/2014
News: Brad Marchand scored his first goal of the season in a 5-3 victory over the Sharks on Tuesday.
Analysis: Coach Claude Julien indicated in the preseason that Brad Marchand could see increased action on the power play, a move that paid off Tuesday as his goal came on the man advantage. He logged 16:50 worth of ice time, and now has points in three of the Bruins' last four games after being held off the score sheet in their first four contests.

Michal Neuvirth
Sabres' Neuvirth Expected To Start On Wednesday
Michal Neuvirth, G, BUF
10/23/2014
News: Michal Neuvirth is expected to get the start on Wednesday against the Ducks, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: Michal Neuvirth has appeared in one game this season, incidentally enough, against the Ducks. He didn't fare especially well, giving up five goals on 44 shots in a 5-1 loss Oct. 13. Buffalo has been struggling in all facets of the game this season, but Jhonas Enroth still seems to have a steady hand on the No. 1 gig, even after giving up four goals in his last turn over the weekend. It appears coach Ted Nolan is just looking to rest Enroth for the first game of a back-to-back set.

Tom Wilson
Caps' Wilson Eyeing Oct. 29 Return
Tom Wilson, RW, WAS
10/23/2014
News: Coach Barry Trotz acknowledged Tuesday that Tom Wilson (ankle) could return to the Washington lineup Oct. 29 against the Red Wings, Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post reports.
Analysis: Tom Wilson, who was sent out on a rehab assignment at AHL Hershey on Monday, will play in two minor league games over the weekend, logging top-six minutes in each tilt. If his ankle holds up fine, Wilson will rejoin the Capitals for practice on Monday, when the team returns from its three-game road trip through western Canada. Trotz will then have to decide if he wants to slot Wilson back into his bottom-six, most likely at the expense of Liam O'Brien or Chris Brown.

 
 
 
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