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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
Ryan Getzlaf
Ducks' Getzlaf Takes Shot To Foot
Ryan Getzlaf, C, ANA
12:53 PM
News: Ryan Getzlaf briefly left the game late in the third after blocking a shot with his left foot on Wednesday.
Analysis: He returned shortly thereafter, but keep an eye on Ryan Getzlaf's status in the next few days to see if he'll be forced to miss any time. Getzlaf leads all NHL forwards with 81 blocked shots this season.

Rickard Rakell
Ducks' Rakell Ends Goal Drought
Rickard Rakell, C, ANA
12:43 PM
News: Rickard Rakell ended a 15 game goalless streak with a second period goal in Wednesday's win over the Habs.
Analysis: He's currently playing on the Ducks' third line with Emerson Etem and new acquisition Jiri Sekac. The trio were bottom three Wednesday night in ice time for the Ducks, so don't expect their scoring to greatly improve with the limited opportunity that they're currently receiving.

Ryan Kesler
Ducks' Kesler Records Assist In Win
Ryan Kesler, C, ANA
12:34 PM
News: Ryan Kesler recorded an assist on Cam Fowler's empty-netter Wednesday night against the Habs.
Analysis: Ryan Kesler has points now in three of his last four games, so it looks like he's worked himself out of the slump that plagued him for much of February. It's probably time to start rolling him back into your lineup.

John Gibson
Gibson Leads Ducks To Win Over Habs
John Gibson, G, ANA
12:21 PM
News: John Gibson stopped 37-of-38 in his return to the Ducks net on Wednesday night.
Analysis: John Gibson's stellar play of late is a nice luxury for the Ducks to have. He's managed to win six of his past seven starts - pretty successful for a backup goalie. If Gibson can continue to stay strong in net, expect him to get a number of starts down the stretch with the Ducks probably wanting to keep number one goalie Frederik Andersen fresh for a hopefully long playoff run.

Steve Mason
Flyers' Mason Set To Start Thursday
Steve Mason, G, PHI
12:58 AM
News: Steve Mason is in line to start Thursday's game against the Blues, Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
Analysis: Steve Mason -- who has given up five goals over his last two outings -- is thus on track to make his third straight start for the Flyers since returning from a knee injury.

Mark Fraser
Fraser Credited With Assist In Devils Win
Mark Fraser, D, NJ
12:51 AM
News: Mark Fraser was credited with an assist, four hits, and four blocked shots in Tuesday's win over the Predators.
Analysis: The improved play of Eric Gelinas has cost Mark Fraser a regular lineup spot in recent weeks, but he's at least been able to draw back in for the last three games. He's not been totally useless during that time with nine PIM and eight hits in addition to the assist, but the general lack of offensive production throughout his career puts a definite ceiling on his fantasy value.

Andrej Sustr
Bolts' Sustr Gathers Assist In Win
Andrej Sustr, D, TB
12:48 AM
News: Andrej Sustr pocketed an assist in Tuesday's win over the Sabres.
Analysis: Following the acquisition of Braydon Coburn at the trade deadline, the Bolts shuffled around their defensive pairings, with Andrej Sustr slotting in next to Mark Barberio. Both players profile as stay-at-home types, which should prevent either from accumulating much meaningful offensive numbers. Sustr hasn't exactly shined regardless of who his defensive mate as been this season, as his total of nine points over 61 games would attest.

David Booth
Leafs' Booth Shoots Five Times, Gets Assist In Win
David Booth, LW, TOR
12:45 AM
News: David Booth was active in Tuesday's 3-2 win over the Panthers, notching an assist and attempting five shots on goal.
Analysis: The five shots were the second-highest total of the season for David Booth, who typically doesn't see many favorable scoring opportunities in his bottom-six role. Unsurprisingly, his point totals (one goal, five assists in 41 games) remain rather depressed, a trend that should continue while he barely averages over 10 minutes of ice time per night, with none coming on the power play.

Jyrki Jokipakka
Stars' Jokipakka Records Assist, Three SOG In Win
Jyrki Jokipakka, D, DAL
12:42 AM
News: Jyrki Jokipakka picked up an assist and put three shots on net in Tuesday's win over the Islanders.
Analysis: Jyrki Jokipakka's offensive production has been light this season (zero goals, nine assists in 34 games), but the 23-year-old has generally acquitted himself well in his first taste of NHL action. However, with Patrik Nemeth (arm) returning from a long-term injury Tuesday, Jokipakka could soon be at risk at losing his regular spot on the Stars' second pairing, which would essentially sink his already minimal fantasy utility.

Karri Ramo
Flames Turn To Ramo On Thursday
Karri Ramo, G, CGY
12:39 AM
News: Karri Ramo is slated to start Thursday's game against the Bruins, Roger Millions of Sportsnet reports.
Analysis: Though he's 2-2 over his last four games, Karri Ramo has given up just five goals in that span, so he's in line for his fifth straight start on Thursday after last giving way to Jonas Hiller on Feb. 20.

 
 
 
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