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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
Brad Richards
Blackhawks' Richards Sets Up Kane In Game 4 Win
Brad Richards, C, CHI
5/25/2015
News: Brad Richards assisted on Patrick Kane's game-tying power-play goal in Saturday's double-overtime victory over the Ducks in Game 4.
Analysis: Brad Richards has recorded a point in each game of the series thus far, giving the Blackhawks the offensive presence at the second-line center spot that was sorely missing during the past postseason. The 35-year-old submitted a mediocre regular season, but if he can remain productive for just a few more games, he'll be well worth the investment the Blackhawks made.

Brent Seabrook
Blackhawks' Seabrook Nets Game 4 Goal
Brent Seabrook, D, CHI
5/25/2015
News: Brent Seabrook tallied a goal in Saturday's Game 4 triumph over the Ducks.
Analysis: It was an effective all-around game for Brent Seabrook, who finished with four shot attempts, four hits, and six blocks across 32:03 of ice time. With coach Joel Quenneville showing little trust in fifth and sixth defensemen Kimmo Timonen and Kyle Cumiskey, Seabrook should be poised to log big minutes for the remainder of the postseason.

Patrick Sharp
Blackhawks' Sharp Captures Assist In Game 4
Patrick Sharp, LW, CHI
1:12 PM
News: Patrick Sharp picked up an assist in Saturday's Game 4 victory over the Ducks.
Analysis: Patrick Sharp was given credit for setting up Antoine Vermette's game-winning goal, though the latter did most of the work in making the play happen. It still counts as the first point of the series for Sharp, who has nonetheless been one of the Blackhawks' best contributors this postseason. He's compiled four goals, six assists, and 45 shot attempts over the team's 14 playoff games.

Jonathan Toews
Chicago's Toews Gets Goal, Assist In Game 4
Jonathan Toews, C, CHI
1:09 PM
News: Jonathan Toews recorded a goal and an assist in Saturday's Game 4 victory over the Ducks.
Analysis: The physical Ryan Kesler has been a nuisance for Jonathan Toews all series, but the Blackhawks center finally got the better of his adversary in Game 4. He notched his first goal of the series at the 2:38 mark of the third period, then captured a secondary assist on Brent Seabrook's marker exactly five minutes later. He's now averaging a point per game in the playoffs, tallying five goals and nine assists across 14 contests.

Antoine Vermette
Chicago's Vermette Ties Series At 2-2
Antoine Vermette, C, CHI
1:05 PM
News: Antoine Vermette supplied the game-winning goal in double overtime of Saturday's Game 4 victory over the Ducks.
Analysis: After serving as a healthy scratch in Game 3, Antoine Vermette rewarded coach Joel Quenneville's decision to slot him back into the lineup by rebounding his own shot attempt and putting the puck past the Ducks' Frederik Andersen in the game's 85th minute. The center also won 14 of 20 faceoffs in the contest, which should be enough to guarantee his place in the lineup for the remainder of the series.

Patrick Kane
Blackhawks' Kane Comes Up Big In Game 4
Patrick Kane, RW, CHI
1:02 PM
News: Patrick Kane registered the game-tying goal in third period of Saturday's eventual 5-4 double-overtime triumph over the Ducks.
Analysis: Minutes after the Ducks raced back from a 3-1 deficit to take a 4-3 lead, Patrick Kane sent the United Center crowd into a frenzy when he finished off a power-play feed from linemate Brad Richards with 7:21 left to play. The 26-year-old has been spectacular in the Blackhawks' 15 playoff contests, recording nine goals and six assists.

Mats Zuccarello
Rangers' Zuccarello (Upper Body) Still Day-To-Day
Mats Zuccarello, RW, NYR
9:13 AM
News: Zucarrello (upper body) will not skate Sunday and remains day-to-day, but coach Alain Vigneault indicated he's "getting better," Andrew Gross of The Record reports.
Analysis: Mats Zuccarello continues to work his way back from an upper-body injury that occurred against the Penguins in the first round. While he won't play Sunday, the fact that he's day-to-day doesn't rule out a return at some point in the series.

Matt Carle
Bolts' Carle (Undisclosed) Expected To Play Sunday
Matt Carle, D, TB
8:59 AM
News: Coach Jon Cooper indicated he expects Matt Carle (undisclosed) to play in Sunday's Game 5 matchup with the Lightning, Bryan Burns of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Matt Carle left Game 3 on Wednesday after taking a hit midway through the first period, and it cost him Friday's Game 4 as well. He participated in morning skate Sunday, and it appears that may be a precursor to him taking the ice with his teammates for Game 5.

Trevor van Riemsdyk
van Riemsdyk (Wrist) Out Monday
Trevor van Riemsdyk, D, CHI
7:58 AM
News: Trevor van Riemsdyk (wrist) will not travel with his team to Anaheim, Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
Analysis: This essentially rules Trevor van Riemsdyk out for Game 5 against the Ducks on Monday, but he could still play in this series. He was recently recalled from the AHL, and could be used as a depth defender, however it's unclear just how healthy van Riemsdyk actually is at this point.

Brandon Saad
Blackhawks' Saad Dominant In Game 4 Win
Brandon Saad, LW, CHI
6:42 AM
News: Brandon Saad tallied a shorthanded goal and a pair of assists in Saturday's Game 4 double-overtime win over the Ducks.
Analysis: Brandon Saad notched the shortie when Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin got tied up with a referee during his team's first-period power play, allowing the Blackhawks winger to break away unmarked to the net. It went down as his first goal since Game 1 of the second-round matchup with the Wild, but that wouldn't be where his night would stop. Saad had a hand in each of the Blackhawks' next two goals to finish with a game-high plus-3 rating.

 
 
 
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