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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
Danny Kristo
Kristo Re-Signs With Rangers
Danny Kristo, RW, NYR
8/21/2014
News: Danny Kristo re-signed with the Rangers on Thursday.
Analysis: The 24-year-old Danny Kristo tallied 25 goals and 18 assists in 65 games with AHL Hartford last season. Another season at the AHL level likely awaits.

Patrick Marleau
Sharks Take Marleau's Alternate Captain Status
Patrick Marleau, C, SJ
8/20/2014
News: The Sharks announced Wednesday that they would enter camp without a captain, which includes taking the "A" off Patrick Marleau's sweater, the Mercury News reports.
Analysis: It had been rumored and hinted at all summer that Patrick Marleau and captain Joe Thornton would have their leadership roles passed to younger players. It has also been rumored that both were asked to waive their no trade clause. Neither did. The team wants the younger generation to take the torch, but as far as fantasy is concerned, you can't reduce the playing time of a player like Marleau, who scored 33 goals and 37 assists last season.

Joe Thornton
Sharks Strip Thornton Of Captaincy
Joe Thornton, C, SJ
8/20/2014
News: The Sharks officially announce Wednesday that Joe Thornton would not be the team captain entering training camp, the Mercury News reports.
Analysis: Coach Todd McLellan said that he doesn't consider it to be stripping Joe Thornton of anything, since he'll be given the opportunity to earn the "C" back. The team has talked frequently this offseason of passing the torch to the next generation and that's what this appears to be. Thornton was not only rumored to be losing his "C," but was involved in trade rumors as well. However, he has a no trade clause and doesn't seem interested in leaving San Jose.

Raffi Torres
Sharks' Torres To Miss Months With Knee Infection
Raffi Torres, LW, SJ
8/20/2014
News: Raffi Torres suffered an infection in his surgically-repaired right knee and is expected to miss the first few months of the season while he undergoes another operation on the knee, David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News reports.
Analysis: Raffi Torres was limited to just five regular-season contests in 2013-14 after undergoing knee surgery and suffering a subsequent setback shortly after returning after the Olympics. He would ultimately rejoin the Sharks during the postseason and looked to be healthy heading into the upcoming campaign, but it seems the infection surfaced at some point over the summer. For the second straight season, he'll open on injured reserve as a result, with no concrete date for his return. Torres has been a useful player for the Sharks when he's been on the ice, but with two years still remaining on his contract, his durability concerns might dampen the remainder of his tenure with his team.

Dennis Seidenberg
Bruins' Seidenberg Eyes Training Camp
Dennis Seidenberg, D, BOS
8/20/2014
News: Dennis Seidenberg (knee) expects to be ready for training camp, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Dennis Seidenberg, who last suited up on Dec. 27, had surgery in early January to repair an ACL/MCL injury in his right knee in. At the time, the estimated timetable for a return was in the 6-8 month range. With no reported setbacks since then, and given that the sturdy blueliner indicated that he probably could have returned to action had the Bruins advanced to the Eastern Conference Final, things appear to be on track for him to be at, or near, 100 percent in advance of the upcoming regular season.

Henrik Zetterberg
Wings' Zetterberg: Healthy Heading Into Camp
Henrik Zetterberg, LW, DET
8/20/2014
News: Coach Mike Babcock relayed that Henrik Zetterberg (foot) said he was "feeling the best he has in years" this offseason, suggesting he'll be a full participant in training camp, NHL.com's Dan Rosen reports.
Analysis: With both Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk missing 37 games apiece last season, the Red Wings were forced to get by with a patchwork forward ranks to so-so results. Now that both players are feeling healthy, the depth chart should enjoy more stability in 2014-15, but don't be surprised if Zetterberg notices a drop in ice time for maintenance purposes as he enters his age-34 season. Still, Zetterberg hasn't had many health issues prior to last season, and managed to supply 48 points over the 45 contests in which he suited up. There's plenty of value to be had in Zetterberg, even as he takes on a more deferential role to emerging wings Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar in the years to come.

Pavel Datsyuk
Red Wings' Datsyuk Feeling Good Heaing Into Camp
Pavel Datsyuk, C, DET
8/20/2014
News: Coach Mike Babcock relayed that Pavel Datsyuk (knee) said he was feeling "the best he has in years" this offseason, suggesting he'll be ready to go for training camp, NHL.com's Dan Rosen reports.
Analysis: Considering Pavel Datsyuk hasn't played since late April, it's no surprise he's feeling spry, but there's serious questions he'll hold up for 82 games as he enters his age-34 campaign. He's missed a total of 76 games over his last four seasons, muting the impact of the nearly point-per-game production he provides when healthy. Considering his injury history, Datsyuk might not be worth the markup price his name will cost fantasy players on draft day.

Stephen Weiss
Red Wings' Weiss (Hernia) Feeling Healthy
Stephen Weiss, C, DET
8/20/2014
News: Stephen Weiss indicated he's feeling healthy following his April 21 surgery to repair his sports hernia, NHL.com's Dan Rosen reports.
Analysis: Stephen Weiss was a disaster in his first season with the Red Wings after inking a five-year, $24.5 million deal last summer, appearing in only 26 games and totaling four points. He ultimately required a pair of sports hernia surgeries that prevented a second-half return, but after spending the last four months recovering, he appears ready to go for 2014-15. Weiss will be given the opportunity to win back his job as the Wings' No. 2 center, but it seems dubious that he'll be able to return to the 50-point form he showed during his prime years with the Panthers.

Mike Mottau
NHLer Mottau Calls It A Career
Mike Mottau, D, FLA
8/19/2014
News: Mike Mottau announced his retirement from professional hockey Tuesday, Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com reports.
Analysis: The Massachusetts native was exploring the option of playing with AHL Providence to stick with his hometown Bruins organization, but decided he was content to spend more time with his family. Mike Mottau, 36, appeared in 321 career NHL games with the Rangers, Flames, Devils, Islanders, Bruins and Panthers, with his most productive seasons coming in the late-2000s with New Jersey.

Josh Harding
Wild's Harding Cleared For Training Camp
Josh Harding, G, MIN
8/19/2014
News: Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said Josh Harding is "a go" for training camp, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. "Everybody seems to be feeling pretty good, and at this stage, all of our players who were banged up at the end of the season are feeling better. Josh has felt good. Right now we're not expecting any issues for anybody with respect to passing training camp medicals."
Analysis: With an 18-7-3 record, 1.65 GAA and .933 save percentage, Josh Harding was playing as well as any goal in hockey before a setback in his treatment for multiple sclerosis sidelined him after the end of December. Because he's missed large chunks of both of the last two seasons while dealing with the effects of the illness, fantasy players shouldn't look to invest heavily in Harding. Even if healthy, he's no lock to open the season as the regular starter in goal for the Wild with Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper still around.

 
 
 
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