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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
Nathan MacKinnon
Avs' MacKinnon Dishes Out Two Assists
Nathan MacKinnon, C, COL
12:53 PM
News: Nathan MacKinnon dished out a pair of helpers in Friday's win over Nashville.
Analysis: The two points snapped a three-game scoring drought for Nathan MacKinnon, who now has nine goals and 29 points in 50 games. While he's been held off the scoresheet in seven of his last nine games, the Avs are playing good hockey right now, picking up at least one point in six of their last seven games. MacKinnon's only 19, so we wouldn't give up on him just yet this season. His whopping 152 shots on goal indicate more goals are on the way. Patience is a virtue.

Mike Ribeiro
Preds' Ribeiro Piles On PIM
Mike Ribeiro, C, NSH
12:39 PM
News: Mike Ribeiro took a break from scoring Friday, racking up 22 PIM in a loss to Colorado.
Analysis: While Mike Ribeiro has 43 points (33 assists) in 48 games this season, he is also now among the league's top-100 PIM leaders. Producing at basically a point-per-game pace and sporting a steady plus-15 rating, Ribeiro is worth owning in most formats.

Marek Mazanec
Preds' Mazanec Gives Up Two Goals In Loss
Marek Mazanec, G, NSH
12:35 PM
News: Marek Mazanec gave up two goals on 27 shots in Friday's loss to Colorado.
Analysis: It was a good effort from Marek Mazanec, who got no offensive support in the shutout loss. It was the first start of the season for the 23-year-old, who had been giving way to Carter Hutton in Pekka Rinne's (knee) absence. Considering Hutton has given up seven goals in his last two starts, Mazanec could be worth a temporary pick-up until Rinne returns.

Semyon Varlamov
Avs' Varlamov Makes 23 Saves, Blanks Predators
Semyon Varlamov, G, COL
12:24 PM
News: Semyon Varlamov stopped all 23 shots he faced in Friday's shutout win over Nashville.
Analysis: A perfect outing for the workhorse, who has started 14 of the Avs' past 15 games. Semyon Varlamov is now 13-10-7 on the season with a .922 save percentage and 2.62 GAA. He's delivered some consistency play of late, allowing more than three goals just once in his last 10 appearances. Considering he's starting almost every game for an Avs team that has picked up at least one point in six of their last seven games, Varlamov is a great own in almost all formats.

Evgeni Malkin
Pens' Malkin Skates Saturday, But Still Out Sunday
Evgeni Malkin, C, PIT
11:55 AM
News: Evgeni Malkin (lower body) resumed skating Saturday morning, Seth Rorabaugh of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Analysis: Per the Post-Gazette's Shelly Anderson, Evgeni Malkin is dealing with a groin injury. While he seemed to be encouraged by Saturday's session, he has already ruled himself out for Sunday's tilt with Nashville. On a more positive note, Malkin does plan to travel with the team for its road trip beginning Wednesday in Edmonton, and it stands to reason he'll be available immediately if he endures no further setbacks during his subsequent practices. The Penguins have been using Brandon Sutter as their second-line center during Malkin's absence.

Matt Halischuk
Jets' Halischuk Dealing With Long-Term Injury
Matt Halischuk, RW, WPG
11:50 AM
News: Matt Halischuk's injury is a lower-body ailment, and coach Paul Maurice said he expects the forward to be "out a while."
Analysis: Maurice suggested that Matt Halischuk's timetable was "beyond week-to-week," which could potentially put him at risk of missing the rest of the regular season. The Jets have already moved him to injured reserve and recalled T.J. Galiardi to provide some insurance on the team's fourth line.

Lauri Korpikoski
Coyotes' Korpikoski Due To Play Saturday
Lauri Korpikoski, LW, ARI
11:43 AM
News: Lauri Korpikoski (undisclosed) will play in Saturday's match against the Senators, Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic reports.
Analysis: As anticipated, Lauri Korpikoski took the ice for pregame warmups and will be ready to play after a minor issue kept him unavailable for Friday's practice. He's expected to slot in on the Coyotes' second line against the Senators.

Martin Hanzal
Coyotes' Hanzal To Sit Out Saturday's Game
Martin Hanzal, C, ARI
11:40 AM
News: Martin Hanzal (undisclosed) will miss Saturday's game against the Senators, Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic reports.
Analysis: Martin Hanzal was held out of Friday's practice for what was believed to be maintenance-related reasons, but it looks like he's dealing with a legitimate injury. He'll be replaced in the lineup by Brandon McMillan and should be considered day-to-day at this time, making him questionable to play Sunday in Montreal. Hanzal has eight goals and 24 points in 37 games this season.

Antti Niemi
Sharks Rolling With Niemi On Saturday
Antti Niemi, G, SJ
11:33 AM
News: Antti Niemi will be between the pipes for Saturday's tilt with the Blackhawks, Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area reports.
Analysis: Antti Niemi has faced a bear of a schedule lately. After drawing a loss to a surprisingly competitive Flames squad two Saturdays ago, he was able to outlast the Kings and Ducks his last two times out. He'll have difficulty sustaining that winning streak against the Blackhawks and their impressive attack, which has generated at least three goals in four of its last five games. It might be worthwhile for Niemi's owners to explore other goalie options for Saturday's slate.

Louis Domingue
Coyotes' Domingue Recalled From Minors
Louis Domingue, G, ARI
11:28 AM
News: Louis Domingue was recalled from AHL Portland on Saturday, Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic reports.
Analysis: Louis Domingue has made 13 appearances for Portland this season, producing a 8-4-1 record, 2.40 GAA and .922 save percentage. It's unclear if he'll stick around with the Coyotes much further beyond the weekend, but however long the duration of his stay, don't expect him to see much -- if any -- action behind No. 1 twinetender Mike Smith.

 
 
 
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