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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 Klingberg
Stars' Klingberg Sinks Canucks In OT
John Klingberg, D, DAL
12:52 PM
News: John Klingberg scored the overtime-winning goal Saturday against Vancouver.
Analysis: It was a perfect shot from the 22-year-old, who now has 11 goals and 38 points in 59 games. While his goal Saturday was his first in 22 games, the youngster has been logging heavy minutes for the Stars and has been steadily dishing out the assists. Playing on the top power-play unit with Tyler Seguin, John Klingberg has emerged as a lethal offensive defenseman who is playing a key role for a Stars team that has won five of their last six games.

Cody Eakin
Stars' Eakin Picks Up Two Assists
Cody Eakin, C, DAL
12:48 PM
News: Cody Eakin collected a pair of assist in Saturday's win over Vancouver.
Analysis: Skating on the second line, Cody Eakin has been producing steadily of late, racking up five goals and 11 points in his last 14 games. The 23-year-old has a career-high 17 goals this season and is a solid scorer for a Dallas team that has won five of their last six games.

Trevor Daley
Stars' Daley Assists Twice In Return
Trevor Daley, D, DAL
12:44 PM
News: Trevor Daley returned to the lineup Saturday, collecting two assists in 24:19 of ice time in Saturday's win over Vancouver.
Analysis: Trevor Daley had been out since March 3 with a knee injury, but returned in a big way Saturday, helping the Stars pick up their fifth win in six games. Daley now has 35 points in 62 games and appears back to full health. With 16 goals on the season, including six power-play tallies, Daley is worth adding if he's available.

Tyler Seguin
Stars' Seguin Pots 34th Goal
Tyler Seguin, C, DAL
12:38 PM
News: Tyler Seguin scored his 34th goal of the season and had an assist in Saturday's win over vancouver.
Analysis: Tyler Seguin is now up to 69 points in 66 games, with early-November marking the last time he went more than two games without recording a point. With 11 power-play tallies and 258 shots on goal, the 23-year-old fantasy stud is a must-start every game.

Eddie Lack
Canucks' Lack Gives Up Four Goals In OT Loss
Eddie Lack, G, VAN
12:14 PM
News: Eddie Lack gave up four goals on 40 shots in Saturday's overtime loss to the Stars.
Analysis: A decent outing for Eddie Lack, who has now lost two straight games, surrendering seven goals in that span. The 27-year-old falls to 14-11-4 on the season, but still owns an impressive .919 save percentage and 2.48 GAA. Ryan Miller (knee) appears to be out for the remainder of the regular season, so the Canucks playoff hopes will be riding on Lack. Keep him rolling, as everything is on the line and he should be at his best.

Kari Lehtonen
Stars' Lehtonen Makes 33 Saves In Win
Kari Lehtonen, G, DAL
12:07 PM
News: Kari Lehtonen stopped 33 of 36 shots in Saturday's win over the Canucks.
Analysis: While Kari Lehtonen has won eight of his last 10 games, he's allowed at least three goals in four straight outings. While his .907 save percentage and 2.84 GAA needs work, Lehtonen's 34-15-10 record makes him a reliable fantasy option. He starts almost every game and hasn't suffered back-to-back regulation losses since late-January.

Chris Higgins
Canucks' Higgins Pots 11th Goal
Chris Higgins, LW, VAN
1:56 AM
News: Chris Higgins scored a power-play goal in Saturday's loss to Dallas.
Analysis: A rare power-play goal for Chris Higgins, who has just two tallies with the man advantage all season. While he often goes through dry spells, the 31-year-old has two goals and three points in his last three games and is playing alongside the red-hot Radim Vrbata. He's stuck at 11 goals on the season, but his recent play indicates he could be starting a hot streak to finish the regular season. If he can build off these last few performances, he could be worth scooping up in some very deep leagues.

Nick Bonino
Canucks' Bonino Nets Two Points In Loss
Nick Bonino, C, VAN
1:52 AM
News: Nick Bonino scored his 14th goal of the season and had an assist in Saturday's loss to the Stars.
Analysis: Nick Bonino has been producing steadily of late, notching three goals and nine points in his last 15 games. Skating on a line with Radim Vrbata and seeing second-unit power-play time, Bonino now has 34 points in 68 games on the season. He's isn't tearing it up, but his consistent production makes him worth a nab in deeper leagues, as these final games for the Canucks are must-wins.

Chris Tanev
Canucks' Tanev Logs Two Assists
Chris Tanev, D, VAN
1:42 AM
News: Chris Tanev registered a pair of assists in Saturday's loss to Dallas.
Analysis: While it was a good offensive night for Chris Tanev, he was a mess defensively, finishing a minus-2. The 25-year-old now has a career-high 18 points in 63 games, while averaging 20:59 of ice time. He shows flashes of offensive brilliance and his plus-9 rating is solid, but with just 48 shots on goal and two power-play points, Tanev's fantasy value is mostly restricted to deeper formats.

Radim Vrbata
Canucks' Vrbata Scores 30th Goal
Radim Vrbata, RW, VAN
1:38 AM
News: Radim Vrbata hit the 30-goal mark Saturday, scoring a power-play goal and adding an assist in a loss to the Stars.
Analysis: Another strong outing for Radim Vrbata, who has been firing on all cylinders of late. He now sits 10th in the NHL goal-scoring race and has racked up four goals and nine points in his last five games. He's fired 18 shots on goal in his last three games and is up to 58 points in 72 games on the season. You know what to do.

 
 
 
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