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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
Victor Hedman
Bolts' Hedman Snaps Scoring Slump
Victor Hedman, D, TB
4:57 PM
News: Victor Hedman registered an assist in Tuesday's 4-3 win over the Penguins.
Analysis: Victor Hedman also chipped in with a season-high six blocked shots, though he did bear some responsibility for a miscue that resulted in one Pittsburgh goal. In any case, the Bolts value Hedman primarily for his abilities on the offensive end, which haven't been readily evident of late. The assist snapped a streak of six games without a point for Hedman.

Steven Stamkos
Production Slowing In December For Bolts' Stamkos
Steven Stamkos, C, TB
4:54 PM
News: Steven Stamkos has recorded only three goals and an assist over his last nine contests.
Analysis: That level of production over that span of time certainly doesn't provide any reason for fantasy owners to sound the alarm, but it still represents the most significant dry spell of the season for Steven Stamkos. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Bolts have gone just 3-5-1 in those contests, though a slump of some extent was probably due to occur after the team's attack torched opponents over the season's first two months. The Tampa offense still looks like one of the league's strongest units in spite of its recent downturn in productivity, and Stamkos remains the lynchpin. Stay patient with the 24-year-old, as his resume of three 90-point campaigns suggest order will restore itself eventually.

Zach Redmond
Avs' Redmond Nabs Fourth Goal
Zach Redmond, D, COL
4:47 PM
News: Zach Redmond tallied his fourth goal of the season in Tuesday's 5-0 win over the Blues.
Analysis: Though he didn't enter the season with a regular role on the Avs' blue line, Zach Redmond has proven to be a suitable replacement for both Brad Stuart and now Ryan Wilson. With 10 points and a plus-5 rating over 23 games, Redmond offers more offensive upside than the typical third-pairing defenseman, making him legitimately interesting in deeper formats.

Martin Brodeur
Blues' Brodeur Perfect In Relief
Martin Brodeur, G, STL
4:43 PM
News: Martin Brodeur stopped all 10 shots he faced while playing the final period of Tuesday's loss to the Avalanche.
Analysis: Martin Brodeur's strong showing was largely ineffectual with the Avs already holding a 5-0 lead at the time of his entry into the game for the struggling Jake Allen. Neither Blues goalie is playing well at the moment, and while Allen will have a longer leash than Brodeur, there should be room for the 42-year-old to see a steady dosage of work until Brian Elliott (knee) returns.

Erik Johnson
Avs' Johnson Gets Goal In Third Straight
Erik Johnson, D, COL
4:40 PM
News: Erik Johnson netted his first game-winning goal of the season in Tuesday's 5-0 triumph over the Blues.
Analysis: Not only was Erik Johnson able to get some revenge of the team that formerly drafted him with the No. 1 overall draft choice, but he also extended his goal streak to three games. The 26-year-old has been one of the few positives to emerge out of a grim season thus far for the Avalanche, as his nine goals and 19 points have him on his way to eclipse his previous career bests of 10 and 39, respectively, in those categories.

Brad Stuart
Avs' Stuart Assists Twice Tuesday
Brad Stuart, D, COL
4:37 PM
News: Brad Stuart picked up two assists in Tuesday's 5-0 win over the Blues.
Analysis: The two helpers marked the first points in 18 games on the season for Brad Stuart, who offers his most value to the Avalanche on his own end of the ice. The 35-year-old blueliner won't blow you away with his hit or block totals either, making him mostly a non-entity in the fantasy game.

Steve Downie
No Mumps Update Until Friday For Pens' Downie
Steve Downie, RW, PIT
4:30 PM
News: The results of Steve Downie's tests for the mumps won't be available until Friday.
Analysis: With the NHL observing a three-day break in the schedule for the holidays, the status of Steve Downie, Brandon Sutter, and Thomas Greiss will remain shrouded in mystery until the Pens reconvene for practice. Downie has already missed the team's previous two games as a precaution.

Thomas Greiss
No Mumps Update Until Friday For Pens' Greiss
Thomas Greiss, G, PIT
4:28 PM
News: The results of Thomas Greiss' tests for the mumps won't be available until Friday.
Analysis: With the NHL observing a three-day break in the schedule for the holidays, the status of Thomas Greiss, Steve Downie, and Brandon Sutter will remain shrouded in mystery until the Pens reconvene for practice. Greiss has already been unavailable for the team's past two games as a precaution.

Brandon Sutter
No Mumps Update Until Friday For Pens' Sutter
Brandon Sutter, C, PIT
4:26 PM
News: The results of Brandon Sutter's tests for the mumps won't be available until Friday.
Analysis: With the NHL observing a three-day break in the schedule for the holidays, the status of Brandon Sutter, Steve Downie, and Thomas Greiss will remain shrouded in mystery until the Pens reconvene for practice. Sutter has already missed the team's previous two games as a precaution.

Trevor Smith
Leafs' Smith: Fringe Fantasy Future
Trevor Smith, C, TOR
4:16 PM
News: Trevor Smith has two assists, nine shots and 35 hits in 20 games since his his call-up from the AHL.
Analysis: Geez -- with numbers like that he's bound to be a fantasy star. #sarcasm. Trevor Smith is a fringe option on the ice and even worse in fantasy.

 
 
 
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