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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
Nail Yakupov
Oilers' Yakupov Back To Full Strength
Nail Yakupov, RW, EDM
7/29/2014
News: Nail Yakupov (foot) is skating and fully healthy, the Oilers' official site reports.
Analysis: Nail Yakupov was injured back in February when he took a slap shot from teammate Justin Schultz off his foot. If the season started now, he'd be ready to go -- now it's just a matter of him bouncing back from last year's brutal campaign.

Jake Gardiner
Leafs, Gardiner Ink Five-Year Pact
Jake Gardiner, D, TOR
7/29/2014
News: Jake Gardiner signed a five-year, $20.25 million contract extension with the Maple Leafs on Tuesday, Chris Johnston of Rogers Sportsnet reports.
Analysis: Jake Gardiner, 24, asserted himself as a long-term building block for the Leafs on defense last season with his second 30-point campaign, contributing 10 goals, 21 assists, 108 hits and 87 blocks over 80 games. With Carl Gunnarsson shipped to St. Louis in the offseason, Gardiner appears poised to claim a spot next to Dion Phaneuf on the team's top defensive pairing, though fellow ascendant youngster Morgan Rielly will provide some heat.

Chad LaRose
LaRose Signs AHL Contract With Hurricanes
Chad LaRose, RW, CAR
7/29/2014
News: Chad LaRose agreed to a contract with AHL Charlotte on Tuesday, Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
Analysis: The 32-year-old will try to parlay the AHL contract into a comeback with the Hurricanes at the NHL level, after he sat out the entirety of the 2013-14 campaign. Chad LaRose appeared in 35 games for the Hurricanes two seasons ago, logging four points and a minus-8 rating.

Matt Fraser
Bruins' Fraser Should Be Ready For Training Camp
Matt Fraser, LW, BOS
7/29/2014
News: Matt Fraser, who underwent surgery on his right foot a week after the 2013-14 season concluded, is slated to start skating in early August, ESPN Boston reports.
Analysis: The report adds that the winger -- who is coming off a season in which he recorded 20 goals and 30 points in 44 AHL contests with Providence, along with two goals in 14 NHL contests -- expects to be 100 percent for the start of training camp in September. The 24-year-old is in line to make a run at a roster spot with the Bruins, given that the team needs to fill a couple of spots up front after bidding adieu to veterans Jarome Iginla and Shawn Thornton this offseason.

Peter Mueller
Blues Sign Mueller
Peter Mueller, RW, FLA
7/29/2014
News: Peter Mueller has signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Blues, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Jeremy Rutherford reports.
Analysis: Peter Mueller spent last season in Switzerland, scoring 24 goals and 46 points for Kloten of the Swiss A-League. Although he carries concussion concerns, Mueller is a skilled winger who will provide the Blues with a solid depth option up front.

Justin Fontaine
Wild's Fontaine Agrees To Contract
Justin Fontaine, RW, MIN
7/29/2014
News: Justin Fontaine has agreed to a two-year contract to remain with the Wild, the Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Justin Fontaine played 66 games during his rookie season for the Wild last season, finishing the campaign with 13 goals and 21 points, including a hat trick in January. He'll continue his development with Minnesota and likely see more playing time in the upcoming season.

Eric Staal
Hurricanes' Staal Undergoes Hernia Surgery
Eric Staal, C, CAR
7/29/2014
News: Eric Staal underwent successful hernia surgery and is expected to be ready for training camp in September, USA Today reports.
Analysis: Eric Staal's procedure should allow him ample time to recover by training camp and be fully healthy by the time the regular season begins. The 29-year-old posted 21 goals and 61 points in 79 games last season, production lower than his usual output. Nonetheless, Staal has only missed 17 games during his 10-year career, so durability hasn't traditionally been a concern for him.

Jimmy Hayes
Panthers Retain Hayes On One-Year Deal
Jimmy Hayes, RW, FLA
7/29/2014
News: Jimmy Hayes has agreed to a one-year contract with the Panthers.
Analysis: Jimmy Hayes joined the Panthers after being dealt by the Blackhawks on Nov. 14 of last year. He played 53 games in a Florida jersey, during which he totaled 11 goals and seven assists.

Michael Frolik
Jets Re-Sign Frolik
Michael Frolik, RW, WPG
7/29/2014
News: Michael Frolik has re-signed with the Jets on a one-year contract, The Globe and Mail's James Mirtle reports.
Analysis: Michael Frolik was reportedly in discussions over a long-term deal to remain in Winnipeg, but instead settled on just a one-year contract. The winger finished last season with 15 goals, 27 assists, and 42 points for the Jets.

Jerry D'Amigo
Jackets Sign D'Amigo
Jerry D'Amigo, RW, CLB
7/29/2014
News: Jerry D'Amigo signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Blue Jackets on Tuesday.
Analysis: Jerry D'Amigo was acquired by Columbus earlier this month in a deal that sent forward Matt Frattin to Toronto. The 23-year-old D'Amigo made 22 appearances for the Maple Leafs last season, scoring one goal to go with two assists. He'll compete for a roster spot with the Blue Jackets during training camp.

 
 
 
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