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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
Andrew Ebbett
Ex-Penguin Ebbett Bound For KHL
Andrew Ebbett, C, PIT
8/4/2015
News: Andrew Ebbett has agreed to a contract with Barys Astana of the KHL, Igor Eronko of Sports-Express reports.
Analysis: It was reported earlier in the summer that Andrew Ebbett had signed on to join SC Bern in Switzerland's top league, but it looks like he'll have a different international destination in 2015-16. The forward was a frequent call-up from the minors in the Penguins last season, logging 24 appearances. The move to Europe should give him a little more stability.

Brandon Sutter
Sutter Signs Five-Year Contract With Canucks
Brandon Sutter, C, VAN
8/4/2015
News: Brandon Sutter signed a five-year, $21.875 million contract with the Canucks on Tuesday.
Analysis: Canucks GM Jim Benning had previously stated that he viewed Brandon Sutter as a cornerstone player for the team, and Tuesday's move certainly confirms that sentiment. Benning and the Canucks will hope that Sutter can step in as a legitimate second-line center in 2015-16, a commodity the team hasn't enjoyed for quite some time. Sutter registered 33 points (21 goals, 12 assists) in 80 games with the Penguins last season, and even though an upgraded role awaits him, it's difficult to imagine the 26-year-old taking a huge step forward in his production. Beyond projected top liners Daniel Sedin and Radim Vrbata, the Canucks aren't particularly rich in scoring wingers that could complement Sutter.

Brennan Evans
Evans Signs With Texas Stars
Brennan Evans, D, DET
8/4/2015
News: Brennan Evans signed an AHL contract with the Texas Stars on Tuesday, 100 Degree Hockey reports.
Analysis: Brennan Evans is a veteran of the AHL, where he's spent a total of 12 seasons without ever getting an opportunity at the NHL level. Unsurprisingly, the defender is expected to mentor the younger talent with Texas and isn't expected to receive a promotion at any point during the 2015-16 season.

John Muse
Muse Signs AHL Deal With Texas
John Muse, G, CAR
8/4/2015
News: John Muse signed an AHL contract with the Texas Stars on Tuesday, 100 Degree Hockey reports.
Analysis: John Muse is expected to serve as the backup goalie in Texas behind Jack Campbell. The Massachusetts native has yet to make an appearance in the NHL, and that won't likely change during the 2015-16 season.

Mike Hoffman
Hoffman Awarded One-Year Deal In Arbitration
Mike Hoffman, LW, OTT
8/4/2015
News: Mike Hoffman was awarded a one-year, $2 million contract Monday after going to arbitration with the Senators.
Analysis: It's a bargain deal for the Senators, especially when considering Mike Hoffman was reportedly seeking a $3.4 million contract, while Ottawa countered with $1.75 million. Hoffman was certainly justified in requesting the larger amount. The 25-year-old racked up 48 points (27 goals, 21 assists) over 79 games in what was his first full-time NHL campaign in 2014-15. He will return as a top-six forward for the Senators this season, and could take his production up a notch if he can stay healthy.

James Reimer
Leafs' Reimer: "Open Competition" In Net At Camp
James Reimer, G, TOR
8/3/2015
News: James Reimer will enter training camp with the opportunity to seize the number one role or at least a platoon, according to Toronto Star. "I think that right now I have a total open mind [to both goalies], and certainly I know Mike has the same," said new general manager Lou Lamoriello.
Analysis: James Reimer started 27 games in 2014-15 and delivered a meagre 9-16-1 record with a 3.16 GAA and .907 save percentage. He sure didn't do enough to earn starter's minutes, but will enter camp in an open competition with Jonathan Bernier. It's the third straight season with Reimer and Bernier splitting goaltending duties.

Jonathan Bernier
Bernier Not Guaranteed Leafs' Starting Job
Jonathan Bernier, G, TOR
8/3/2015
News: New general manager Lou Lamoriello envisions the Leafs' goaltending job as an open competition and indicates that head coach Mike Babcock feels the same way, according to the Toronto Star. "I think that right now I have a total open mind, and certainly I know Mike has the same," Lamoriello said. This will be the third straight season with Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer splitting goaltending duties.
Analysis: Lamoriello did indicate that Jonathan Bernier "has the ability, no question" to be a number one goalie in the NHL, but the twinetender hasn't shown the consistency in his game to take that job. And it's that inconsistency that has prevented him from getting a long-term deal with the Leafs. He just inked a two-year contract with the hope he can show the team he deserves a long-term, big-money deal. "Hopefully he has a year that pushes us, that is the organization, to speak to him next summer and looking for long term," continued Lamoriello.

Louis Domingue
Coyotes' Domingue Bound For Europe In 2015-16
Louis Domingue, G, ARI
8/3/2015
News: Louis Domingue will head to Europe for the 2015-16 season after opting not to sign his two-way qualifying offer with the Coyotes, Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic reports.
Analysis: With the Coyotes adding Anders Lindback to presumably serve as the backup to starter Mike Smith next season, Louis Domingue determined that playing overseas would be preferable to spending another year in the minors. The Coyotes will still retain his rights for the next four years, and with Lindback set to become a free agent next summer, it's quite possible that Domingue will be brought back in as one of Arizona's two goalies in 2016-17. The 23-year-old fared reasonably well in limited duty with the parent club last season, going 1-2-1 with a 2.73 GAA and .911 save percentage over seven appearances.

Aaron Dell
Dell Inks One-Year Deal With Sharks
Aaron Dell, G, SJ
8/3/2015
News: Aaron Dell signed a one-year contract with the Sharks on Monday.
Analysis: The 26-year-old goaltender was solid in 26 games with AHL Worcester in 2014-15, posting a 2.06 GAA and a .927 save percentage in those contests. He will likely serve as the Sharks' primary AHL goaltender this season.

Brooks Orpik
Caps' Orpik Likely Ready For Opener
Brooks Orpik, D, WAS
8/3/2015
News: General manager Brian MacLellan indicated Monday that he expects Brooks Orpik (wrist) to be ready for the beginning of the season, Dan Rosen of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Brooks Orpik is expected to begin full workout activities within a week or two, barring a setback, so it should provide him plenty of time to recover before the season begins. Assuming that's indeed the case, he should open the season among the top two pairings, and could pick up a fair number of assists while working with the likes of Alex Ovechkin and offseason addition T.J. Oshie.

 
 
 
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