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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
Anders Lee
Islanders' Lee Likely Scratch Saturday
Anders Lee, C, NYI
4/26/2015
News: Anders Lee is likely to be a scratch for Game 6 on Saturday, Zac Boyer of the Washington Times reports.
Analysis: Anders Lee will likely be replaced by Eric Boulton in the lineup. The 24-year-old had been ineffective through the first five games of the Islanders' series and all signs point to Lee sitting out for Game 6.

Tom Gilbert
Habs' Gilbert Scores First NHL Playoff Goal
Tom Gilbert, D, MON
12:27 PM
News: Tom Gilbert scored his first career NHL playoff goal in Friday's Game 5 loss to Ottawa.
Analysis: While it was a nice milestone for Tom Gilbert, the Habs are in trouble, having lost two straight games. The 32-year-old isn't a big offensive producer, having registered just one point in these playoffs, but he's logging decent minutes and has posted a 45-point season in his past. Don't expect many more goals, but he does play on the second power-play unit, so he could rack up a few more points if the Habs make it out of the first round.

Mika Zibanejad
Sens' Zibanejad Dishes Out Two Assists In Game 5
Mika Zibanejad, C, OTT
12:15 PM
News: Mika Zibanejad contributed a pair of helpers in Friday's Game 5 win over Montreal.
Analysis: It was the second multi-point outing of the playoffs for Mika Zibanejad, who has collected four points in five games. Trailing the Canadiens 3-2 in their first-round series, the Senators will be looking to Zibanejad's line of Bobby Ryan and Milan Michalek to have another strong showing in Sunday's Game 6 in Ottawa. With Ryan snapping a 16-game goalless drought Friday, Zibanejad's production could increase by association if Ryan is able to parlay the effort into something more.

Mike Hoffman
Sens' Hoffman Collects Two Assists
Mike Hoffman, LW, OTT
12:10 PM
News: Mike Hoffman collected a pair of assists in Friday's Game 5 win over Montreal.
Analysis: After scoring the game-winner in Game 4, Mike Hoffman stepped up his offensive involvement again Friday. Over the last two games, the 25-year-old has fired off seven shots on goal and recorded three points to help the Sens fend off elimination. Hoffman will try to keep the wave of production going Sunday, when the Senators will take on the Canadiens in Game 6 at the Canadian Tire Center.

Ryan Pulock
Islanders' Pulock Out Saturday
Ryan Pulock, D, NYI
11:56 AM
News: Ryan Pulock is not in the Islanders' lineup Saturday, Arthur Staple of Newsday reports.
Analysis: There had been some indication that Ryan Pulock could be in the Islanders' lineup for Game 6 after a glut of injuries along their blue line, but that won't be the case Saturday. Pulock could be available should the Islanders extend their series to Game 7.

Jori Lehtera
Blues' Lehtera (Lower Body) Skates In Full
Jori Lehtera, C, STL
11:27 AM
News: Jori Lehtera (lower body) skated in full on Saturday, Lou Korac of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Jori Lehtera was held out of Friday's Game 5 with a lower body injury, so the fact that he was able to skate in full on Saturday bodes well for his potential availability for Game 6 of the series. The Blues will confirm his status prior to puck drop on Sunday.

Jake Allen
Blues' Allen To Start Sunday
Jake Allen, G, STL
11:16 AM
News: Jake Allen will be in net in Sunday's Game 6 against the Wild, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Analysis: Despite his poor performance in Game 5, in which he allowed four goals on 19 shots, Jake Allen will get the call again for Game 6 on Sunday. It's hardly a surprise, however, as Friday's Game 5 marked the first time since March 1 that Allen allowed more than two goals. He'll need to be better in Game 6 for the Blues to have a shot at staving off elimination.

Alexander Steen
Bues' Steen Has Assist In Game 5 Loss
Alexander Steen, LW, STL
10:38 AM
News: Alexander Steen picked up an assist on the power play Friday in a 4-1 loss to the Wild. He took four shots and added two hits and a blocked shot in the contest.
Analysis: Alexander Steen has four points and 13 shots in the series despite being held off the score sheet in the previous two games. It's tough to say the Blues are down three games to two because of anything Steen has or hasn't done, but facing elimination they need even more from their second-leading regular season scorer.

Joe Colborne
Calgary's Colborne Set To Play Saturday
Joe Colborne, C, CGY
10:32 AM
News: Despite missing Saturday morning's skate for maintenance reasons, Joe Colborne will be in the lineup in the evening for Game 6 vs. Vancouver, Pat Steinberg of Sportsnet 960 reports.
Analysis: Joe Colborne has been a physical force in the series, helping push back against a tough Canucks team. He has also chipped in a pair of points and will be called upon heavily in a pivotal Game 6 Saturday.

Jiri Hudler
Flames' Hudler Rests For Morning Skate
Jiri Hudler, LW, CGY
10:27 AM
News: Jiri Hudler did not participate in Saturday morning's skate, but will be in the lineup for Saturday evening's Game 6 against the Canucks, Pat Steinberg of Sportsnet 960 reports.
Analysis: Jiri Hudler has struggled in the series so far, with two points to go with a minus-5 in five games. He hasn't appeared completely healthy since a rough night against the Kings back in early April, but neither of his linemates have played particularly well in the series either. They'll look to turn it around and close out the Canucks on Saturday night.

 
 
 
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