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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
Dan Boyle
Rangers' Boyle Claims First Point
Dan Boyle, D, NYR
11:52 AM
News: Dan Boyle collected his first point of the season with a first-period power-play goal in Wednesday's loss to the Lightning.
Analysis: Dan Boyle has yet to get going after a broken hand cost him entire month of action, but Thursday's goal could spark his production. Though he's long past his peak at 38 years old, Boyle's presence on a top power-play unit ripe with talent should allow him to finish the season as an above-average source of offense from the blue line.

T.J. Brodie
Flames' Brodie Dishes Out Two In Win
T.J. Brodie, D, CGY
11:47 AM
News: T.J. Brodie assisted on both of the Flames' goals in Wednesday's 2-0 victory over the Sharks.
Analysis: There hasn't been a more dynamic defensive pairing so far this season than Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie, who have combined for an incredible 44 points over the Flames' 24 games. That level of production probably won't be sustained over the course of the full season, but it's clear that both blueliners are premier talents at their positions. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 to 50 points could be a realistic benchmark for Brodie.

Adam Lowry
Jets' Lowry Docked One Game For Boarding
Adam Lowry, LW, WPG
11:39 AM
News: Adam Lowry has been suspended one game for boarding the Sabres' Patrick Kaleta in Wednesday's match.
Analysis: As a rookie, Adam Lowry doesn't have any track record for malicious hits, so the league office went relatively light on him for the first-time violation. Lowry collected 15 penalty minutes for his transgressions Wednesday night, doubling his PIM total from the previous 23 games combined. He'll be eligible to return to action Dec. 3 against the Oilers.

Corban Knight
Flames Bring Back Knight
Corban Knight, C, CGY
11:34 AM
News: Corban Knight was recalled from AHL Adirondack on Thursday, NHL.com's Aaron Vickers reports.
Analysis: Corban Knight was assigned to Adirondack just a day earlier, but it sounds like he never left the team. The Flames were simply waiting for Devin Setoguchi to clear waivers, and since that situation is now resolved, Knight will take his spot back on the 23-man roster.

Ryan Garbutt
Two-Game Suspension For Stars' Garbutt
Ryan Garbutt, LW, DAL
11:31 AM
News: Ryan Garbutt was suspended two games for kneeing the Oilers' Taylor Hall in Tuesday's match, NHL.com's Mark Stepneski reports.
Analysis: As he is often wont to do, Ryan Garbutt was pestering the Edmonton star throughout the game but went a little overboard with eight minutes remaining in the third period, clipping Hall with his knee and earning a two-minute minor for tripping. The banishment will keep him out of action until the Stars' Dec. 2 game against the Maple Leafs.

Craig Anderson
Sens' Anderson To Get Nod Friday
Craig Anderson, G, OTT
11:27 AM
News: Craig Anderson will be in the crease Friday against the Panthers.
Analysis: Craig Anderson has watched Robin Lehner assume the bulk of the starting duties for the Senators over the last couple of weeks, and didn't do much to help his cause by allowing four goals to the Red Wings in his last time out Monday. Perhaps receiving the starting nod against his former squad -- and an offensively-challenged one, at that -- will be exactly what he needs to win back the Ottawa net.

Henrik Lundqvist
Next Turn To Come Saturday For Rangers' Lundqvist
Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR
11:24 AM
News: Henrik Lundqvist will be in the crease Saturday against the Flyers.
Analysis: Coach Alain Vigneault will save Henrik Lundqvist for the home half of the Rangers' back-to-back set with the Flyers, as backup Cam Talbot gets the call for Friday's match in Philadelphia. Lundqvist has yet to find much consistency over the first two months, as he's tied for the league lead with four shutouts yet finds himself with a rather middling 2.60 GAA and .911 save percentage for the season.

Cam Talbot
Rangers' Talbot To Start Friday
Cam Talbot, G, NYR
11:20 AM
News: Cam Talbot will get the start in goal Friday against the Flyers.
Analysis: It's the first game of a back-to-back set between the Rangers and Flyers, with coach Alain Vigneault already declaring that Henrik Lundqvist would start the second match Saturday. Cam Talbot hasn't seen much action behind Lundqvist this season, but was stellar his last time out Nov. 19, which was also against Philadelphia. He stopped all 31 shots he faced to claim his fourth career shutout.

Zack Kassian
Canucks' Kassian (Finger) Out 2-3 Weeks
Zack Kassian, RW, VAN
11:16 AM
News: Zack Kassian has been ruled out for two-to-three weeks due to a finger injury, Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province reports.
Analysis: Zack Kassian will be forced to miss at least the next seven games with the Canucks, since he didn't join the team in Columbus for the start of their road trip. The finger injury appears to have stemmed from a slash he took during Tuesday's win over the Devils, and will more than likely result in his second trip to injured reserve of the season. The Canucks could choose to call up a forward from the minors in order to give them some more depth during the road swing.

Dan Hamhuis
Canucks' Hamhuis Not Joining Canucks On Trip
Dan Hamhuis, D, VAN
11:12 AM
News: Dan Hamhuis (lower body) will not join the Canucks on their seven-game road trip beginning Friday.
Analysis: The fact that Dan Hamhuis isn't traveling with the team illustrates that he's dealing with something more significant than a day-to-day concern. The Canucks might not provide a clearer timeline for his return until he's able to resume skating again.

 
 
 
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