Neutral Zone Wrap
by Evan Berofsky
You've tried the latest upstarts. Most of them serve as crapshoots due to uneven production and iffy reputation. You search for the next big thing, but picking one proves to be a lengthy exercise. Just when you think you've got the guy, his ice time drops off or a joint pops out during a freak practice/warmup incident.
While perusing the NHL rosters, you may want to focus on clubs who have holes to fill either due to injury, defection, or press box banishment. See a player making a name with a star? Check his credentials. If he's established, then he should be considered a decent buy. However, if he's new to the game, give him a few contests before adding.
Not convinced by your research? Watch some highlights, check the dailies, play a hunch. You may like the stats, but maybe the coach doesn't care for the character. Or maybe his skating skills are as proficient as a wounded ox. But hey, it really comes down to combinations and what they can offer you. So is someone like Mark Letestu right for you (seven points)? Is it time to go for P.A. Parenteau (seven, including six on the power-play)? Give a little more for Steve Montador (six)? Getting keeny on Jeff Tambellini (temporary target with the Sedins)? (OK, so 'keeny' isn't a word. Whatever.)
As you ponder these questions and more of life's eternal mysteries, take a look what else is happening around the league:
The Steve Yzerman effect in Tampa is already paying off. The Bolts can't slow down on offense (league-leading 3.52 goals a game), with many thanks to a great supporting cast (and no thanks to the goose egg from the sore and still scoreless Simon Gagne). Steve Downie (seven, 31 PIM) need not worry about suspensions if he can stick with the plan â€“ and his spot between Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. Teddy Purcell (six) is finally getting his shot after success on the farm (121 in 105 during his tour with the Kings). Even Sean Bergenheim (five, moved up with Vincent Lecavalier) should be considered a viable option. If only the goaltending situation could return more consistent results. Dan Ellis was brought in to push former standout Mike Smith, but it's the latter that has emerged as the favorite. The difference in numbers might not be significant (actually Ellis is better with a 2.95 GAA and .900 SV%), but Smith has taken the lead in appearances (six to five). Expect the two to split the starts until a winner stands out.
What's new in Ottawa? Not a heckuva lot. The Sens may be trying their darnedest, but they've lost key personnel and can't seem to put a string of wins together. Without perennial leading scorer Jason Spezza and starting netminder Pascal Leclaire, times will be tough in Kanata. Nick Foligno (three) will have to up his effort. Ditto for Peter Regin (and also three). If you're expecting Alexei Kovalev (four, but three of them on Tuesday) to work hard and improve, then you're obviously not familiar with his track record. Chris Campoli (two) might be worth a flyer in deeper leagues, as he's earning extra minutes thanks to Filip Kuba's absence (broken leg, at least another month).
This may finally be the year LA's talent rises to the top. Or not. Justin Williams (eight) might have dropped off the radar after missing most of the last three seasons, but he's always been a reliable scorer (73 in 130 during those abbreviated years). A lot was expected of Wayne Simmonds (four, 20 PIM), but he's only discovered his touch during the last few outings. Alexei Ponikarovsky (three) continues to uphold the belief that above-average linemates can't always make you better. Don't get your hopes too high on flashy rookies Andrei Loktionov or Brayden Schenn (or even blueline scoring machine Jake Muzzin), since they are still learning on the lower lines. But can someone please tell Jonathan Quick (1.95 GAA, .930 SV% in six) to relinquish some starts so Jonathan Bernier owners can stop worrying about his future?
The city of Dallas has an awful lot to discuss when it comes to sports. The Rangers have reached their first World Series. The Cowboys continue to depress. The Mavs begin a new season. Yet the Stars have also found their way into local conversations. A 5-1 beginning to the year will do that, but so will solid play between the pipes. Kari Lehtonen (2.70 GAA, .920 SV% starting all eight) is finally proving what he can do behind a solid D and two healthy legs. Jamie Benn (four in five) knows his way around the net. Steve Ott (two) should be more than just a mouth and two hardly-used fists (only 10 PIM), but he'll have to show that. Tom Wandell (two goals from one night) isn't consistent enough to recommend. Dallas's PP may suck (three for 30), so perhaps Trevor Daley (three) or Nicklas Grossman (two) deserves a bump to the top unit.
Times were thought to be tough on Broadway without Marian Gaborik, but the Rangers have found a way to cope. Sean Avery: prodigal producer? Yup, he shares the team assist lead with Ryan Callahan (six), but c'mon, that'll stop once Gaborik comes back (and to a lesser extent, Chris Drury and Vaclav Prospal). Same sentiment towards Ruslan Fedotenko (five), who surely can't keep up this run. Artem Anisimov (six) has the size to crash the cage and light the lamp, but is out indefinitely after taking a puck to the ankle. And to anyone who expected Michal Rozsival (six, with three PPAs) would return to fantasy worthiness, congratulations, your gold star is in the mail.
Next week, we'll have our first list of the regular season where the top fantasy surprises and disappointments to date will be covered. Don't forget to bring your comments. And some popcorn.
Evan Berofsky enjoys writing. Seriously. When he's not trying to shove hockey miscellany down your throat, he gets his kicks playing tournament Scrabble®. If you have anything to say about Evan's work (or need any hot word tips), feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org follow him on Twitter (@evanberofsky).