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Neutral Zone Wrap: Dreams: They Don't Last Forever

Evan Berofsky

Evan Berofsky enjoys writing. Seriously. When heís not trying to shove hockey miscellany down your throat, he gets his kicks playing tournament Scrabble(TM). If you have anything to say about Evanís work (or need any hot word tips), feel free to contact him at or follow him on Twitter (@evanberofsky).

You had grand fantasy dreams. Go ahead, admit it. Draft well, dominate the competition, win the league. But the plan hasn't really worked out so far, now has it?

A long list of excuses can be offered if necessary. After all, life can get complicated and you're not always accessible to set the lineup in time or make the transaction before the weekly/daily deadline. And don't forget about the players themselves. Some get injured, some lose their way and frankly, some of them just plain suck. That's the way it goes sometimes.

Or perhaps you didn't have high expectations. You may have been angling to steal a player or two at the draft. Go relatively unnoticed while others boast about their latest skater feats. And then when no one is looking, boom, you're right in contention.

These two opposites also exist in the NHL universe. A bunch of squads made some bold moves over the summer and were touted as the ones to watch. A couple of them have delivered on this promise, while others have fallen short.

And then there are the ones who were all but forgotten during the preseason. You know, finished near the bottom last season, relatively quiet during the break, pretty much left for dead in 2011-12. A few have exceeded most experts' opinions and are well on their way to achieving success, as long as they stay on the right path.

So without subjecting y'all to further boredom, here are some teams that fit either description, and the players to watch within:

If you're Ottawa and you know it, clap your hands. The Sens may not be the most consistent of clubs, but they've achieved so much already. We all recognize the main men, but let's give props to the young ones making their own marks. Nick Foligno (seven points in seven games) is ready to earn his 2006 first-round status. Bobby Butler (two goals vs. Calgary Tuesday) is looking to show his abbreviated run last year (21 points in 36 games) was no fluke. Zack Smith (nine) is more than someone who just drops the gloves (although 30 penalty minutes are nice). Stephane Da Costa (five) is struggling to survive, but at least has been given a shot. Kaspars Daugavins (two) looks to be a keeper, although he requires more time to translate his impressive AHL stats (60 in 80) to the big show. And if you're looking to be patient, then you will have to wait a little longer on David Rundblad (three, abounding in healthy scratches).

A regrettable and forgettable 2010-11 in Jersey led many to believe the next few months would serve as another disappointing campaign. And then along came another batch of fresh faces to raise the bar. The leader of this crew would be Adam Henrique (nine points in eight games), who has excelled since being anointed the #1 center. A lot of hustle from Nick Palmieri, but not a lot to show for it (a couple two-point efforts in between many zeros). Mattias Tedenby (three in 16) could also contribute more, as long as he's not being benched. The offense may be a little slow from power-play quarterback Adam Larsson (three), but the kid who just turned 19 is logging significant minutes (try 23 a night) and needs to adjust to that. Mark Fayne (six) is another young defender climbing the ranks and worthy of a look in deeper leagues.

The youth was starting to change the Islanders for the better. Too bad most of the roster hasn't cooperated. The net situation isn't awful, yet the pecking order still resembles a cutting floor. None of the three-headed rotation has exactly shined, although Evgeni Nabokov (2.89 GAA, .910 SV%, tops with seven starts) may have announced his intentions for the lead role. No complaints about P.A. Parenteau (leads with 11 assists), someone this column thought would be shedding points to others. Still, questions are present: Where have you gone, Kyle Okposo (three in 14)? Where are you going, Blake Comeau (nothing in 13)? You still with us, Josh Bailey (two in 15)? And you sure you don't want to leave, Nino Niederreiter (made season debut Tuesday)? Travis Hamonic did enough last season to win our hearts (26 in 62, 103 PIM), but he'll have to do more (than two points and a minus-6) to earn our fantasy dollars.

The sky isn't falling any more in Vancouver, although the latest destruction from Chicago and the Roberto Luongo injury scare doesn't help. Jannik Hansen (four goals in five) has won the recent sweepstakes to line up with the Sedins, but don't expect to see him on the PP. Chris Higgins (five in nine) is rolling along on the second unit. Cody Hodgson (six in eight) can sure handle the puck, but needs greater consistency. David Booth has acted as the extra spark (seven in 11), yet the shifts are quicker and fewer than his Florida days. Try not to buy into Aaron Rome's latest scoring spree (five points in five games - after only 12 in over 100 previous NHL contests), unless you believe one or more of the Canucks' big four on D is set to go missing soon.

And just when you thought the Blackhawks were out of the mix, they pull everyone back in … and then reach the top. Dave Bolland (seven) has been adequate when healthy. Daniel Carcillo (seven) can add a touch of offense, but his trips to the penalty box (the 41 PIM) are his greatest asset. Andrew Brunette is working it on the man-advantage (four goals there), but not so much elsewhere (only four assists five-on-five). And here's something that isn't really a news flash: Michael Frolik (one in eight) has gone cold again. Jump on Nick Leddy if he's available (13 points, averaging over 24 minutes since the fifth game), but don't think Steve Montador (six in four, including four PPPs) can keep up this pace - especially when Brent Seabrook (lower-body deal, nothing serious) returns. The battle between Corey Crawford and Ray Emery may look interesting (very close numbers, although the incumbent has started 11 more), but Chicago has invested too much in Crawford to pull him after a poor outing or two.

Next week, we'll have our first list of the regular season. Probably something revolving around fantasy surprises/duds and who can stay/get hot or not. But you never know, I might just decide to focus on The Top 20000 Hockey Cards of All-Time (plastic gum not included).