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The Coming Thing: Return of the Hobbit Wizard

Andrew Fiorentino

Managing hockey editor, talent wrangler, football columnist, FSWA's 2015 fantasy hockey writer of the year. Twitter: @akfiorentino

Boy, those Penguins really will stop at nothing, huh? Just days after acquiring Doug Murray and Brenden Morrow, they stocked up with Jarome Iginla overnight, turning them from the East's best team to possibly the top team in the NHL, conceivably leapfrogging the Blackhawks, who still seem fairly allergic to losing.

And all it cost them was a pile of draft picks – including just one first-rounder – plus three prospects: Joe Morrow (a Morrow-for-Morrow deal – I like it), Ben Hanowski and Kenny Agostino.

Oh, and some cap space. How the hell did they have all that cap space? Incredible.

They're good prospects – Morrow a puck-moving defenseman with a big shot, Hanowski a winger with good size and a productive career going at St. Cloud State, and Agostino a young junior (still just 20 years old) at Yale who's pulling more than a point per game.

And in return, the Pens get a Stanley Cup. Or, you know, a good shot at one.

Let's get into it.

Called Up

Chris Kreider, LW, NYR – Kreider found whatever was missing in his AHL stint, scoring six goals in eight games and looking again like the decisive, big-bodied, high-talent winger the Rangers were hoping to see from the outset. His improved play has helped him average more than 13 minutes per game since returning to the Rangers' lineup, and he's let loose six shots in those three games (after just five, total, in the 11 previous contests). That culminated in a game-sealing goal Tuesday while skating alongside Brad Richards.

Richard Panik, RW, TB – The story on the Lightning's Slovakian winger is a classic: He's got all the tools, but his consistency and intensity can suffer. Still, Panik is a big-bodied 2009 second-round pick with the speed and skills to snipe with the best of 'em. He's got an edge, too, having racked up 81 PIM to go with his 41 points in 51 games for AHL Syracuse this season. In third-line ice time, Panik's collected an assist in three games since being recalled, and all in all he's got just two points in 12 games, but owners in keeper formats shouldn't be discouraged. It's also worth noting that he skated more than three minutes on the power play Tuesday.

Jake Gardiner, D, TOR – Gardiner's stepped back into solid minutes on the Toronto blue line, and he's collected a couple assists in his five games since returning. The hubbub earlier this month was that Randy Carlyle doesn't like Gardiner's style, so it could be they're showcasing him for a trade before the deadline, which would be a boon for whoever might pick up the talented blueliner. Gardiner's been rocking the minors, picking up 10 goals and 21 assists in 43 games for AHL Toronto, and the 17th overall pick in 2008 has the ability to carry that kind of production over to the NHL long-term.

Mats Zuccarello, RW, NYR – This isn't really a call-up; more of a signing. Still, as a talented and relatively young player, Zuccarello qualifies for the loose rules here. We all know what the Norwegian Hobbit Wizard can do; he led the Swedish league in points just a few years ago as a 22-year-old and was occasionally productive with New York over the last couple years, totaling 26 points in 52 games while receiving inconsistent ice time. Zucc had been in the midst of a relatively uninspiring KHL campaign, totaling 28 points in 44 games. He said he wouldn't return to the NHL if he didn't have a guaranteed role, so apparently the offense-starved Rangers are willing to give him that. Don't get too excited in keeper formats, as apparently he could head back overseas next year. But he may debut Thursday night against Ottawa.

Tyson Barrie, D, COL – Barrie's been bounced back and forth between Colorado and AHL Lake Erie, but he's back in the bigs now, and he picked up an assist in his first game back with the Avs. With seven points in 16 games, it's hard to see any argument against him staying on the NHL roster, even if the defensive end suffers a little. The knock on Barrie's always been his size – at 5-10, he's small for a d-man – and he's going to have to find a way to be solid enough in his own zone against the much bigger forwards of the NHL. The AHL has been no problem, as the 2009 third-rounder was an All-Star there last year and has picked up 29 points in 38 games this season.

Sent Down

Ryan Ellis, D, NAS – A disappointing run with the Preds for the top prospect has come to an end, as Ellis failed to produce in third-pairing minutes despite getting some decent PP time throughout the year. A 101-point scorer from the blue line in juniors two years ago, there's no questioning Ellis's long-term offensive upside, but I do think it's a good move to stick him in the minors for the duration of this season to let him develop his game. After all, the 11th overall pick in '09 is just 22 years old, and like Barrie, he needs to overcome a lack of size to be an effective NHLer.

Jason Zucker, LW, MIN – Zucker had a nice start to his NHL career (four goals and an assist in 11 games) screwed up by a concussion that forced him to miss almost a week, after which he didn't see the same minutes he had before. So the Wild sent him down to see more ice time in AHL Houston, where despite his 14 games in the NHL, he still leads the Aeros in goals with 20 and is second in points (42).

Ryan Spooner, C, BOS – Spooner got into just three games with Boston, and he's still seeking his first NHL point. Production hasn't been a problem for the 2010 second-rounder in the AHL, though, as he's easily leading Providence with 47 points, including a goal and an assist Wednesday in his first game since being sent down.

Stefan Elliott, D, COL – This stint for Elliott lasted just two games, in which he went scoreless in 14, then 20 minutes of ice time, collecting one shot on goal in each. He's struggled at the AHL level, too, with just nine points this year – a far cry from the 31 goals and 81 points he racked up for Saskatoon two years ago to earn WHL MVP honors. Elliott's still got big-time potential, but he's going to go through some ups and downs for a while yet.

Zach Boychuk, C, CAR – Yep, Boychuk is back with 'Canes organization after going on a little Americana tour, making stops in Pittsburgh and then Nashville before Carolina reclaimed him on waivers from the Preds. Awesome? Awesome. I knew the Hurricanes liked to bounce him around, but this is a little ridiculous. He returns to AHL Charlotte, where he's had a nice season, picking up 33 points in 38 games. There's still hope for the 14th overall pick in '08, who's still just 23 years old.

The Future to Come

This week's prospect is Jonathan Drouin, a draft-eligible 18-year-old (today's his birthday!) playing for the QMJHL's Halifax Mooseheads alongside last week's prospect, Martin Frk. In just his second junior season, the young Quιbιcois absolutely exploded for an obscene 41 goals and 105 points in just 49 games this year despite missing time to the WJC (where he recorded five assists in five games) as well as a foot injury early in the year.

There was a time when Drouin's teammate Nathan MacKinnon was thought a lock to go first overall, but Drouin has round outperformed him this year, meaning the less-heralded kid could flip the order from the 2011 QMJHL Entry Draft, in which MacKinnon went first and Drouin second.

Drouin first put himself on the map for a high pick in this year's draft in last year's playoffs, ripping off 26 points in 17 games – almost unheard of for a junior-league rookie, and almost as many points as he'd put up in the entire regular season (29 in 33 games). He carried that forward with gusto, going an incredible plus-48 this year, and he and Frk have carried their production into the playoffs, each collecting 10 points in the first four games.

And now, the highlights. Stand in awe of the hustle and the skill. Or just enjoy a whole reel. The kid's got hands that make Tomas Jurco look like a chump.

Now this is the coming thing. You're gonna want him on your fantasy team.

If you have any players you’d like me to discuss in next week’s column, please direct all inquiries here, or feel free to discuss them in the comments.