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Neutral Zone Wrap: The Overachievers

Evan Berofsky

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The holiday season is a time for reflection. A chance to remember what has happened the previous 12 months and assess what is required to improve in the future.

As we approach the halfway point in the season, our job is to figure out which players will hit the wall and who will rally out of their misery. Sure, we ran through roughly the same material at the start of November. But the schedule has progressed, separating the real deals from the pretenders (so any previous examples have been omitted). This week, let's stick to a couple overachievers and explain why their run is about to end:

(Stats as of Monday December 23)

Nick Foligno, F, Columbus

Having a December to remember (seven points in nine games) and a place alongside Ryan Johansen and R.J. Umberger on both the first even-strength and power-play unit, there's no doubt Foligno is jumping up and down like his dad used to do after scoring (if only in his mind). Fantasy wise, the former Sen is showing some serious stats (20 points, 54 PIM, 83 hits) but there's not much evidence (other than the 47 points two years ago) to suggest a huge breakout. That's another way of saying to temper your expectations when it comes to Foligno.

Andy Greene, D, New Jersey

You probably wouldn't guess a 31-year old defenseman in his eighth season with the same club would be enjoying a career campaign but it could easily happen with thin blueline depth. This would explain how Greene has boosted his stock in the last few weeks (13 in 15, including seven PPPs). He peaked at 37 points in 2009-10 so it's not impossible to think the Michigan product can scrounge together 18 more in the final 45 to top that. But with Eric Gelinas (15 in 28, with nine of those on the man-advantage) quickly developing, the hope Adam Larsson (lower-body injury, out another few weeks) will finally hit his stride, and since projections don't always go linear, expect Greene's numbers to take a hit.

Steve Mason, G, Philadelphia

The Internets tell me this column touted Mason as a potential sleeper for this season after his brief stint following the trade from Columbus. Then Ilya Bryzgalov received his emancipation and the Canadian youngster (still only 25) grabbed the top job and excelled immediately (never gave up more than three goals in his first 18 starts). Too bad my memory is terrible, so I'll focus on recent events. As was the case from his Blue Jacket days, Mason is shouldering the heavy workload and it seems to have affected his game of late (let in four or more goals in four of the last seven). And if you believe he'll turn it around, then prepare to be disappointed.

Dustin Penner, F, Anaheim

Ducks don't always return home but this particular quacker thought it would be best to rejoin the flock after two lackluster syrup-covered years in LA (37 in 117 during the regular season). A rejuvenation followed with Penner skating on the first line (23 in his first 24 with a whopping plus-18) and it was just like old times. But then old habits set in and the consequences (one in six, benched Saturday) took effect. Penner should be reinstated into the fold but keep an eye on his chances the next week or so before measuring his true worth.

David Perron, F, Edmonton

Hopes were high in St. Louis when Perron was drafted with the 26th pick in 2007. After all, he tore up the QMJHL in his only season (111 combined in 87). And initially, the Sherbrooke sniper impressed (27 in 62). But injuries would follow and the kid was dealt to the Alberta capital in July. Cue the instant success (27 in 34) and choice role (eight PPPs on a deadly quintet). But like any middle-of-the-road Oiler forward, Perron has the exciting opportunity of getting lost in the shuffle. But if it makes you feel any better, Perron has the best shot among the five shown here to continue producing at an above-average level.

(Honorable mention: Jonathan Bernier, G, Toronto; Jason Garrison, D, Vancouver; Clarke MacArthur, F, Ottawa; Jaden Schwartz, F, St. Louis; Andrew Shaw, F, Chicago)


If you had fun reading this, then get ready for the final installment of 2013 where we'll speculate which former all-stars are ready for a reversal of fortune. And bring your sunscreen because the atmosphere is going to get really, really bright.