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Neutral Zone Wrap: To Hab or Hab Not

Evan Berofsky

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

Neutral Zone Wrap
Evan Berofsky,

They say you can't judge a book by its cover. Everyone knows that. What isn't heard as often is the part where you shouldn't make the same assumption after only reading a couple of chapters.

Like literature, the fantasy season should not be determined so quickly. You may have a general idea about your own fate after four weeks but the bigger test is figuring out where others are headed.

Now, we're not suggesting you illegally search out personal information and use it against anyone. But if you know an owner's preferences and tendencies, then you may be able to gain the upper hand in working out a trade. He/she may be partial to a certain team/player, is often influenced by hot/cold streaks, or just tends to be passive in negotiations.

Want to know my favorite hockey club? Sorry, don't have one. Am I interested in giving up a star that hasn't produced the last couple weeks? Sure, as long as the offer is respectable. Think you can sweet-talk or bully me with your offer? You know I can simply ignore it or click ‘Reject', right?

That doesn't mean these tactics have historically failed. Hey, I'm human. If someone is persistent but also amenable to a fair deal, then I can work with that. Just don't treat me like a pet or infant. I mean, unless you've got good treats.

And now that we've gone far enough off-topic, let's return to the scheduled material:

(Stats as of Monday November 3rd)

Even though the Habs are sailing through the Atlantic, points of distress appear on their roster. While Alex Galchenyuk (four goals, four assists) has proven to be the sleeper most anticipated, both Lars Eller and Rene Bourque (at a combined five points) have struggled (more a factor of low ice time, but that comes from poor play). After a quick opening, a search party has been dispatched to find P.A. Parenteau (nothing in seven games after five in five). And while the early returns favor Alexei Emelin (six assists), the lack of power-play minutes (all 18 seconds of them) compared to similarly ranked blueliners (like, say, Roman Josi or Cody Franson) serve as a warning for future performance.

With all the attack on hand, Tampa are holding steady with Montreal. Congrats to their center who is tied for the league lead in assists (at 13). No, not that guy. The next one on the depth chart. Yup, Tyler Johnson (who is also a plus-7). Nikita Kucherov (11 in 12) is on pace for a monster campaign. If only Alex Killorn (four in eight) could stay healthy would he be considered for regular top-six duty. Jonathan Drouin (four in seven) is best suited for long-term success, but will only get more opportunities if he can improve his overall game (and not get relegated to the fourth line). Without Victor Hedman (broken hand, return mid-November), Anton Stralman (nine, NHL-co-leading plus-13) is being given the chance to star. That also leaves Matthew Carle with a temporary promotion (back on the PP, where he scored recently), but don't get too excited about potential production.

The youth movement is paying off in Minnesota. Who's first in goals? Jason Zucker (five). Who's been promoted as first line center? That's, right, Mikael Granlund (goal, four assists). Have you checked out the dynamic duo on the second power-play? Why, it's none other than Charlie Coyle (six) and Nino Niedereitter (five). Since Jared Spurgeon (six in nine) banged up his shoulder, will either Mathew Dumba (two) or Jonas Brodin (one) awake from their fantasy slumber? And you think it's feasible for also under-25 Darcy Kuemper (1.62 GAA, .930 SV%, three shutouts in eight) to maintain this pace over a full schedule?

The preseason criticism in Vancouver centered on what was lost but is now being applauded for the offseason additions. After a letdown late in St. Louis, Ryan Miller (2.24 GAA, .918 SV% in nine) has provided ample security between the pipes. Newcomers Radim Vrbata (12, including seven PPPs) and Nick Bonino (nine) contribute their share. Former King farmhand Linden Vey (three PPGs) lining up with the Sedins on the top power-play? Believe it. Thanks to solid two-way play, 34-year old Brad Richardson (six, 11PIM, 14 hits) is being offered a larger role. And since Dan Hamhuis (three, minus-5) and Kevin Bieksa (one, minus-8) haven't shown much, perhaps Luca Sbisa (three) can work his way into the offensive equation.

How bad are things in Buffalo? The Sabres are averaging an NHL-worst 1.06 goals per game and sit sixth from the bottom with a 3.26 GAA. But at least they can tale solace in being first in something: most games played (13, tied with five others). Perennial disappointment Chris Stewart (two) leads the pity parade but others such as Cody Hodgson and Matt Moulson (both also at two) can be found marching alongside. That means the future is now, since the likes of Zemgus Girgensons (four) and recent call-up Johan Larsson (eight in nine down in the AHL) are being asked to assume more responsibility. Back on the blueline, Tyler Myers (one, minus-5) remains toxic, Andrej Meszaros (one, minus-9) looks worn out, and Rasmus Ristolainen (zero, minus-7) hasn't adapted well to big league hockey. Good times indeed.