Neutral Zone Wrap
Evan Berofsky, RotoWire.com
Welcome to 2015. As we've replaced our calendars (wait, do people still use paper ones?!), let's reset the teams. Unlike past incarnations, we actually might complete a second go-around if I'm not lazy or traveling to some exotic locale for Scrabble. (Whoops, I'll be in New Orleans two weeks from now. So instead of a hockey column, I'll write a report on how much alcohol I didn't consume.)
Hope you took my advice on the WJHC because it's been a dandy. For a detailed firsthand take on the tournament, check out Janet Eagleson's awesome article. (And commiserations to my American friends. 'Tis a shame you couldn't be matched up against a powerhouse like Denmark or Slovakia in the elimination round.)
But let's return to the pro game. Five more clubs, five more reviews. If even one piece of information below can help you out in your leagues, then perhaps I should try harder and include more useful material:
The Preds are on the prowl and proving to be preferred players in the West. Mike Ribeiro (18 points in his last 16 games) is heading the show down the middle and Mike Fisher (11 in 17) has readapted after a long absence. The wings are also positively represented, with Colin Wilson (nine in seven) the best of the healthy bunch not named Filip Forsberg. No James Neal means Craig Smith (seven in eight, including five goals) can do more. And don't look now but Olli Jokinen (three in three) increased his total production by 150% the last week. Mattias Ekholm (three goals, two assists in eight) may be an appealing addition but take note Nashville can claim four better offensive D-men - all who actually line up on the man-advantage.
Not much has been able to stop Dallas lately. The latest to join the top trio is Colton Sceviour (points in seven of 10), who may just stay there. Erik Cole (seven in five, with three PPAs) has been trustworthy but how long can this last? Down on the third unit, you'll find an underappreciated center in Cody Eakin (five in eight), an underperforming multitalent in Antoine Roussel (three in eight, but 18 PIM), and an underfighting enforcer in Ryan Garbutt (just two PIM in seven). If you're excited about the three-assist effort from Jamie Oleksiak on Saturday, then temper your expectations until the 22-year old sees any significant time on special teams.
Despite a rotating list of injuries, the Blue Jackets have been able to persevere. Front and center is Brandon Dubinsky (seven in four), who looks like he never missed the first couple months. Fine play has earned Matt Calvert (five in seven) an increased attacking role. Jeremy Morin (two in eight) had been unutilized in Chicago but now receives attention (like the first line) in Columbus. So much unfulfilled talent in Alexander Wennberg (four in 27 with a minus-18), so it all depends on your patience with him. David Savard (five in nine) is ultimately being rewarded for his hard work (moved up to the top PP crew), while Kevin Connauton (nine in 11) is creeping into relevance.
Remember that week when Buffalo almost looked like a real NHL team? All-Star darling Zemgus Girgensons (three in 10) is struggling with a diminished supporting cast. Mikhail Grigorenko was dominating on the farm (22 in 30 in Rochester) and clearly deserved the promotion. Despite the occasional lapses, Drew Stafford (eight in 14) remains one of the Sabres' most reliable forwards. Every opportunity has been provided for Rasmus Ristolainen (like 20-plus minutes and a prominent piece on the power-play), but the youngster hasn't responded (seven in 38, including three in 15). Ditto for Nikita Zadorov (six in 29). And if you're thinking of acquiring returnee Tyler Myers (eight in 32), then stop and try to come up with another topic.
The weather in Edmonton may be downright freezing, but the Oilers have completely gone south. When covering this club, tread lightly when it comes to the non-stars. We threw the book at Nail Yakupov in last week's installment, so no need to add to the fire. Derek Roy (two in four after 10 in 26) was such a hit in Nashville that he was waived and summarily shipped elsewhere. Anton Lander's AHL numbers (29 in 28) could not be ignored, although his continued success in the bigs surely will be. A broken foot kept Benoit Pouliot (nine in 22) sidelined, but now they've forced him back into the lineup. At least Leon Draisaitl (nine in 37, minus-17 in limited action) has escaped after mercifully being returned to the WHL. And, ooh, Andrew Ference (four in seven, plus-4).