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Neutral Zone Wrap: Raining on the Parade

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).

People love a good comeback story, often seem to show more interest when someone slips and falls on their face. Gone are the days of rooting for a hero like Rocky Balboa or John McClane. Welcome to the age of witnessing embarrassing moments, instantly posting the videos online, and then sharing them with unwitting family members who accidentally click on the other link that ends up destroying their laptop.

Fantasy owners must be mindful of becoming too confident when it comes to their players. Age, durability, pedigree and experience (or lack thereof) should be considered when assessing which NHLers will see a decrease in production. Thatís not to say that this seasonís breakout stars will see their output completely disappear; itís just that for most, thereís no way an inflated pace can be maintained over an entire schedule.

With that in mind, letís take a look at a few players who are destined to take a hit in the second half. As in the last installment, no star names will be offered to protect the innocent:

Dylan Larkin, LW, DET

Immediately throwing a 19-year-old on the top line of an Original Six franchise seems ill-advised, but so far, so good. Larkinís talent and maturity have shined through (11 goals, 11 assists, plus-20), but thereís only so much to expect from someone whose competitive resume covers the USNTDP and one season of college puck. If you include the World Junior Championship, the Waterford native played a total of 46 games in 2014-15. Heís up to 31 this year, so the legs Ė and his offense Ė could slow down by the time February rolls around. (I hate to mention Larkin because I own him in the RotoWire Staff Keeper League. But at least Iím ready for what may come.)

Michal Neuvirth, G, PHI

Itís been a while since Philly could boast an elite goaltender, and no candidate looks to be arriving anytime soon. Steve Mason has looked mediocre (2.93 GAA, .905 save percentage in 13 games), leaving the door open for Neuvirth (2.00, .939, three shutouts in 15) to take control. However, the Czechís fantasy success cannot be sustained for these two reasons: A, Mason is the better netminder; B, the Flyersí D, despite a recent uptrend, is truly terrible (2.65 GAA, still in the bottom half) and will falter more often than not against their Metropolitan rivalsí (potentially) dangerous scorers.

Dion Phaneuf, D, TOR

Phaneuf will never return to the elite status he enjoyed while topping 45 points in his first four seasons, but he remains a competent leader who enjoys punishing opponents (34 PIM, 52 hits). His current haul (two goals, 14 assists) projects to a mid-40-point campaign, but thatís not very realistic, especially considering the Leafsí inconsistent attack (third-worst in the league at 2.13 goals per game) and the emergence of Morgan Rielly (14 points).

Jared Spurgeon, D, MIN

Weíve patiently waited for Spurgeon to break out, and it appears this is his time (four goals, 12 assists). Thereís no doubt the diminutive defender will eclipse his career high in points (26 from two years ago), but pressure from the offensively gifted Mathew Dumba (only seven in 28) and the more physical Marco Scandella (averaging 21 minutes since returning from injury) will end up hurting Spurgeonís totals. He should still crack 30 points, but donít expect much more than that.

Lee Stempniak, RW, NJD

I couldíve included the entire line of Stempniak (23 in 30, including nine on the power-play), Michael Cammalleri (30 points), and Adam Henrique (23 points) in this column, but thereís no room for all three Ė and at least the latter two have displayed some form of scoring prowess in the past. Basically an afterthought this offseason, having signed a cheap one-year deal in October, the 11-year veteran has made the other 29 clubs look stupid. Unfortunately for Stempniak (like the Devils at 15-11-4), reality will set in and the luck will slowly run out.

Kris Versteeg, LW/RW, CAR

For someone who has had trouble staying healthy as well as approaching the stats he posted in the peak of his career (54 in 71 during 2011-12), Versteeg has impressed by posting solid numbers (17 in 29 with five points on the power play) in a new location. But we all know it wonít last; in fact, if you see any Carolina forward outside Victor Rask or Elias Lindholm doing well for a long stretch, you may want to bundle up Ė hell will have frozen over.

(Dis)honorable mentions: Francois Beauchemin, D, COL; Loui Eriksson, RW, BOS; Jaromir Jagr, RW, FLA; Teddy Purcell, RW, EDM; Rasmus Ristolainen, D, BUF; Joel Ward, RW, SJ

Next week, weíll talk aboutÖum, itíll be a surprise.