Neutral Zone Wrap: Rookie on the rise

It's early, so the numbers may look somewhat skewed. Not only for individual results to date, but also for group accomplishments. Can you name the four teams who haven't lost in regulation? The fact all of them come out of the Western Conference may not shock you. San Jose and St. Louis undefeated? Hardly surprising. Colorado? OK, mildly interesting. But Calgary posting a 3-0-2 record?!? Fine, now you've got our complete attention.

Back East, the theme has been one of slow starts - concentrated mainly in the posh Metropolitan Division. Congrats to those who picked Philly to kick off the coach cleansing, albeit a move that was expected in the preseason. Washington's attacking futility does not compare to their defensive ineptitude. But the biggest nuclear meltdown has to be the Rangers, who recently endured a horrific West Coast trip that saw their opponents embarrass them all the way up and down the Pacific Coast Highway.

Let's return to the standard fare of this column and focus on five of the aforementioned clubs who should catch your fantasy eye:

The Flames are scorching ... for now. So try not to go overboard and snap up every possible Calgary waiver option. Especially rookie Sean Monahan, who has excelled in the offensive end (six points) but may be shipped back to juniors before he hits the 10-game mark (i.e. the point where he would burn a year of his entry-level contract). And neither goalie - Joey MacDonald nor Karri Ramo (combined 3.11 GAA, .897 save percentage) - elicits any form of excitement. Don't sell the farm for Jiri Hudler (team-leading seven points), but consider he may be the top option with Michael Cammalleri (broken hand) missing indefinitely. No worries about Dennis Wideman, as his numbers (three points despite sitting second in the league at 27:46 a game, including 4:24 on the power-play) will eventually catch up and surpass those belonging to Mark Giordano (six).

Colorado's blue-chip talent looks to be maturing at the perfect time. Is it any surprise that first pick Nathan MacKinnon (six) leads the Avs in scoring? Or that Steve Downie (goal, three assists) can do more than drop the gloves or earn suspensions (17 PIM)? Good to see Ryan O'Reilly take charge (four, with two on the PP), but the best story must be Alex Tanguay's triumphant return to the Rockies (five, two PPAs). Not many noticed when Andre Benoit signed in July but he's currently on the radar (three assists, 21:41). Beware of Jamie McGinn (five, but 13 hits and five blocked shots), who has never performed at this level with any significant consistency. And good news for anyone who read last week's NZW, as Erik Johnson (zero) is living up to advanced billing.

With all the hype surrounding other Western outfits, the Blues can boast one of the most skilled lineups from top to bottom. There is almost a perfect mix of veteran leadership to complement the burgeoning youth. For every Vladimir Tarasenko (four) and Jaden Schwartz (three) exist an Alexander Steen (eight, plus-5) and Derek Roy (five, including four PPPs). A little bit of patience for Chris Stewart (two and 17 PIM, but a spot on the first man-advantage unit), who perhaps hasn't hit his stride. Look away from Brenden Morrow (PP goal, assist); he's too far down on the depth chart to serve any important role. Ditto for Jay Bouwmeester (two assists), no matter how many minutes he sees.

Keeping the fans happy in Philadelphia isn't as much a concern as putting some pucks in the net. The Flyers' goaltending, which had been a long-standing concern, is clearly not the problem. With several glowing production resumes, there's no reason they should rank 29th on goals per game (at 1.33). Unless your name is Brayden Schenn (four, two PPPs), improvement should be the main priority. Vincent Lecavalier (lower body injury, out a week) had also been decent (three), but now spends time in the press box. While Claude Giroux (one) is virtually a shoo-in to regain his form, others like Wayne Simmonds (one), Matt Read (none), and Kimmo Timonen (none) will require more of a push to recover. With Scott Hartnell (upper body injury) gone up to a month, Read receives more minutes. And with Lecavalier's absence, Timonen returns to a lead role on the power-play point.

Unless you're late for a dinner reservation, there's no need to hit the panic button on Broadway. With one head coach gone, one could assume Alain Vigneault would become the next sacrifice. Fortunately, several signs of promise exist. Brad Richards (five, including four goals) is once again a valuable fantasy commodity. Ryan Callahan (two PPGs and 20+ minutes Saturday) is back to full capacity. It's unknown how long Rick Nash (concussion) will be sidelined, but that should allow guys like Benoit Pouliot (zip) and J.T. Miller (3:21 PP time in his first appearance) to climb the ranks and contribute immediately.

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