Neutral Zone Wrap: Who's on the rebound?
Which players are flying under the radar due to poor performances last season? Evan Berofsky takes a look in his first installment of the Neutral Zone Wrap.
The regular season is here. Hallelujah!
Hope you had a relaxing summer, one where absolutely nothing happened except for the anticipation of meaningful NHL action. OK, so maybe you moved to another country and got married. But even if those events took place in the last few months, then your sights must have remained locked on hockey.
You may have forgotten some material since the Blackhawks shocked the Bruins (and us) in Game 6 of the Cup Final. Hope you have perused the other site resources and articles and feel sufficiently caught up. But if you're craving one more piece to get you going, then you're in luck.
There's always room for improvement. Not only in your leagues but also for actual NHLers who are poised to step up their game. Here are a few hopefuls who may not be getting the most attention or may be maligned for recent indiscretions but could serve as fantasy gold. (NOTE: These individuals could end up depreciating in value but that would depend on uncontrollable factors or how you use them in your lineup. In other words, plan accordingly.)
(For other related examples, be sure to check out Jan Levine's sleepers article.)
Brad Boyes, F, Panthers: Posted very respectable numbers with the Islanders in 2012-13 (35 points in 48 games, including 13 on the power-play) but was probably pushed out due to a forward glut. On a relatively young Panther lineup, Boyes was brought aboard on a tryout basis and has seamlessly fit in on a line with Kris Versteeg and rookie Aleksander Barkov. Don't expect any eye-popping figures; somewhere in the 50-point range will suffice.
Jannik Hansen, F, Canucks: The recipient of a new four-year, $10 million contract will be asked to assume more responsibility. In his five-year career, the Danish winger has excelled as a shorthanded contributor and is slowly working his way as a dependable top-six forward (note the 27 in 47 last year). With Zack Kassian maintaining his penchant for on-ice stupidity, it would seem Hansen is firmly positioned as the second right winger on the Canucks' depth chart and a spot on one of the power-play units.
Jussi Jokinen, F, Penguins: Fine, so Jokinen became an immediate success (11 in 10) after arriving from Carolina in April. But it was presumed the Finn wouldn't be able to repeat this feat skating on the third or fourth unit. In training camp and exhibition action, he has displayed great chemistry with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal (including a hat-trick against Columbus). And it seems that anyone who teams up with that duo should be destined for something better than average. It's funny to think the Canes are still paying a quarter of Jokinen's salary as part of their giveaway sweepstakes.
Ryan Miller, G, Sabres: You might be surprised to see the 2010 Vezina winner listed in this category but Miller belongs here. His stats last season 'slipped' to a 17-17-5 record with a 2.81 GAA, mainly a factor of a fresh Sabres squad that finished last in the Northeast. Some of the media and fan pressure looks like it eventually affected Miller, although he kept his cool and proved to be Buffalo's best player on many nights. Fortunately, there are three factors working in his favor. First off, Miller will undoubtedly want to prove his detractors wrong and step up his game. Secondly, his long-term contract expires next summer and he will want to exhibit his top skills for a new deal. And finally, the starter from Vancouver 2010 will be motivated for Sochi in his bid to reclaim the #1 job for the US squad. (Jonathan Quick appears to be the current frontrunner.)
Sami Salo, D, Lightning: A lot more was expected of Salo after inking a deal with the Bolts before last season. After all, the now-39 year old has always been known for his cannon from the point. And although Tampa finished in the top-half of the league in power-play percentage (13th at 19%), he wasn't a major factor (seven PPPs, 17 overall) and only managed a shot per game (with a paltry two goals). With a season in the Sunshine State under his belt and no Vincent Lecavalier to hinder backline man-advantage opportunities, expect Salo to increase his frequency hitting the net and continue scaring the bejeezus out of opposing goalies.
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