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Neutral Zone Wrap: Preparing for playoff pools

by | Rotowire.com
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Just when you thought you were done with Fantasy hockey for the season, the playoffs appear out of nowhere with promises of wonder and excitement for the next two months. And that means another pool (or pools) to enter, where you'll require a strategy and the proper tools to draft your way to another title.

The planning portion is rather simple and begins with determining which teams you believe will advance to the Conference Finals. From there, you can focus your picks on four clubs - with the last few pieces from the remaining rosters. Trying to figure out whether an injury will hurt one's performance becomes a complicated issue. The latest reports may claim someone is back to health and available to help. But if you don't believe a skater will be ready, then it's better to err on the safe side and avoid.

Most likely, you will then look at the different positions and analyze each one. For forwards, check the numbers, the lines, and the proven producers. For defensemen, go for the point getters and the power-play performers. And in net, grab the ones who you believe will advance as far as possible. (Which is why you won't see any netminders in the following lists.) In addition to this, you can find comprehensive positional rankings and other goodies by checking out the latest cheat sheets.

If you don't see a particular person in the upcoming lists, then they may have been omitted for various reasons. Some may lie in between categories, but that doesn't mean they should be avoided. Meanwhile, you won't see others who carry significant pain, are in a slump, or are not fit for consumption.

(NOTE: Each section is shown in alphabetical order by player surname.)

Sure, fire

You wanted the best, you're getting the best. Some could be classified as superstars, but others are lesser likes who still possess a proficient postseason pedigree:

David Backes, F, St. Louis; Nicklas Backstrom, F, Washington; Patrice Bergeron, F, Boston; Dan Boyle, D, San Jose; Ryan Callahan, F, NY Rangers; Brian Campbell, D, Florida; Zdeno Chara, D, Boston; Sidney Crosby, F, Pittsburgh; Pavel Datsyuk, F, Detroit; Alexander Edler, D, Vancouver; Patrik Elias, F, New Jersey; Johan Franzen, F, Detroit; Marian Gaborik, F, NY Rangers; Claude Giroux, F, Philadelphia; Scott Hartnell, F, Philadelphia; Marian Hossa, F, Chicago; Patrick Kane, F, Chicago; Erik Karlsson, D, Ottawa; Ryan Kesler, F, Vancouver; Anze Kopitar, F, Los Angeles; Ilya Kovalchuk, F, New Jersey; David Krejci, F, Boston; Kris Letang, D, Pittsburgh; Nicklas Lidstrom, D, Detroit; Milan Lucic, F, Boston; Evgeni Malkin, F, Pittsburgh; Patrick Marleau, F, San Jose; James Neal, F, Pittsburgh; Alexander Ovechkin, F, Washington; Zach Parise, F, New Jersey; Joe Pavelski, F, San Jose; Alex Pietrangelo, D, St. Louis; Brad Richards, F, NY Rangers; Daniel Sedin, F, Vancouver; Henrik Sedin, F, Vancouver; Alexander Semin, F, Washington; Jason Spezza, F, Ottawa; Joe Thornton, F, San Jose; Kimmo Timonen, D, Philadelphia; Radim Vrbata, F, Phoenix; Shea Weber, D, Nashville; Ray Whitney, F, Phoenix; Henrik Zetterberg, F, Detroit

Just As Good, Not As Famous

Players who can be classified under the first tier. Probably second or third liners, with the potential to raise their game:

Daniel Alfredsson, F, Ottawa; Artem Anisimov, F, NY Rangers; Kevin Bieksa, D, Vancouver; Danny Briere, F, Philadelphia; Dustin Brown, F, Los Angeles; Brent Burns, D, San Jose; Alex Burrows, F, Vancouver; David Clarkson, F, New Jersey; Ryane Clowe, F, San Jose; Logan Couture, F, San Jose; Michael Del Zotto, D, NY Rangers; Shane Doan, F, Phoenix; Drew Doughty, D, Los Angeles; Pascal Dupuis, F, Pittsburgh; Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, Phoenix; Martin Erat, F, Nashville; Valtteri Filppula, F, Detroit; Mike Fisher, F, Nashville; Tomas Fleischmann, F, Florida; Jason Garrison, D, Florida; Dan Girardi, D, NY Rangers; Sergei Gonchar, D, Ottawa; Martin Hanzal, F, Phoenix; Martin Havlat, F, San Jose; Tomas Holmstrom, F, Detroit; Patric Hornqvist, F, Nashville; Marcus Johansson, F, Washington; Duncan Keith, D, Chicago; Niklas Kronwall, D, Detroit; Chris Kunitz, F, Pittsburgh; Brooks Laich, F, Washington; David Legwand, F, Nashville; Brad Marchand, F, Boston; Paul Martin, D, Pittsburgh; Milan Michalek, F, Ottawa; T.J. Oshie, F, St. Louis; David Perron, F, St. Louis; Rich Peverley, F, Boston; Alexander Radulov, F, Nashville; Mike Richards, F, Los Angeles; Brent Seabrook, D, Chicago; Tyler Seguin, F, Boston; Dennis Seidenberg, D, Boston; Patrick Sharp, F, Chicago; Kevin Shattenkirk, D, St. Louis; Jordan Staal, F, Pittsburgh; Viktor Stalberg, F, Chicago; Derek Stepan, F, NY Rangers; Steve Sullivan, F, Pittsburgh; Ryan Suter, D, Nashville; Petr Sykora, F, New Jersey; Kris Versteeg, F, Florida; Jakub Voracek, F, Philadelphia; Stephen Weiss, F, Florida; Ian White, D, Detroit; Dennis Wideman, D, Washington; Justin Williams, F, Los Angeles; Keith Yandle, D, Phoenix; Marek Zidlicky, D, New Jersey

FANTASY ERROR 501: Player Not Supported

Warning! Danger ahead! If you select any of these folks, then be ready to pay the consequences. High risk with generally low reward. Move along and try not to stare:

Todd Bertuzzi, F, Detroit; Joe Corvo, D, Boston; Brandon Dubinsky, F, NY Rangers; Michael Frolik, F, Chicago; Mike Green, D, Washington; Michal Handzus, F, San Jose; Sergei Kostitsyn, F, Nashville; Matt Niskanen, D, Pittsburgh; Chris Stewart, F, St. Louis

Stealing The Show

John Druce. Chris Kontos. Paul DiPietro. Ville Leino. Joel Ward. Those names made a lasting impression in the annals of NHL playoff history, but will generally not be remembered for anything else. The following guys may be next-in-line:

Jordan Caron, F, Boston; Alec Martinez, D, Los Angeles; Mason Raymond, F, Vancouver; Brayden Schenn, F, Philadelphia; Andrew Shaw, F, Chicago; Craig Smith, F, Nashville; Alexander Steen, F, St. Louis; Kyle Turris, F, Ottawa; Marc-Edouard Vlasic, D, San Jose

The first round looks ripe for upsets, with San Jose (7) over St. Louis (2) as the popular choice in the West. Technically, both Detroit (5) and Chicago (6) would qualify as surprises, but both lineups contain enough experience to balance the matchups. Meanwhile in the Eastern Conference, Washington (7) have come on of late but Boston (2) owns too much depth and fewer injuries. New Jersey (6) comes out of the tough Atlantic Division, so first-time division winner Florida (3) is in for some trouble.

As much as I'd like to back Detroit, I can't really see them getting past the second round. St. Louis surprised many with their unbelievable second-half run, but Vancouver is just that much better and more seasoned during this part of the year. So give me the Canucks to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

Can't argue with anyone who likes the Rangers and Bruins, but I can't see how the Penguins - at full capacity - doesn't reach the Final. Even if Philly (and other opponents) bang and bruise Pittsburgh at every opportunity, their skill set is just too strong for others to overcome.

So then, it's only fitting for Vancouver to go down in consecutive seasons to thwart their first championship. Give me Pittsburgh in six and let it ride.

Which teams are in your Final? List them in the comments, along with any other notes you may find relevant.

Enjoy the playoffs, folks. I'll be back in a few weeks to preview the second round. And to make sure y'all have been paying attention.

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Mark Visentin
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Analysis: Mark Visentin was helped off of the ice, so it's possible the injury is something fairly serious, but it's too early to tell, as the report did not provide definitive details. Another update should be forthcoming once Visentin is evaluated by the team's medical staff.

Nathan Lieuwen
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Jon Merrill
Merrill To Sit Monday For Devils
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News: Jon Merrill (head) will not play Monday against the Rangers in the Devils' preseason opener after suffering a slight head injury Saturday.
Analysis: Jon Merrill collided with Ruslan Fedotenko on Saturday and appeared woozy. He will not play Monday simply as a precaution and will likely be limited in the coming week.

Cory Schneider
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Cory Schneider, G, NJ
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News: Cory Schneider will not play in Monday's preseason opener against the Rangers.
Analysis: Schenider's job as New Jersey's No. 1 netminder is massively secure, but the team needs to figure out who will be their backup netminder this season. That contest is between Scott Wedgewood, Keith Kinkaid and Maxime Clermont, two of whom will begin the season in the AHL. Schenider had some of the best peripheral statistics among NHL starting goaltenders last season despite just 16 wins in 45 games. He's a safe option after the netminders who will pile up wins are snagged.

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Mike Cammalleri, LW, NJ
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News: Mike Cammalleri has been playing left wing on the team's top line alongside Travis Zajac and Jaromir Jagr, the Bergen Record's Tom Gulitti reports.
Analysis: Mike Cammalleri will be expected to challenge the 30-goal plateau and could have a decent shot if he is able to develop chemistry with Zajac and Jagr. The veteran sniper can also play center, but the Devils are starting him off on the wing where he will be expected to shoot often. Cammalleri had 26 goals in 63 games last year for Calgary, a season that saw him battle various nagging injuries.

Adam Larsson
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Adam Larsson, D, NJ
9/21/2014
News: Adam Larsson will need to earn the trust of the New Jersey coaching staff in order to secure a spot in the team's lineup.
Analysis: Adam Larsson has to have a strong camp in order to secure one of the open spots on the team's roster. With him on a one-way, one-year contract now, he'll have to pass through waivers if he is sent down, so he has a roster spot in theory. The fourth-overall pick of the 2011 draft has seen sparse ice time the last few seasons and will need to have a strong training camp along with fellow youngster Eric Gelinas in order to earn the trust of the team's coaching staff.

Eric Gelinas
Gelinas Needs To Impress Devils' Coaches
Eric Gelinas, D, NJ
9/21/2014
News: Eric Gelinas will need to earn the trust of the New Jersey coaching staff in order to secure a spot in the team's lineup.
Analysis: Eric Gelinas had a rather up-and-down rookie season, with the bulk of his 29 points coming early in his 60 games. He spent several stints in the minors and will need to play well in preseason games to earn a regular spot on the roster. He offers a ton of offensive upside, especially on the power play where he snagged 17 points, but him receiving regular ice time will come down to how he plays in his own zone. The Devils' coaching staff love their veterans and Gelinas had a rather short leash last season. He's worth a risk, just don't make it a sizable one in most leagues.

Erik Haula
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News: Erik Haula, who suffered a broken jaw at the World Championships in Belarus in May, is back to full strength at the start of training camp, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.
Analysis: Erik Haula looks set to center the Wild's third line. Huala had a strong showing in the playoffs with four goals and seven points in 11 games and looks set to build on that performance with a set job in the NHL this season.

Andre Burakovsky
Caps' Burakovsky Scores First (Unofficial) Goal
Andre Burakovsky, LW, WAS
9/21/2014
News: Andre Burakovsky scored the only goal in the Capitals' 1-0 over Buffalo on Sunday night.
Analysis: Andre Burakovsky scored a nice wrist shot from the face-off circle, and continued to build on his impressive offseason. While Burakovsky is likely destined for AHL Hershey for the balance of the season, the 19-year-old Swede has impressed his coaches throughout the summer. With the leg injury to Tom Wilson and Burakovsky's emerging skills as a potential scoring line center, Burakovsky might be able to secure a roster spot if he keeps this level of play throughout preseason. Keep an eye on him, as Burakovsky has some burgeoning sleeper potential in single-season leagues, and is a must own in keeper leagues.

Joel Ward
Caps' Ward Tallies Assist In Sunday's Win
Joel Ward, RW, WAS
9/21/2014
News: Joel Ward had an assist and two PIM's in 17:25 of ice time during the Capitals' 1-0 win over Buffalo on Sunday.
Analysis: Joel Ward played with Jason Chimera and rookie Andre Burakovsky at even-strength. Like Chimera, Ward had a banner year last season. Although the two have great chemistry, it wouldn't be surprising to see his production regress some this season. Keep an eye on him, but he's probably only worth drafting in deeper leagues.

 
 
 
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