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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.

Get player news notifications, manage your team and check scores
- all updated in real time. Download the CBS Fantasy App.

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Player News
Braydon Coburn
Bolts' Coburn To Play In Game 6
Braydon Coburn, D, TB
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News: Braydon Coburn (illness) is on the ice for pregame warmups and looks poised to play in Tuesday's Game 6 against the Rangers, Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times reports.
Analysis: The Lightning are skating seven defensemen in their warmups, but it's likely the case where coach Jon Cooper is leaning toward going with only 11 forwards rather than 12, a lineup choice he's made previously in the playoffs. Braydon Coburn seems to be fine after participating in both morning skate and warmups, and should be in the lineup for minutes in the mid- to upper-teens.

Cedric Paquette
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4:42 PM
News: Cedric Paquette (foot) isn't on the ice for pregame warmups and will sit out Tuesday's Game 6 against the Rangers, NHL.com's Bryan Burns reports.
Analysis: It appears Vladislav Namestnikov will tap into the lineup while Cedric Paquette remains bothered by the hand injury he sustained in Game 5. Paquette was able to participate in Tuesday's morning skate, so there remains a decent chance that he'd be available for a possible Game 7 or for the Stanley Cup Finals opener.

Ben Bishop
Bolts' Bishop In For Game 6
Ben Bishop, G, TB
3:27 PM
News: Ben Bishop will be in the cage for Tuesday's Game 6 against the Rangers, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Ben Bishop spun his first shutout of the series and his second of the postseason in Sunday's Game 5, leaving the Bolts just one victory shy of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals. The netminder's overall numbers in the series have been rather poor thanks to a pair of five-goal outings in Games 3 and 4, but there's little doubt he's locked in as the Bolts' starting goalie for the rest of their playoff run.

Trevor van Riemsdyk
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News: Coach Joel Quenneville said that Trevor van Riemsdyk would skate with the team Wednesday morning and could be an option for the Blackhawks' Game 6 matchup later that evening against the Ducks, Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago reports.
Analysis: The Blackhawks initially expected to have Trevor van Riemsdyk back for the final couple weeks of the regular season after he missed several months with a broken kneecap, but those plans were tabled when he fractured his wrist during a rehab stint at AHL Rockford in early April. Van Riemsdyk seems to be close to fully recovered, and with the Blackhawks receiving unreliable play from the likes of Kimmo Timonen and Kyle Cumiskey, Quenneville could be tempted to turn to the rookie defenseman in the elimination game.

Henrik Lundqvist
Rangers Going With Lundqvist In Elimination Game
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Analysis: Historically, Henrik Lundqvist has been at his best with his back against the wall -- he owns a 1.39 GAA and .956 save percentage in 17 career playoff elimination games. He's been solid in the net in the past two games versus the Bolts, but will need his mates to offer a little more goal support Tuesday to send the series back to Madison Square Garden.

Matt Beleskey
Ducks' Beleskey Nets Overtime Winner
Matt Beleskey, LW, ANA
12:47 PM
News: Matt Beleskey gave the Ducks a 3-2 series edge over the Blackhawks with his early-overtime winner in Game 5 on Monday.
Analysis: Matt Beleskey increased his postseason goal total to seven with his biggest tally of the season so far. After his team squandered a two-goal lead late in regulation, Beleskey finished off a two-on-one started by Ryan Kesler just 45 seconds into the overtime period. Beleskey has thrived in the playoffs despite not spending much time on the top line, which he did in the regular season. Instead, Beleskey has been able to add some punch to a second line with Jakob Silfverberg and Ryan Kesler, giving his team even more scoring depth.

Madison Bowey
Caps' Bowey Excelling In Memorial Cup
Madison Bowey, D, WAS
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News: Madison Bowey had a goal and two assists in Kelowna's 7-3 win over Rimouski in Memorial Cup action on Monday.
Analysis: Madison Bowey also added two minor penalties and a plus-three rating for good measure. The 2013 second-round pick is Washington's top defensive prospect. He will turn pro next season.

Sami Vatanen
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5/25/2015
News: Sami Vatanen tallied a goal and an assist in Monday's Game 5 win over the Blackhawks.
Analysis: Sami Vatanen has had a strong offensive showing in the playoffs, as Monday was his third multi-point performance of the postseason. He figures to remain one of top options for fantasy purposes on the Ducks' blueline as Anaheim looks to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals in Wednesday's Game 6.

Dylan Larkin
Wings' Larkin Scores First Two Professional Goals
Dylan Larkin, C, DET
5/25/2015
News: Dylan Larkin scored twice in Grand Rapids' (AHL) 4-2 Game 2 win over Utica on Monday.
Analysis: Dylan Larkin decided to leave the University of Michigan after one season and signed his entry-level contract with Detroit last week. He has since joined the Griffins for their Western Conference final against Utica. Larkin had a pair of shots in his professional debut on Sunday and then potted the two markers on Monday. He had a monster year for the Wolverines (15G, 47P in 35GP) and he has quickly turned into one of the better prospects in the league.

Jakob Silfverberg
Ducks' Silfverberg Provides Two Helpers In Game 5
Jakob Silfverberg, RW, ANA
5/25/2015
News: Jakob Silfverberg assisted on a pair of goals in Monday's Game 5 win over the Blackhawks.
Analysis: Jakob Silfverberg has had a strong showing in the playoffs as he's logged four multi-point efforts in the past seven games. He's up to 16 points in the postseason as he continues to reward owners who've rolled with him since the playoffs began.

 
 
 
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