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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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Player News
Jesse Winchester
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News: Jesse Winchester sustained a concussion in Tuesday's preseason tilt against the Kings, Adrian Dater of the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: Coach Patrick Roy suggested Jesse Winchester could be out a while, as he'll be subjected to the league's concussion protocol before returning with the ice. With the regular season just over a week away, there's a good chance Winchester could land on injured reserve if he fails to make much progress.

Jonathan Ericsson
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Analysis: Though Jonathan Ericsson returned to practice Wednesday, he may not be operating at full speed when the Red Wings conclude their exhibition schedule Saturday. He does, however, feel that he will be 100 percent healthy for the Oct. 9 opener against the Bruins, especially after he gets in a few more hard skates. The blueliner is also returning from a broken finger that prevented him from playing in the final 14 regular-season contests and the playoffs, but that particular injury isn't expected to hinder him any further.

Maxim Noreau
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News: Maxim Noreau was placed on waivers by the Avalanche on Tuesday, Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports reports.
Analysis: He has only played six NHL games in his career and has spent the last three years playing in Switzerland. If another NHL team does not claim him, Maxim Noreau will report to AHL Lake Erie. Noreau last appeared in the NHL during the 2010-11 season with Minnesota, where he only lasted five games with the team. There is a very low chance that he will see NHL action this season, minimizing his fantasy value.

Bruno Gervais
Colorado Places Gervais On Waivers
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Analysis: He spent all of last season in the AHL where he played 59 games, scored 10 goals, and added 16 assists. Bruno Gervais who has played over 400 games in the NHL, will report to AHL Lake Erie if he goes unclaimed on waivers. The only way he could see time with the Avalanche is if the team falls victim to a rash of injuries. Otherwise, he will have very little fantasy value even in deeper leagues.

Niklas Backstrom
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News: Niklas Backstrom appears to be losing ground in the battle for the No. 1 goalie gig with Darcy Kuemper, Chad Graff of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.
Analysis: Niklas Backstrom was the frontrunner for the starting job entering camp, but after Kuemper reported to the Wild upon agreeing to a new contract with the team, the declining veteran looks on track to eventually settle into a reserve role. The 36-year-old has performed respectably in training camp with 29 saves on 32 shots over two appearances, but the memory of last season's 5-11-2 record, 3.02 GAA and .899 save percentage will probably make the Wild somewhat reluctant to use him regularly. Though some of his struggles could be attributed to injury, the youthful Kuemper posted far better numbers as a rookie and probably gives the Wild a better chance at ascending to the Western Conference's elite in 2014-15. Expect Backstrom's long tenure in Minnesota to allow him to cut into Kuemper's workload early in the season, but Kuemper should soon separate himself as the team's clear No. 1 option.

Scott Laughton
Flyers' Laughton Sent To AHL Lehigh Valley
Scott Laughton, C, PHI
12:06 AM
News: Scott Laughton was assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley on Tuesday, Frank Seravalli of the Philadelphia Daily News reports.
Analysis: The former first-round pick had a strong preseason thus far, but his performance was not enough to make the final roster. Scott Laughton is held in high regard as a prospect in the Flyers' system, and he's still young enough to stay in the AHL for the year to develop his skills further. Barring injury, he won't see much playing time in the NHL this year since the Flyers seem rather settled at center, but keeper league owners should still give him a look.

Radim Vrbata
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Analysis: Radim Vrbata is looking very deadly on the top line and could do some major damage in fantasy this season. The former-35 goal scorer is an elite sniper who now has the luxury of playing with two of the best playmakers in the game. If the preseason is any indication, Vrbata could be in for a very successful 2014-2015 campaign.

Tomas Tatar
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Tomas Tatar, LW, DET
10/1/2014
News: Tomas Tatar was shaken up during the third period of Wednesday's preseason game after being kneed in the head by a linesmanl following a cross-check from Pittsburgh's Blake Comeau, the Bay City Times reports.
Analysis: Obviously Tomas Tatar will be checked out in case he suffered a concussion, though we'll await further word from the team and hopefully it's something much milder. The Wings already have other injuries amid the forward ranks, so Tatar's health becomes a depth issue as well.

Brett Connolly
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10/1/2014
News: Brett Connolly picked up his first preseason point Tuesday, but head coach Jon Cooper was more impressed with his overall game. "There are just so many little things that are getting better about his game," Cooper told the Tampa Tribune. "I've been really pleased with him and he's a better player today than he was a year ago today."
Analysis: He's doing the little things right and should break camp with a top-nine role. Some guys just develop at different paces and Brett Connolly appears to be that guy who takes a bit longer. He's an offensive talent, so stash him away in deep formats -- you'll be glad you did.

Ben Bishop
Bolts' Bishop: No Problems With Wrist, Ready To Go
Ben Bishop, G, TB
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News: Ben Bishop (wrist) had no problems with his surgically-repaired right wrist after playing the full 60 minutes of Tuesday's win over Dallas. "The full game, it felt like it was midseason," he told the Tampa Tribune. "I'm ready to go."
Analysis: He played the puck a lot more than he'd been able to at the end of last season and said the wrist "feels pretty good shooting the puck ... it isn't an issue right now." This is great news for his owners. This could be a big year for Ben Bishop and the Bolts.

 
 
 
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