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Neutral Zone Wrap: Finding Fantasy talent

by | Rotowire.com
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In case you haven't been following lately, outdoor hockey remains the popular trend. The lure of vacant sports stadiums is just too tempting for a professional, revenue-seeking organization like the NHL. But the players can also claim a stake in this venture. Many of them practiced in the open when they were kids and long for the day when they can suit up in a real game under similar conditions. What a better sensation than playing under the elements with everything winter has to offer, just like nature intended. And if you were at Dodger Stadium Saturday night, those conditions include high 60s and zero precipitation. Just like Winnipeg in January.

With this topic in mind, let's present the top five fictional locations where pro hockey action could be hosted:

5. Middle-Earth. You're fine as long as you don't ask anyone the best way to acquire a ring.
4. Kokomo. That's where they want to go. To get away from it all.
3. Emerald City. No, not Seattle.
2. Wonderland. Everyone would be in trouble if they tested for questionable substances.
1. The Death Star. At least players can't complain about scoring when the nets are two meters wide.

But that's enough fun as we're allowed in one column, so here are five actual locales Fantasy talent can be discovered (Stats as of Monday January 27):

Despite Sunday's debacle in the Bronx, the Devils have been making headway in the East. Besides Jaromir Jagr's obvious contribution (44 points at 41), offseason acquisition Cory Schneider (4-0-2 in his last seven, allowing no more than goals per outing) has been the main reason for their resurgence. Injuries have always haunted Ryane Clowe but he's useful (11 in 10, including four power-play points) when healthy. No real worry concerning Adam Henrique (12 in the last month). Maybe you forgot about Damien Brunner during his absence (five in five before, immediate three-point night) but he deserves another look. And despite his storied career, there isn't much left for Dainius Zubrus to prove -- or provide (two in 16), for that matter.

Damn, these Lightning are pretty good; now imagine how much better they can be when Steven Stamkos returns. This system is stocked so deep at forward the might have to trade a few pieces just to provide adequate playing time. Late last season, this column touted Tyler Johnson (16 in 16, with a hat-trick Saturday) as one to watch. It's amazing to think Ondrej Palat (five in three, plus-7) is only 22, watching him act like a veteran. Alex Killorn (two in six, minus-4) has slowed a touch but stays serviceable. The future is bright for Nikita Kucherov (three in six) but wait for more minutes (averaging between 13-14). Matt Carle? Too erratic (one in six after nine in seven). Sami Salo? Too fragile (one in 11, gone six with various problems).

Nashville proceeds on their mediocre ways, as they sit with a non-losing record (at 23-23-8) but somehow remain last in the Central. No matter what he did in one game (four goals on Friday), resist temptation from taking Eric Nystrom (11 points in the other 50). Better to focus on the likes of Craig Smith (16 goals, 15 assists in season three) or Nick Spaling (five in five, second PP role). After months of teasing, perhaps Roman Josi (eight in seven) can maintain his current pace. Ranger castaway Michael Del Zotto (11 in 45) will somehow have to surpass one of four talented defenders to earn a power-play role. While the wait continues on Pekka Rinne (hip infection, indefinite return date), the alternating carousel of goalies has landed on Carter Hutton (won four in a row before giving up five Sunday) and ex-Edmonton property Devan Dubnyk (unimpressive in two appearances).

(NOTE: Speaking of imaginary places, Nashville is not the name of Rick Nash's future theme park and resort.)

Don't knock the Leafs for being erratic, as long as they exhibit exciting hockey. Everyone's friend of complacency, Nazem Kadri (seven in six, 14 PIM), possesses too much talent to falter. Remember Mason Raymond (four in six) used to be an integral part of the Vancouver offense. Nikolai Kulemin (also four in six) has picked up his game but don't get overly excited about it. Even when he returns from the sidelines, David Clarkson (eight in 36, 51PIM) isn't worth your consideration. While Jake Gardiner (four in nine since being scratched) continues to falter on the defensive end, Morgan Rielly (four in six, with two PPAs) looks to be the better long-term option as a Fantasy blueliner.

While things appeared promising to start the season, Calgary has predictably fallen off the pace. Just when you thought you could trust one of their netminders, Karri Ramo (14 goals allowed the last five) and Reto Berra (surrendered five or more in two recent starts) secure the awful status quo. Outside of Jiri Hudler (team-leading 40) and the woozy Michael Cammalleri (concussion, see you again soon), picking attack options isn't an easy task. One would assume Mikael Backlund would step up but that hasn't happened yet (although five in 10 isn't terrible). Keep an eye on youngsters Lance Bouma (three in five) and Joe Colborne (one in 10, minus-9), as each have been handed special teams assignments. And in case you didn't hear, Kris Russell is excelling (three in three) as if he never missed a month.

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Player News
Rich Peverley
Stars' Peverley Decides To Retire
Rich Peverley, C, DAL
9/5/2015
News: Rich Peverley has decided to hang up his skates and call it a career.
Analysis: It's an unfortunate end to the 33-year-old center's career, as he suffered a cardiac incident March 10, and hasn't been able to play since. He spent time with four different team throughout his career, and was a member of the Stanley Cup-winning 2011 Boston Bruins. He finishes his playing career with 241 points (84 goals, 157 assists) in 442 games, but isn't finished with hockey altogether. He will now join the Stars' staff as the Player Development Coordinator.

Kristers Gudlevskis
Bolts' Gudlevskis In Line To Open Season As Backup
Kristers Gudlevskis, G, TB
9:40 AM
News: With Andrei Vasilevskiy slated to remain off the ice for the next two-to-three months while recovering from a blood clot near his collarbone, Kristers Gudlevskis is expected to serve as the backup goalie behind Ben Bishop.
Analysis: Vasilevskiy's recovery timetable has him on track to sit out until early November at the earliest, paving the way for Kristers Gudlevskis to stick with the Bolts for at least the first month of the season. Coach Jon Cooper showed a willingness to give Bishop more frequent nights off than some of the league's top netminders last season, but that was due in some part to the reliability Vasilevskiy showed in a part-time role. Though Gudlevskis is a quality prospect, it might take a while before he earns the same amount of trust from the coaching staff, which could result in Bishop bearing a heavier workload to open the campaign, at least until Vasilevskiy is healthy enough to return. That said, because of the overall strength of the Bolts' roster, Gudlevskis should be well positioned to come away with the win nearly anytime he's called upon to make a spot start.

Andrei Vasilevskiy
Bolts' Vasilevskiy Undergoes Vascular Surgery
Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, TB
8:49 AM
News: Andrei Vasilevskiy had surgery Thursday to remove a blood clot from near his left collarbone and treat a type of Vascular Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, and is expected to remain out for two-to-three months.
Analysis: With that timetable, Andrei Vasilevskiy figures to sit out through at least early- or mid-November, and quite possibly longer if his recovery trends toward the longer end of that period of time. Though Ben Bishop is the clear No. 1 goalie between the pipes for Tampa, Vasilevskiy looked to be one of the league's top backup options entering the season, due to both his strong team context and the skills he displayed when he received spots starts in 2014-15. With the 21-year-old sidelined, the Lightning will likely turn to Kristers Gudlevskis when they need to spell Bishop.

Ryan Wilson
Flames Ink Wilson To PTO
Ryan Wilson, D, CGY
9/3/2015
News: Ryan Wilson signed a professional tryout offer with the Flames on Thursday, Randy Sportak of the Calgary Sun reports.
Analysis: Ryan Wilson was limited to just three games as a member of the Avalanche last season, as he suffered a shoulder injury in late October that would ultimately require surgery. Prior to the injury, the 28-year-old wasn't expected to be a major part of the Avs' plans on the blue line, and he'll have an even more difficult time trying to carve out a role in Calgary's defensive corps, which may be the deepest in the NHL.

Nicklas Backstrom
Caps' Backstrom (Hip) "Not In A Rush" To Play
Nicklas Backstrom, C, WAS
9/3/2015
News: Nicklas Backstrom (hip) skated during informal workouts Thursday morning, but is "not in a rush" to return to action, Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post reports.
Analysis: Nicklas Backstrom began skating in August following hip surgery during the offseason, and while he hasn't experienced any setbacks, he doesn't appear to have a specific target date in mind for his return. "I'm not going to be back to 100 percent before I start playing," the 27-year-old pivot remarked, "I'm not going to play on 90 percent. We'll see how it goes. We don't know yet." The uncertainty surrounding Backstrom's return has lowered his standing somewhat in fantasy rankings. While the situation should be monitored closely, Backstrom should provide some serious value if he can get up to speed quickly on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and newcomer T.J. Oshie, as he has been one of the more productive playmakers and power-play performers over the last several seasons. Don't sleep on him too long in your draft if he continues to progress according to plan.

Joe Pavelski
Pavelski Expected To Be Named Sharks' Next Captain
Joe Pavelski, C, SJ
9/3/2015
News: Joe Pavelski is expected to be named the Sharks' next captain, CSN Bay Area's Kevin Kurz reports.
Analysis: Captaincy has been a delicate issue in San Jose over the last year, as former coach Todd McLellan stripped longtime leader Joe Thornton of those honors heading into 2014-15, straining the relationship between the star center and team brass. While Thornton is still around, it's clear that the 31-year-old Joe Pavelski is now the face of the franchise, after ranking fourth in the NHL in goals over the last four seasons with 161. Pavelski figures to pace the Sharks in scoring once again during the upcoming campaign, while taking on more of a leadership role in the locker room.

Keith Ballard
Ex-Wild D-Man Ballard Leaning Toward Retirement
Keith Ballard, D, MIN
9/3/2015
News: Keith Ballard (concussion) confirmed last week that he's leaning toward retirement, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Keith Ballard is still experiencing concussion symptoms from the head injury he suffered Dec. 9 of last season, and it sounds like he's leaning toward hanging up his skates rather than risking permanent health issues. The 32-year-old had previously experienced several concussions during his NHL career, likely leaving many teams disinterested in Ballard's services even if he opts to keep playing.

Andrew Copp
Jets' Copp To Challenge For NHL Job
Andrew Copp, C, WPG
9/3/2015
News: Andrew Copp is expected to compete for the Jets' fourth-line center duties during training camp, Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press reports.
Analysis: Andrew Copp, who finished up his sophomore season at the University of Michigan last spring before turning pro, made his NHL debut for the Jets in their final regular season game in 2015-16, when the team was just trying to rest its regulars in advance of the playoffs. The 2013 fourth-round pick went unused during the Jets' first-round series exit, but the size he presents (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) along with the strong leadership and decision-making he demonstrated during his time at Michigan could make him the Jets' best internal option to pivot the checking line. Holdovers Anthony Peluso and Matt Halischuk likely represent Copp's top competition for that role.

Joakim Nordstrom
Nordstrom, Blackhawks Agree On One-Year Deal
Joakim Nordstrom, C, CHI
9/2/2015
News: Joakim Nordstrom signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Blackhawks on Wednesday, Brian Hedger of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Joakim Nordstrom waited several months before agreeing to his qualifying offer, but he's at least in the fold to compete for a spot in the Blackhawks' crowded bottom-six ranks. The forward recorded no goals and three assists in 38 games with the parent club last season, so a return trip to AHL Rockford could be in the works to open 2015-16.

Tom Sestito
Penguins Sign Sestito To PTO
Tom Sestito, LW, PIT
9/2/2015
News: Tom Sestito signed a professional tryout contract last week with the Penguins, Josh Yohe of DKonPittsburghSports.com reports.
Analysis: As a tough guy who gobbles up penalty minutes, Tom Sestito doesn't seem to mesh well with coach Mike Johnston's vision of rolling out four lines with scoring ability. Don't expect him to crack the Penguins' 23-man roster out of training camp, barring a litany of injuries.

 
 
 
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