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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
John Mitchell
Avs' Mitchell Will Return Saturday
John Mitchell, C, COL
11:16 AM
News: John Mitchell (leg) will return to the lineup Saturday against the Stars, Adrian Dater of the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: John Mitchell was a full participant in Friday's practice and was given clearance to return following a three-game absence. The forward has three goals and five points in 16 games this season.

Brandon Gormley
Coyotes' Gormley Still Not Practicing
Brandon Gormley, D, ARI
11:12 AM
News: Brandon Gormley (lower body) still isn't practicing, Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic reports.
Analysis: Brandon Gormley was only expected to miss about a week after he was placed on injured reserve Nov. 18, but the Coyotes have since downgraded his condition to "week-to-week." He won't have a more definitive return date until he resumes skating.

Jay Bouwmeester
Blues Rule Bouwmeester Out For Next Two Games
Jay Bouwmeester, D, STL
10:54 AM
News: Jay Bouwmeester (lower body) has been ruled out for the Blues' games Friday and Saturday, NHL.com's Lou Korac reports.
Analysis: It was believed that Jay Bouwmeester hadn't been on the ice since suffering the lower-body injury last weekend, but he's actually skated on his own the past two days. Even so, he's not yet ready to face the rigors of a full game. He'll look to resume practicing Monday with the hope of receiving clearance to play next Wednesday against the Blackhawks.

Jonas Brodin
Wild's Brodin Says He'll Play Saturday
Jonas Brodin, D, MIN
10:51 AM
News: Jonas Brodin (illness) said he would play Saturday against the Stars after taking part in the team's morning skate, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: The Wild will activate Jonas Brodin from IR after he missed the previous seven games while dealing with the mumps virus. The defenseman needed more than a week to recover from the illness, which resulted in severe fever and exhaustion. He's been skating since Wednesday and appears to be back at full strength, which should enable him to reclaim a top-four role on defense immediately upon returning.

Corey Crawford
Hawks To Go With Crawford On Friday
Corey Crawford, G, CHI
10:45 AM
News: Corey Crawford will be in the net Friday against the Ducks, Judd Sirott of 720 WGN Radio reports.
Analysis: The Blackhawks will face off against two Western Conference heavyweights in the Ducks and Kings on back-to-back days over the weekend, so it will be interesting to see if coach Joel Quenneville turns to Corey Crawford for both of these pivotal games. He'll at least have little reason to shy away from giving Friday's start to Crawford, who could be on the cusp of the best season of his career. He's won four of his last five starts and owns a 1.98 GAA and .926 save percentage over 16 appearances.

Mark Borowiecki
Sens' Borowiecki Out With Injury Friday
Mark Borowiecki, D, OTT
10:35 AM
News: Mark Borowiecki will miss Friday's game against the Panthers due to an unspecified injury, Gord Wilson of TSN 1200 Ottawa reports.
Analysis: The Senators will swap out one injured defenseman for another, as the now-healthy Chris Phillips will rejoin the lineup while Mark Borowiecki sits. It's not certain how Borowiecki obtained the injury, but he'll be considered day-to-day until the Senators shed further light on his condition.

Zack Kassian
Canucks Place Kassian On IR
Zack Kassian, RW, VAN
10:33 AM
News: Zack Kassian (finger) was moved to injured reserve Friday.
Analysis: The winger was ruled out for the entirety of the Canucks' seven-game road trip that kicks off Friday, so by moving Zack Kassian to IR, the team will be able to open up a roster spot for an extra forward. Kassian is expected to miss two-to-three weeks due to the finger injury.

Nicklas Jensen
Canucks Recall Jensen
Nicklas Jensen, LW, VAN
10:30 AM
News: Nicklas Jensen was recalled from AHL Utica on Friday.
Analysis: The Canucks will bring back Nicklas Jensen after Zack Kassian was ruled out for two-to-three weeks with a finger injury, landing on IR as a result. Jensen isn't likely to see much ice time during the Canucks' seven-game road trip, as he'll just represent an insurance option in the event one of the team's forwards gets injured.

Brandon Kozun
Leafs' Kozun To Rehab For At Least Three Games
Brandon Kozun, RW, TOR
10:27 AM
News: Brandon Kozun (ankle) will appear in at least three games for AHL Toronto during his conditioning assignment, Jonas Siegel of TSN Radio 1050 reports.
Analysis: Brandon Kozun's third game will come next Friday (Dec. 5), after which the Maple Leafs will evaluate his condition and determine if he's fit to rejoin the big club. The Leafs would be able to keep Kozun on the assignment for up to two weeks.

Clayton Stoner
Ducks' Stoner To Return Saturday
Clayton Stoner, D, ANA
10:18 AM
News: Clayton Stoner (illness) is expected to play Saturday against the Blackhawks, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: When Clayton Stoner fell ill over the past weekend, the Ducks feared that he was the latest victim of the mumps virus that has wreaked havoc in the locker room all season. Instead, it seems like his illness was something less severe, as he practiced Thursday with seemingly no restrictions. He'll slot back in for Francois Beauchemin, who will miss Saturday's game with a suspected hand injury.

 
 
 
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