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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
Matt Bartkowski
Bruins' Bartkowski Returns To Action
Matt Bartkowski, D, BOS
10:26 AM
News: Matt Bartkowski (illness) returned to action in Tuesday's Game 3 win over the Red Wings, seeing 18:34 worth of ice time.
Analysis: Matt Bartkowski, who saw 2:01 worth of shorthanded ice time in the process, now appears past the illness that sidelined him for the first two games of the Bruins' series against the Red Wings. The blueliner finished the 2013-14 campaign with 18 assists in 64 games.

Teemu Selanne
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10:22 AM
News: Teemu Selanne will sit out Wednesday's Game 4 against the Stars, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: Teemu Selanne learned Wednesday morning he will be scratched in a playoff game for only the second time in his career. At age 43, the winger is probably just in need of a day off, so expect him to be back in the lineup for Game 5 on Friday.

Stephane Robidas
Ducks' Robidas Probably Won't Need Surgery
Stephane Robidas, D, ANA
10:08 AM
News: Stephane Robidas is not expected to need surgery to repair his broken right leg, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports.
Analysis: Stephane Robidas broke his right leg right above the metal rod that was inserted when he broke it earlier this season, but his recovery time should be much shorter this time around. He'll still miss the rest of the playoffs, but it's good to hear that he won't have to go through as much rehab this time around.

Brenden Dillon
Stars' Dillon May Return Friday
Brenden Dillon, D, DAL
10:07 AM
News: Coach Lindy Ruff said on Wednesday that Brenden Dillon may return to the lineup on Friday.
Analysis: Brenden Dillon has been practicing and his presence on the blueline would mean a lot to the Stars. Dillon has the ability to activate into the offense, but his presence means less for fantasy than it does for the actual team.

Frederik Andersen
Ducks' Andersen Will Start Game 4
Frederik Andersen, G, ANA
10:01 AM
News: Frederik Andersen will start between the pipes Wednesday in Game 4 against the Stars, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: Frederik Andersen wasn't as strong in Game 3 as he was in the first two games of the series, but it looks like coach Bruce Boudreau will give the rookie another shot in Game 4. If his play starts to slip, though, Jonas Hiller could retake the starting position.

Henrik Zetterberg
Wings' Zetterberg Could Return Thursday
Henrik Zetterberg, LW, DET
9:54 AM
News: Henrik Zetterberg (back) could play in Thursday's Game 4.
Analysis: Henrik Zetterberg hasn't suited up since February 8 due to the back injury, but took part in drills at Wednesday's practice, and could be in the lineup Thursday if his appointment with team doctors goes well. The star center would provide a much needed boost to the Red Wings offense, which has only managed two total goals in the first three games against the Bruins.

Brian Gibbons
Pens' Gibbons Likely Out Wednesday
Brian Gibbons, C, PIT
9:44 AM
News: Brian Gibbons (undisclosed) was not present at the team's morning skate, Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Analysis: Brian Gibbons missed Monday's game, and seems to have taken a step back in his recovery after skating over the weekend. It seems like a safe bet to rule him out of Wednesday's Game 4 at this point.

Marcel Goc
Pens' Goc Could Be Back In Round 1
Marcel Goc, C, PIT
9:34 AM
News: Marcel Goc (foot) took part in Wednesday's morning skate, Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Analysis: Marcel Goc won't be in the lineup for Wednesday's Game 4, but head coach Dan Bylsma did say it's possible he could be back before the end of the first round. The center recorded 11 goals and 14 assists in 74 games this season, but hasn't suited up since March 27 due to a foot injury.

Mikhail Grigorenko
Sabres' Grigorenko Now Full-Time AHL Player
Mikhail Grigorenko, C, BUF
9:29 AM
News: Having played for four teams in each of the past two years, Mikhail Grigorenko will stay with AHL Rochester for the forseeable future, reports the Olean Times Herald.
Analysis: The embattled junior hockey star had many ups-and-downs this season. His questionable work ethic had some observers already doubting his ability to play in the NHL, despite being drafted just two years ago. Mikhail Grigorenko was assigned to the AHL earlier this year, but the move was blocked by the NHL because plaeyrs drafted from the CHL are not allowed to play in the AHL until they're 20 years old. With the Amerks, Grigorenko has been a steady contributor and drawn rave reviews from head coach Chadd Cassidy. The slick Russian center is considered to be one of the world's most talented young forwards, but has gone through a lot of growing pains. It's unlikely that Grigorenko will be a full-time Sabre next year, but staying in one place for an entire season should certainly help his development. The Amerks play their first playoff game Friday against the Chicago Wolves in a best-of-five series.

Gustav Nyquist
Detroit's Nyquist Struggling In Playoffs
Gustav Nyquist, C, DET
9:12 AM
News: After finishing the season on an absolute tear, Gustav Nyquist has yet to tally a point in three playoff games.
Analysis: Gustav Nyquist has found much less room to get around the ice against Boston, as he has been a focal point for the Bruins. For Detroit to have a chance at coming back from a 2-1 series deficit, it has to get Nyquist rolling again somehow.

 
 
 
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