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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
Derek Stepan
Rangers' Stepan Day-To-Day With Foot Contusion
Derek Stepan, C, NYR
7:30 AM
News: Derek Stepan has a foot contusion after blocking a shot in practice, and is considered day-to-day, Andrew Gross of The Record reports.
Analysis: Derek Stepan's day-to-day injury designation indicates that this is a minor injury, and should be ready start the regular season. Provided he does return to action soon, this injury should not affect Stepan's fantasy value.

Ryan Johansen
Jackets, Johansen Remain $3 Million Per Year Apart
Ryan Johansen, C, CLB
6:35 AM
News: The latest contract offer from the Ryan Johansen camp, rejected by the Blue Jackets on Thursday, is reportedly for two years and $12 million, the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: That's down a million from their last proposal, which is some sign of progress, but it's still double the Jackets' offer of two years and $6 million. With multiple KHL teams inserting themselves into the mix, including a one year, $5 million offer from CSKA Moscow, things could get very interesting over the next few weeks.

Boone Jenner
Jackets' Jenner Shifting To Center
Boone Jenner, C, CLB
6:28 AM
News: With Ryan Johansen not in training camp due to a contract dispute, Boone Jenner will play center rather than left wing in the Blue Jackets' first exhibition game on Sunday, the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: Boone Jenner was an excellent faceoff man in the junior ranks, so Johansen's absence will be a golden chance for the sophomore to prove he shouldn't be playing on the wing.

Jarret Stoll
Kings' Stoll At Full Speed Following Hip Surgery
Jarret Stoll, C, LA
6:14 AM
News: Jarret Stoll, who had offseason hip surgery, has been a full participant in training camp so far, the LA Kings Insider reports.
Analysis: Jarret Stoll's expected to fill a checking line role again for the Kings this season.

Ryan Ellis
Preds, Ellis Still At Odds Over New Contract
Ryan Ellis, D, NSH
12:49 AM
News: Preds GM David Poile addressed Ryan Ellis' contract situation Saturday, saying the main stumbling block continues to be money, according to the Tennessean. "Unfortunately at this time we have not agreed what they think and what we think is fair compensation," Poile said. "We want [Ellis]. We are not trading him, we really like him. We really like the way he played last year. It's just a disagreement on dollars."
Analysis: Ryan Ellis, who has missed the first two days of training camp so far, played in 80 games last season for and finished with 27 points - his highest full season total to date. And while there is still plenty of time left to get a deal done before the start of the season, the clock is ticking. Not only is he missing out on conditioning drills and scrimmages, the more Ellis misses of training camp, the greater the chances of some other defenseman impressing the coaching staff and grabbing a roster spot that might otherwise go to Ellis. Bottom line, we think Ellis will get signed by the start of the regular season, but what his role on the team will be is anybody's guess. He's a risky fantasy pick right now, until all of the above gets sorted out.

Jon Merrill
Devils' Merrill Misses Practice With Head Injury
Jon Merrill, D, NJ
12:48 AM
News: Jon Merrill missed the second day of Devils' training camp on Saturday due to a head injury he suffered after colliding with teammate Ruslan Fedotenko during Friday's practice, Rich Chere of NJ.com reports.
Analysis: Luckily for Jon Merrill, the Devils' first regular season game isn't until October 9. While head injuries are never a good thing, the promising young defender should have ample time to get healthy before the regular season kicks off.

Joe Thornton
Sharks' Thornton Disagrees With General Manager
Joe Thornton, C, SJ
9/20/2014
News: Joe Thornton took issue Friday with general manager Doug Wilson's offseason comments about the Sharks rebuilding and becoming a "tomorrow team," reports the San Jose Mercury News. "That's Doug's opinion," said the big center. "I think if you'd ask anybody in here I don't think they have the same feeling."
Analysis: There have been plenty of rumors about Wilson doing all he can to push Jumbo Joe into a place where the center either demands a trade or the situation becomes ripe to ship him out of town. There seems to be a bit of a ripple starting in San Jose -- we'll see how far it goes.

Slater Koekkoek
Bolts' Koekkoek (Shoulder): Feels 100 Percent
Slater Koekkoek, D, TB
9/20/2014
News: Slater Koekkoek (shoulder) skated in practice Friday and said his surgically repaired shoulders "felt 100-percent," reports the Tampa Bay Times. "I didn't play with any hesitation," said the big defender.
Analysis: This guy has all the potential in the world and could be dominant. But he desperately needs to stay healthy for a full season, something that just hasn't happened in years after multiple shoulder surgeries. He'll spend a full season in the AHL this year and the Bolts hope he can prove those shoulder issues are a thing of the past.

Sven Andrighetto
Habs' Andrighetto Scores In Scrimmage
Sven Andrighetto, RW, MON
9/20/2014
News: Adrighetto scored a goal on a penalty shot during Montreal's intra-squad scrimmage Saturday, the Montreal Gazette reports.
Analysis: Sven Andrighetto showcased some of his offensive skill, forcing a hooking penalty that led to his penalty shot goal, but the 5-9 forward was also out-muscled in one-on-one battles and was on ice for three of his opponents' goals. That sums up Andrighetto at this stage of his career. If he were to stick with Montreal, it would have to be in a third- or fourth-line role, where he would have to play a more physical role than he's accustomed to.

Ben Bishop
Bolts' Bishop (Wrist) Feels "Really Good"
Ben Bishop, G, TB
9/20/2014
News: Ben Bishop (wrist) was encouraged with how he felt after Friday's on-ice work, reports the Tampa Bay Times. He did 15 minutes of individual drills and a 90-minute practice. "The first session felt really good, got a little sore toward the end of the second session, but that's kind of expected," Bishop said.
Analysis: This is great news for his owners and for the Bolts. The team's playoff hopes went down the drain when big Ben Bishop got hurt late in the year. He'll build on his Vezina-nominated season and should deliver similar output this year.

 
 
 
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