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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
James Sheppard
Sharks Activate Sheppard
James Sheppard, LW, SJ
12:58 AM
News: James Sheppard (knee) has been activated from his rehab assignment at AHL Worcester, David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News reports.
Analysis: After appearing in two rehab games for Worcester over the weekend, James Sheppard was given clearance to return to the NHL club, with whom he'll make his season debut Tuesday versus the Bruins. He's set to man the Sharks' third line, with Andrew Desjardins and Tomas Hertl flanking him on the wings.

Raffi Torres
Sharks' Torres Will Avoid Second ACL Surgery
Raffi Torres, LW, SJ
12:55 AM
News: Raffi Torres (knee) will not require a second operation on his torn ACL, David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News reports.
Analysis: It's a fortunate bit of news for Raffi Torres, and while he's now in line to return earlier than originally anticipated, he's still looking at a lengthy recover timetable. Rather than opting for surgery, Torres will instead work on strengthening the muscles around the injured right knee, a process that will likely last two months or longer. Torres will train in his native Toronto before visiting the Sharks staff for a checkup at some point in November or December.

Pekka Rinne
Preds Likely To Go With Rinne On Tuesday
Pekka Rinne, G, NSH
12:48 AM
News: Pekka Rinne is expected to return to the net Tuesday versus the Coyotes, NHL.com's Robby Stanley reports.
Analysis: The Predators received a highly-impressive outing from backup Carter Hutton during the team's most-recent tilt with the Blackhawks, but he's no threat to cut into Pekka Rinne's workload. The two-time Vezina Trophy nominee has certainly put himself under early consideration for that honor again through his first four starts in 2014-15, going 3-0-1 with a 1.22 GAA and .948 save percentage.

Patrik Nemeth
Stars Place Nemeth On IR
Patrik Nemeth, D, DAL
12:44 AM
News: Patrik Nemeth (arm) was placed on injured reserve Tuesday.
Analysis: The move to injured reserve was a foregone conclusion for Patrik Nemeth, after he was ruled out for the remainder of the regular season following surgery for a serious arm laceration. The Stars hope that Nemeth will be able to contribute at some point during the team's potential playoff run, but such a decision would hinge entirely on how much progress the blueliner makes in the coming months.

Valeri Nichushkin
Stars' Nichuskin (Groin) Moved To IR
Valeri Nichushkin, RW, DAL
12:40 AM
News: Valeri Nichushkin (groin) has been placed on injured reserve.
Analysis: Valeri Nichushkin has already been out for over a week with the lower-body ailment, so the move to IR doesn't come as much of a surprise. It's uncertain how much longer the Stars will be without the services of Nichushkin, but the youngster was able to get in a skate Monday, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports, suggesting a return to practice may be in the offing. Fortunately for Nichushkin, none of the Stars' other wing options have made a strong case over the last few games to take over his top-line role on a permanent basis.

Ryan Stanton
Canucks' Stanton Moved To IR
Ryan Stanton, D, VAN
12:37 AM
News: Ryan Stanton (lower body) has been placed on injured reserve.
Analysis: The injury will be retroactive to Oct. 17, keeping Ryan Stanton out for at least the next three games. Frank Corrado was recalled from AHL Utica over the weekend to replenish Vancouver's depth on defense.

Ryan Miller
Canucks Return Net To Miller On Tuesday
Ryan Miller, G, VAN
12:31 AM
News: Ryan Miller will be in the net Tuesday versus the Stars, Brad Ziemer of the Vancouver Sun reports.
Analysis: Ryan Miller received his first rest of the season in the Canucks' previous game against the Lightning on Saturday, will backup Eddie Lack taking the loss in his stead. The 34-year-old Miller figures to be rested later in the week when the Canucks play another back-to-back set, but the three-year, $18 million contract he signed in the offseason ensures he'll see a large workload this season. He's been generally excellent in his first three turns with the Canucks, winning all of his starts and posting a 1.95 GAA and .927 save percentage.

Ondrej Pavelec
Jets Rolling With Pavelec On Tuesday
Ondrej Pavelec, G, WPG
12:23 AM
News: Ondrej Pavelec will get the starting nod Tuesday versus the Hurricanes, Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun reports.
Analysis: Ondrej Pavelec's been the recipient of some poor offensive support by his mates to saddle him with a 1-3-0 record, but his 2.61 GAA and .906 save percentage through five games aren't world-beating, by any means. Just as was predicted heading into the season, Pavelec looks like one of the league's weakest starting netminders, though he should be a fine fantasy play Tuesday against Carolina, the NHL's only winless team.

Radko Gudas
Bolts' Gudas Doubtful For Tuesday
Radko Gudas, D, TB
12:12 AM
News: Radko Gudas (lower body) is doubtful to play Tuesday versus the Flames, Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune reports.
Analysis: Radko Gudas was generally expected to return to action in time for Monday's tilt with the Oilers, but he hasn't quite progressed as quickly as the Bolts had anticipated. While a long-term absence looks to be off the table for the blueliner, he'll still head off to the press box for his fourth consecutive contest.

Jonathan Drouin
Bolts' Drouin Quiet In Debut
Jonathan Drouin, LW, TB
12:07 AM
News: Jonathan Drouin (thumb) turned in a quiet outing in his NHL debut Monday against the Oilers, attempting one shot on goal and finishing with a minus-1 rating over 16:10 of ice time.
Analysis: Jonathan Drouin was activated from his rehab assignment at AHL Syracuse on Sunday, but was expected to sit out Monday's game, until an injury to Alex Killorn (undisclosed) ushered the youngster into the lineup. With both Killorn and Ryan Callahan (upper body) doubtful to play Tuesday versus the Flames, Drouin will slot into the Bolts' top-six forwards for a second straight game. It shouldn't take long for the much-hyped Drouin to cement himself as a mainstay on the top two lines and the team's power play.

 
 
 
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