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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
Nikolay Kulemin
Isles' Kulemin Gets First Postseason Point
Nikolay Kulemin, LW, NYI
12:50 AM
News: Nikolay Kulemin contributed an assist and five hits in Sunday's Game 3 win over the Capitals.
Analysis: Nikolay Kulemin was credited with the primary assist on John Tavares' game-winning goal, as his redirected shot bounced off goalie Braden Holtby's pad into the waiting stick of the Isles' captain. Though he saw 17:16 of action while skating on the Isles' top line, Kulemin won't make for a strong selection in daily lineups during the postseason. The 28-year-old supplied just 15 goals and 31 points over 82 games during the regular season.

Nick Leddy
Isles' Leddy Sets Up Goal In Game 3
Nick Leddy, D, NYI
12:44 AM
News: Nick Leddy set up John Tavares' game-winning overtime goal in Sunday's Game 3 against the Capitals.
Analysis: It's Nick Leddy's first point of the postseason, but he's been riding high since the tail end of the regular season, tallying eight assists in his final six contests. He'll make for a good lineup selection in daily formats any night the Islanders play.

Josh Bailey
Isles' Bailey Chips In Assist In Win
Josh Bailey, LW, NYI
12:41 AM
News: Josh Bailey supplied an assist in Sunday's 2-1 overtime win over the Capitals.
Analysis: Josh Bailey has only put eight shots on goal over his last six games, but has still been able to come away with a point in each of those contests. He's tallied a goal and five assists during that span, with the helper in Sunday's game coming on a second-period score by linemate Kyle Okposo.

Matt Cooke
Wild's Cooke To Sit
Matt Cooke, LW, MIN
12:29 AM
News: Matt Cooke is slated to be among the Wild's lineup scratches Monday against Blues, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports.
Analysis: Along with Matt Cooke, Erik Haula, Jordan Schroeder and Ryan Carter are slated to be scratched Monday, while Sean Bergenheim and Justin Fontaine are in line to join the team's Game 3 lineup. Cooke saw 10:27 worth of ice time in Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Blues.

Henrik Lundqvist
Rangers Stick With Lundqvist
Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR
12:21 AM
News: Henrik Lundqvist is in line to start Monday's game against the Penguins, Andrew Gross of The Record reports.
Analysis: Though blueliner Keith Yandle is feeling under the weather, he will play Monday, as the Rangers are slated to stick with the same lineup (including Henrik Lundqvist) that they rolled with in Saturday's 4-3 loss to the Penguins.

Ondrej Pavelec
Jets Stick With Pavelec On Monday
Ondrej Pavelec, G, WPG
12:09 AM
News: Ondrej Pavelec is slated to start Monday's game against the Ducks.
Analysis: Down 2-0 in the series, Ondrej Pavelec and the Jets will look to turn things around at home on Monday, after having been outscored by a combined tally of 6-3 over the first two games of the matchup, which were held in Anaheim.

Rickard Rakell
Ducks' Rakell Scores First Career Playoff OT Goal
Rickard Rakell, C, ANA
4/20/2015
News: Rickard Rakell won the game for his Ducks off a deflection in overtime on Monday in Winnipeg.
Analysis: No doubt the biggest moment of the youngster's NHL career thus far, as he was able to secure a commanding 3-0 series lead for his squad. This was only Rickard Rakell's second career goal in the post-season, his first coming in last season's series with the Stars.

Frederik Andersen
Ducks' Andersen Scores Third Playoff Victory
Frederik Andersen, G, ANA
4/20/2015
News: Frederik Andersen stopped 31 of 35 shots in Monday's overtime victory over the Jets.
Analysis: Frederik Andersen was a little bit shakier in Game 3 than he had been in either of Games 1 and 2, but still was able to gain the win on Rickard Rakell's overtime winner. With the Ducks now holding a 3-0 series lead, Andersen will have an opportunity to complete the sweep Wednesday night in Winnipeg.

Corey Perry
Ducks' Perry Nets Another
Corey Perry, RW, ANA
4/20/2015
News: Corey Perry scored his third goal of the playoffs in Monday's Game 3 win in Winnipeg.
Analysis: Corey Perry continued his strong start to the playoffs, building on his four-point effort in Game 1. Perry now has five points in three playoff games. Leaving him in a tie for the playoff scoring lead.

Jakob Silfverberg
Silfverberg Powers Ducks To Victory
Jakob Silfverberg, RW, ANA
4/20/2015
News: Jakob Silfverberg had a terrific three-point effort -- one goal and two assists -- in Monday's overtime win over the Jets.
Analysis: Jakob Silfverberg was able to team up with linemate Ryan Kesler twice in Monday's game. Kesler set up Silfverberg for his goal late in the second, with Silfverberg returning the favor with a perfect pass to tie the game in the third. If the Ducks are to make a lengthy playoff run, they will need more of the same from both players.

 
 
 
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