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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
Mika Zibanejad
Zibanejad Helps Sens Past Ducks
Mika Zibanejad, C, OTT
12:59 PM
News: Mika Zibanejad scored his ninth goal of the season, had an assist, was credited with four shots on goal, and was a plus-3 in Friday's win over the Ducks.
Analysis: An all-around great fantasy night for Mika Zibanejad, who now has 17 points in 30 games on the season. After a slow start, Zibanejad has heated up, recording six goals and 11 points in his last nine games. Skating on the second line with Bobby Ryan, the 21-year-old could hit the 25-goal mark in 2014-15, making him worthy of a look right now.

Erik Karlsson
Sens' Karlsson Collects Two Assists In Win
Erik Karlsson, D, OTT
12:27 PM
News: Erik Karlsson collected a pair of helpers in Friday's win over Anaheim.
Analysis: Erik Karlsson now has points in two straight games after being held off the scoresheet in his previous three game. The 24-year-old has seven goals and 23 points in 32 games on the season, to go with a minus-12 rating. He sits second in the NHL with 124 shots on goal and is one of the best offensive defenseman in the game. Keep him rolling.

Kyle Turris
Sens' Turris Remains Hot Friday
Kyle Turris, C, OTT
12:09 PM
News: Kyle Turris remained red-hot on Friday, scoring a highlight-reel shorthanded goal and adding an assist in a win over the Ducks.
Analysis: Kyle Turris has been lighting it up lately, riding a five-game point streak in which he has recorded three goals and seven points. With 23 points (seven goals) in 32 games, the 25-year-old is proving to be a reliable fantasy option this season. He has scored the game-winning goal in back-to-back games and has never gone more than three games without appearing on the scoresheet. His consistency and top-line role makes him worth a look right now.

Mark Giordano
Flames' Giordano Lights Lamp
Mark Giordano, D, CGY
9:51 AM
News: Mark Giordano scored the lone Calgary goal in a 2-1 loss to Dallas on Friday.
Analysis: Mark Giordano has been one of the few constants remaining for Calgary during its seven-game losing streak. He has seven points in nine December games and continues to easily lead the NHL in defenseman scoring.

Brad Boyes
Panthers' Boyes Returns Saturday
Brad Boyes, RW, FLA
9:49 AM
News: Brad Boyes (upper body) will return to the lineup Saturday against the Penguins, Harvey Fialkov of the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports.
Analysis: Brad Boyes was a surprise scratch Thursday against the Flyers due to the injury, but since he was able to practice Friday, the Panthers never considered the ailment to be serious. Brandon Pirri will head back to the press box Saturday in order for Boyes to reclaim his spot in the lineup.

Jimmy Hayes
Panthers' Hayes to Sit Out Saturday
Jimmy Hayes, RW, FLA
9:48 AM
News: Jimmy Hayes will be a healthy scratch Saturday against the Penguins, Harvey Fialkov of the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports.
Analysis: Coach Gerard Gallant wants to get youngster Vincent Trocheck in the lineup in his hometown of Pittsburgh, so Jimmy Hayes will head to the press box in order to facilitate the change. Hayes has mustered one goal and no assists in the seven games since his two-point showing Dec. 2 against the Red Wings.

Roberto Luongo
Panthers' Luongo In Line For Saturday Start
Roberto Luongo, G, FLA
9:44 AM
News: Roberto Luongo was the first goalie off the ice at the Panthers' morning skate and is thus in line to start Saturday against the Penguins, Seth Rorabaugh of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Analysis: Roberto Luongo has put together a three-game winning streak, highlighted by back-to-back victories in long shootouts against the Capitals and Flyers. While the high-scoring Penguins don't make for a particularly favorable matchup, they've been bitten hard by the injury bug and the mumps virus over the last several weeks. Even in a packed Saturday slate, Luongo still looks like a serviceable fantasy option.

Torey Krug
Krug Notches Bruins' Lone Goal
Torey Krug, D, BOS
9:40 AM
News: Torey Krug notched the Bruins' only goal in Friday's 2-1 loss to the Jets.
Analysis: With 12 points in 29 games overall, Torey Krug is off last season's pace (40 points in 79 games), but things have picked up a bit for the mobile blueliner of late, as he now has points in five of his last seven contests.

Alexander Semin
'Canes Rule Out Semin For Saturday
Alexander Semin, RW, CAR
9:36 AM
News: Alexander Semin (lower body) has been ruled out for a return to action Saturday against the Rangers, Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
Analysis: Alexander Semin participated in Saturday's morning session and looks to be close to playing, but coach Bill Peters opted to hold him out for an additional day. It's possible the Hurricanes wanted to avoid returning him to action amid a back-to-back scenario, so it wouldn't be especially surprising if he was activated in time for Sunday's rematch with the Rangers in New York. Though Semin's return is near, he's not worthy of a speculative add, as he amassed just one goal and six points in 21 games before landing on IR.

Cam Ward
Canes' Ward Confirmed As Saturday Starter
Cam Ward, G, CAR
9:32 AM
News: Coach Bill Peters confirmed that Cam Ward would make the start in goal Saturday against the Rangers, Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
Analysis: Though Cam Ward will get the call Saturday, don't be surprised if he's rested when the Hurricanes and Rangers get together in New York on Sunday. That start will likely go to backup Anton Khudobin, who has yet to record a win in his nine starts this season.

 
 
 
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