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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
Nathan Beaulieu
Canadiens' Beaulieu Scores In Win
Nathan Beaulieu, D, MON
4:22 AM
News: Nathan Beaulieu scored the game-winning goal in Wednesday night's 3-1 preseason win over Chicago.
Analysis: Of the three kid defensmen vying for a spot on the roster, Nathan Beaulieu has the edge over Jarred Tinordi and Greg Pateryn.

Carey Price
Canadiens' Price Saves
Carey Price, G, MON
4:19 AM
News: Carey Price stopped 31 of 32 shots in Wednesday night's 3-1 preseason win over Chicago.
Analysis: It was another good performance from Carey Price, who had a lineup of kids and NHL journeyman in front of him. The Habs were outshot 22-9 after two periods, but Price kept them in the game until the third period when Montreal scored three times.

Samuel Morin
Flyers' Morin Survives Latest Roster-Trimming
Samuel Morin, D, PHI
3:55 AM
News: The 19-year-old Samuel Morin is still on the NHL club as they prepare for their final preseason game, reports Dave Isaac of The Courier-Post.
Analysis: Samuel Morin has played well this preseason, but the move is still surprising given Flyers' General Manager Ron Hextall's commitment to developing prospects. However, because Morin still isn't 20, the Flyers can't send him to the AHL -- he'd go straight back to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He's worth a sniff in deeper leagues, though it's still unclear where he would fit in the defensive pairings.

Jesse Winchester
Avs' Winchester Has Concussion
Jesse Winchester, C, COL
12:56 AM
News: Jesse Winchester sustained a concussion in Tuesday's preseason tilt against the Kings, Adrian Dater of the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: Coach Patrick Roy suggested Jesse Winchester could be out a while, as he'll be subjected to the league's concussion protocol before returning with the ice. With the regular season just over a week away, there's a good chance Winchester could land on injured reserve if he fails to make much progress.

Jonathan Ericsson
Wings' Ericsson Iffy For Preseason Finale
Jonathan Ericsson, D, DET
12:50 AM
News: Jonathan Ericsson (hip flexor) isn't certain if he'll play in the Red Wings' remaining two preseason games, MLive.com's Ansar Khan reports.
Analysis: Though Jonathan Ericsson returned to practice Wednesday, he may not be operating at full speed when the Red Wings conclude their exhibition schedule Saturday. He does, however, feel that he will be 100 percent healthy for the Oct. 9 opener against the Bruins, especially after he gets in a few more hard skates. The blueliner is also returning from a broken finger that prevented him from playing in the final 14 regular-season contests and the playoffs, but that particular injury isn't expected to hinder him any further.

Maxim Noreau
Avalanche Place Noreau On Waivers
Maxim Noreau, D, COL
12:40 AM
News: Maxim Noreau was placed on waivers by the Avalanche on Tuesday, Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports reports.
Analysis: He has only played six NHL games in his career and has spent the last three years playing in Switzerland. If another NHL team does not claim him, Maxim Noreau will report to AHL Lake Erie. Noreau last appeared in the NHL during the 2010-11 season with Minnesota, where he only lasted five games with the team. There is a very low chance that he will see NHL action this season, minimizing his fantasy value.

Bruno Gervais
Colorado Places Gervais On Waivers
Bruno Gervais, D, COL
12:31 AM
News: Bruno Gervais was put on waivers by Colorado on Tuesday, Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports reports.
Analysis: He spent all of last season in the AHL where he played 59 games, scored 10 goals, and added 16 assists. Bruno Gervais who has played over 400 games in the NHL, will report to AHL Lake Erie if he goes unclaimed on waivers. The only way he could see time with the Avalanche is if the team falls victim to a rash of injuries. Otherwise, he will have very little fantasy value even in deeper leagues.

Niklas Backstrom
Wild's Backstrom May Be Trailing In Job Battle
Niklas Backstrom, G, MIN
12:12 AM
News: Niklas Backstrom appears to be losing ground in the battle for the No. 1 goalie gig with Darcy Kuemper, Chad Graff of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.
Analysis: Niklas Backstrom was the frontrunner for the starting job entering camp, but after Kuemper reported to the Wild upon agreeing to a new contract with the team, the declining veteran looks on track to eventually settle into a reserve role. The 36-year-old has performed respectably in training camp with 29 saves on 32 shots over two appearances, but the memory of last season's 5-11-2 record, 3.02 GAA and .899 save percentage will probably make the Wild somewhat reluctant to use him regularly. Though some of his struggles could be attributed to injury, the youthful Kuemper posted far better numbers as a rookie and probably gives the Wild a better chance at ascending to the Western Conference's elite in 2014-15. Expect Backstrom's long tenure in Minnesota to allow him to cut into Kuemper's workload early in the season, but Kuemper should soon separate himself as the team's clear No. 1 option.

Scott Laughton
Flyers' Laughton Sent To AHL Lehigh Valley
Scott Laughton, C, PHI
12:06 AM
News: Scott Laughton was assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley on Tuesday, Frank Seravalli of the Philadelphia Daily News reports.
Analysis: The former first-round pick had a strong preseason thus far, but his performance was not enough to make the final roster. Scott Laughton is held in high regard as a prospect in the Flyers' system, and he's still young enough to stay in the AHL for the year to develop his skills further. Barring injury, he won't see much playing time in the NHL this year since the Flyers seem rather settled at center, but keeper league owners should still give him a look.

Radim Vrbata
Canucks' Vrbata Meshing With Sedin Twins
Radim Vrbata, RW, VAN
10/1/2014
News: Radim Vrbata has struck for two goals in three preseason games playing alongside Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
Analysis: Radim Vrbata is looking very deadly on the top line and could do some major damage in fantasy this season. The former-35 goal scorer is an elite sniper who now has the luxury of playing with two of the best playmakers in the game. If the preseason is any indication, Vrbata could be in for a very successful 2014-2015 campaign.

 
 
 
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