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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
Eddie Pasquale
Caps Sign Pasquale
Eddie Pasquale, G, WAS
12:15 AM
News: Eddie Pasquale has signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Capitals, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Eddie Pasquale, who was acquired from the Jets on June 28, slots in as a depth goalie for the Caps behind Braden Holtby and Justin Peters. Out of the gate this season, look for Pasquale to split time at AHL Hershey with Philipp Grubauer.

Tomas Hertl
Sharks' Hertl Fine After Knee Scare
Tomas Hertl, C, SJ
12:14 AM
News: Tomas Hertl said the tenderness in his knee that he first experienced in Tuesday's practice isn't anything to worry about, David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News reports.
Analysis: Tomas Hertl said that he only felt the sensation in his knee because he had been off the ice for more than a month. He'll likely take the next couple days off to rest before continuing his offseason workouts again.

Dany Heatley
Heatley Signs With Ducks
Dany Heatley, LW, ANA
7/9/2014
News: Dany Heatley has signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Ducks, TSN.ca reports.
Analysis: The 33-year-old Dany Heatley -- who notched 12 goals and 28 points in 76 games with the Wild this past season -- isn't the elite goal-scorer he once was, but he'll provide the Ducks with an experienced option at left wing. Keep an eye on who he ends up skating with in training camp, as Heatley could see increased production with Anaheim if he ends up on a scoring trio.

Sidney Crosby
Crosby Dealing With Wrist Issue
Sidney Crosby, C, PIT
7/9/2014
News: GM Jim Rutherford acknowledged Wednesday that Crosby is dealing with a right wrist injury, but indicated that it has yet to be determined whether the star center will require a procedure to address the issue, the team's official site reports. "Sidney Crosby has been undergoing treatment on a right wrist injury that he suffered during the season," Rutherford noted Wednesday. "Sid is continuing to get medical advice to determine the best path moving forward, including the possibility of arthroscopic surgery."
Analysis: While there had been reports that Sidney Crosby was slated to have arthroscopic surgery on his right wrist in the next few days, Rutherford indicated that a final decision on that front has yet to be made. With that in mind, Rutherford added that the team expects to have a decision on how to handle Crosby's injury "by early next week."

Cory Schneider
Devils, Schneider Come To Terms On Seven-Year Deal
Cory Schneider, G, NJ
7/9/2014
News: Cory Schneider signed a seven-year, $42 million extension with the Devils on Wednesday, Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record reports.
Analysis: After entering his first season in a timeshare in goal with franchise icon Martin Brodeur, Cory Schneider quickly established himself as the Devils' No. 1 netminder of the present and future. He finished with elite ratios (1.97 GAA, .921) and likely would have garnered more Vezina buzz had a middling Devils attack not stuck him with a so-so 16-15-12 record. With Schneider set to enter his age-29 season, the Devils will likely have him for the peak years of his goaltending abilities during the life of his contract.

Patrick Kane
Kane Signs 8-Year Extension With Chicago
Patrick Kane, RW, CHI
7/9/2014
News: Patrick Kane has signed an eight-year contract extension with the Blackhawks that runs through the 2022-23 season, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Along with Patrick Kane, the Hawks inked teammate Jonathan Toews to a deal with the same terms, with TSN.ca reporting that the duo's contracts carry an average annual value of $10.5 million, starting next season. The 25-year-old Kane, who is coming off a season in which he recorded 29 goals and 69 points in 69 regular season games, remains one of the league's most dynamic wingers and Wednesday's signings ensure that the Hawks' organization will continue to roster one of the league's top forward duos for the long haul.

Jonathan Toews
Toews Inks Extension With Chicago
Jonathan Toews, C, CHI
7/9/2014
News: Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have both signed eight-year contract extensions with the Blackhawks that run through the 2022-23 season, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: TSN.ca reports that the duo's contracts carry an average annual value of $10.5 million, starting next season. While that represents a big chunk of the team's salary cap, the deals ensure that the Hawks' two franchise cornerstones up front will remain with the organization for the long haul. The 26-year-old Jonathan Toews is coming off a season in which he scored 28 goals and added 40 helpers in 76 games, while maintaining his status as one of the league's top two-way pivots.

Richard Bachman
Bachman Signs With Oilers
Richard Bachman, G, EDM
7/9/2014
News: Richard Bachman has signed a one-year contract with the Oilers, the team's official site reports.
Analysis: Richard Bachman, who saw action in three games with the Oilers last season, will reprise his role as a depth goalie for the team. The 26-year-old is coming off a 2013-14 campaign in which he recorded a 26-19-6 record, with a .908 save percentage and 2.99 GAA for AHL Oklahoma City.

Mattias Ekholm
Ekholm Signs Two-Year Deal With Preds
Mattias Ekholm, D, NSH
7/9/2014
News: Mattias Ekholm has signed a two-year, $2.075 million contract with the Predators, the Tennessean reports.
Analysis: Mattias Ekholm, who was a restricted free agent, will thus avoid arbitration by inking the one-way deal with Nashville. He's coming off a rookie campaign in which he recorded nine points in 62 games for the Preds.

Mac Bennett
Montreal's Bennett Ticketed For Hamilton
Mac Bennett, D, MON
7/9/2014
News: Mac Bennett, who is participating in Montreal's development camp, is expected to play for Hamilton of the American Hockey League this season, the Montreal Gazette reports.
Analysis: Mac Bennett is a 2009 draft pick who decided to play a full four-year collegiate career at the University of Michigan. The four years gave Bennett time to add strength and weight to his frame.

 
 
 
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