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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
Ryan Getzlaf
Ducks' Getzlaf Takes Shot To Foot
Ryan Getzlaf, C, ANA
12:53 PM
News: Ryan Getzlaf briefly left the game late in the third after blocking a shot with his left foot on Wednesday.
Analysis: He returned shortly thereafter, but keep an eye on Ryan Getzlaf's status in the next few days to see if he'll be forced to miss any time. Getzlaf leads all NHL forwards with 81 blocked shots this season.

Rickard Rakell
Ducks' Rakell Ends Goal Drought
Rickard Rakell, C, ANA
12:43 PM
News: Rickard Rakell ended a 15 game goalless streak with a second period goal in Wednesday's win over the Habs.
Analysis: He's currently playing on the Ducks' third line with Emerson Etem and new acquisition Jiri Sekac. The trio were bottom three Wednesday night in ice time for the Ducks, so don't expect their scoring to greatly improve with the limited opportunity that they're currently receiving.

Ryan Kesler
Ducks' Kesler Records Assist In Win
Ryan Kesler, C, ANA
12:34 PM
News: Ryan Kesler recorded an assist on Cam Fowler's empty-netter Wednesday night against the Habs.
Analysis: Ryan Kesler has points now in three of his last four games, so it looks like he's worked himself out of the slump that plagued him for much of February. It's probably time to start rolling him back into your lineup.

John Gibson
Gibson Leads Ducks To Win Over Habs
John Gibson, G, ANA
12:21 PM
News: John Gibson stopped 37-of-38 in his return to the Ducks net on Wednesday night.
Analysis: John Gibson's stellar play of late is a nice luxury for the Ducks to have. He's managed to win six of his past seven starts - pretty successful for a backup goalie. If Gibson can continue to stay strong in net, expect him to get a number of starts down the stretch with the Ducks probably wanting to keep number one goalie Frederik Andersen fresh for a hopefully long playoff run.

Jimmy Howard
Wings' Howard Stops 39 In Win
Jimmy Howard, G, DET
6:34 AM
News: Jimmy Howard allowed one goal on 40 shots in Wednesday's 2-1 OT win over the Rangers.
Analysis: Jimmy Howard kept his team in the game all night, and was able to squeak out a win in overtime. He's now 19-8-9 on the season, and his 2.20 GAA ranks seventh in the entire league.

Henrik Zetterberg
Wings' Zetterberg Adds Two Assists In Win
Henrik Zetterberg, LW, DET
6:33 AM
News: Henrik Zetterberg tallied two assists in Wednesday's 2-1 win over the Rangers.
Analysis: The star center set up Justin Abdelkader with a beautiful backhand pass to open the scoring in the first period, and found the score sheet again on Marek Zidlicky's overtime winner. Henrik Zetterberg now has 15 goals and 36 assists through 58 games on the year.

Cam Talbot
Rangers' Talbot Stops 29 In Loss
Cam Talbot, G, NYR
6:32 AM
News: Cam Talbot allowed two goals on 31 shots in Wednesday's 2-1 overtime loss to the Red Wings.
Analysis: Cam Talbot played well all night, and probably deserved to pick up a win, but his teammates had trouble solving Jimmy Howard at the other end of the ice. Talbot is now 13-6-4 on the year, and will continue to fill in for Henrik Lundqvist while he's out with an injury.

Dan Girardi
Rangers' Girardi Scores In Loss
Dan Girardi, D, NYR
6:31 AM
News: Dan Girardi potted his third goal of the season in Wednesday's 2-1 loss to the Red Wings.
Analysis: Dan Girardi isn't much of an offensive producer, but was able to punch home a loose puck in the crease to tie the game at one Wednesday. The Rangers outplayed the Red Wings most of the night, but ultimately fell in overtime on Marek Zidlicky's first goal as a Red Wing.

Andrew Hammond
Sens' Hammond Allows One In Win
Andrew Hammond, G, OTT
6:30 AM
News: Andrew Hammond made 35 saves in Wednesday's 3-1 win over the Jets.
Analysis: The Hamburglar continued his recent run of stellar play, allowing just one goal on the way to his sixth win of the season. The rookie now sports a 6-0-1 record, and will continue to see a ton of action as the Sens make one last push for a playoff spot in the East.

Kyle Turris
Sens' Turris Adds Goal, Assist In Win
Kyle Turris, C, OTT
6:30 AM
News: Kyle Turris tallied a goal and an assist in Wednesday's 3-1 win over the Jets.
Analysis: Kyle Turris opened the scoring with a nice wrist shot just five minutes into the first period, and the Sens never looked back. The center now has 16 goals and 29 assists on the season, but is saddled with a minus-3 rating as well.

 
 
 
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