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Neutral Zone Wrap: Always Picked Last

Evan Berofsky

Evan Berofsky

Evan Berofsky enjoys writing. Seriously. When he’s not trying to shove hockey miscellany down your throat, he gets his kicks playing tournament Scrabble(TM). If you have anything to say about Evan’s work (or need any hot word tips), feel free to contact him at eberofsky@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter (@evanberofsky).

Neutral Zone Wrap
by Evan Berofsky, RotoWire Writer

It's now time to get down to business. The performance to date should at least provide a preview of where your team is headed. Unless, of course, you've already dismantled it quicker than a botched drive-thru order. But you would have only done that if impatience prevailed and common sense went out the window. Or if you were offered an hour-long TV spot to announce your transactions to the fantasy world.

So what surprises lurk around the corner? When is this all going to make sense? And why are you still reading this column? Oh, right, for the sage advice and witty wordplay. Whoa, hey, look, we've almost made it through every NHL club over the first two months. Once we hit all 30, I can finally punch my card for that free sub. (If you're scoring at home, that makes two food-related references. It's official: I'm hungry.)

SKINNER! That's what the fans in Carolina are shouting out; at least the ones who show up to home games. Jeff Skinner has jumped right from 2010 draftee (#7 overall) to the top of the ‘Canes chart. The 18-year old winger has matched captain Eric Staal point-for-point (both at six goals and nine assists) and doesn't appear to be feeling the rookie jitters. Sergei Samsonov, who missed the first four, has earned a prolonged stay with Staal and the results are obvious (six in four). Erik Cole (up to nine points, leading with a plus-8) is back to his old tricks on the top power-play unit. And last week's proclamation of Joe Corvo's decline was entirely premature (four goals in five). We apologize for the error and hope this plug doesn't jinx him.

Continuing on our trip across forgotten hockey locations, we make a brief stop in South Florida where the mention of special teams isn't confined to the hardwood. The Panthers may only sport a five-for-42 mark with the man advantage, but they potted two versus Toronto Wednesday evening. Meanwhile, their penalty killing definitely lives up to its name, as they've destroyed 37 of 41 opponent opportunities. Michael Frolik may have started slow (nothing in four) but has since made up for that (10 in eight). Steven Reinprecht (four in five) has also fought his way out of the doghouse. If you're in a deeper league, then consider 6'4” forward Shawn Matthias (four in five), who skates on the first line and is finally getting a shot on the PP.

And while on the subject of the 'Top 10 Areas You'd Never Expect to See Ice', we can't leave without mentioning Phoenix. Last season's magic – along with the attendance – may have finally worn off in the desert. The Coyotes' mix of emerging youth and savvy veterans has looked pretty good, but try telling that to a local non-follower who falls outside the average 58.7% capacity at the Jobing.com Arena. What these folks are missing is the fact Kyle Turris (six in eight, but increased minutes) may not be a bust, Eric Belanger remembers what it's like to score (tied for team lead in goals with four and points with nine), and Wojtek Wolski learns there really is no place like home (six of eight). Ray Whitney (no goals, but five helpers) could also use the attention, since he seems to be lacking it on the ice.

Columbus have returned to relying on their goaltending, thanks to the rejuvenation of Steve Mason and Mathieu Garon (combining for 2.35 GAA, .910 SV%, and two shutouts – both Garon's). But every once in a while, the Blue Jackets can produce magic on the other end. Just ask Derick Brassard, the proud owner of an eight-game point streak (11) who is clearly finding new life after admittedly struggling for two-plus years. Linemate Jakub Voracek (six in four) is receiving the runoff and running with it. They could use more from Antoine Vermette (two in seven) and Anton Stralman (all four on the PP). And you may have missed it, but some guy named Marc Methot (eight assists) is leading the D in scoring. No kidding.

All the hype built up during the preseason, but it is clear patience has become the key word in Edmonton. What started off as a dazzling debut for the three stud rookies has turned into a reality check. #1 selection Taylor Hall is trying to keep the pace up (five in six), but was ultimately benched on Tuesday for most of the third period. The production from Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi has stagnated (zero in four from both), but they're not alone. Sam Gagner (three in nine) has decided to take the foot off the pedal while Andrew Cogliano (all four in his last seven) needs to locate the pedal. Here's a thought as to how the Oilers could ignite their offense: try calling up either Linus Omark (10 goals, 18 points) or Liam Reddox (seven goals, 14 points) from the AHL. Even perennial second-tier star Alexandre Giroux (200 total points the last two seasons, 15 this year) would help.

Evan Berofsky enjoys writing. Seriously. When he's not trying to shove hockey miscellany down your throat, he gets his kicks playing tournament Scrabble®. If you have anything to say about Evan's work (or need any hot word tips), feel free to contact him at eberofsky@yahoo.comor follow him on Twitter (@evanberofsky).