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Neutral Zone Wrap: Lockout Point

Evan Berofsky

Evan Berofsky

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

Another week, another whack of games booted from the schedule. Just when you thought they were closer to reaching a deal, the specter of reality appears and kills the positive mood. Yes, it sucks there is no NHL and it doesn't appear to be coming back anytime soon. But it's even worse when both sides can't agree on the viability of holding upcoming meetings to end this issue. Just get together and work on something. It's not too hard to do. Here, I'll show you how: take your phone, pull up your contact list, find a relevant name, and commence dialing. It's really that simple. I mean, do we have to go as far as to suggest mediation? Y'all aren't too far apart. Get it done.

In other news, a few NHLers who have fled to Europe have stated they will not be returning if/when the season resumes. Good one. Have fun in your inferior leagues. Meanwhile, many others are waiting for a resolution and are therefore reluctant to make the long trip. While this type of decision may not be the right way to help a player maintain his conditioning levels, there are several reasons to stay put. Most pros keep their own training regimen with private instructors and can stay fit year-round. The acclimatization process of traveling that far could take weeks for some and it's understandable not to make the trip if you're being told an agreement is near. And, if you're a young man itching to score some goals and stop some pucks, then there's always the AHL and junior ranks.

Here are a few players who are currently skating in the minors/overseas to observe. Try to imagine them in NHL uniforms. You won't find any superstars here; just the notables who would be part of general fantasy analysis and deliberation. And no CHL/college kids either (maybe next column?). Settle in and grab a cup of information. But don't ingest too much. After all, we wouldn't want you to pretend to be smarter than us. To start, we have the ones to watch (stats going into Thursday night):

Sven Baertschi, F, Calgary/Abbotsford (AHL)

Only 20 and a couple years removed from being drafted in the first round (lucky #13th overall), but already tabbed to leave his mark in Calgary sooner rather than later. A fine start out West (six points in three games) for the Swiss sniper won't hurt his chances to catch on with the big club.

Ales Hemsky, F, Edmonton/Pardubice (Czech)

After an injury-plagued stretch, Hemsky did some damage in the latter portion of 2011-12 (including his debut hat-trick). Now back with his hometown team after 13 years away and it appears as if he never left (13 in 12). Everyone is aware of the young forward glut in Edmonton but the Czech veteran is still under 30 and can contribute if healthy.

Robin Lehner, G, Ottawa/Binghamton (AHL)

All eyes have been on the 6'3” Swedish netminder ever since the Sens took him in 2009 as a second-round selection. While Lehner received a taste of NHL action in each of the last two seasons, he has been mainly relegated to the AHL - where he continues to impress (1.32 GAA, .954 SV% in five). Even with Craig Anderson on the books for three more and Ben Bishop in the system, don't expect Lehner to lie down and concede.

Rich Peverley, F, Boston/JYP (Finland)

Undrafted out of college, mired in the ECHL, and then lost in Nashville. But ever since Atlanta claimed Peverley off waivers in 2009, the good ol' Kingston boy has been a model of consistency. Even though he hasn't scored a goal in Finland, the production is present (seven assists in nine) and the power-play minutes are plentiful.

Justin Schultz, D, Edmonton/Oklahoma City (AHL)

Now it makes sense as to why at least 10 teams bid for the Wisconsin blueliner this past summer. Already fitting in with the pros, earning initial AHL Player of the Week honors by torching the scoresheet (nine in five, including four goals). Mature enough to handle power-play quarterback duties (three PPPs so far).

Jiri Tlusty, F, Carolina/ Kladno (Czech)

Finished off the final two months of last season on a tear (highlighted by a nine-game point streak). Holding his own with teammates and Kladno-born legends Jaromir Jagr and Tomas Plekanec (thanks to 12 in 13). Will eventually benefit from Carolina's upgrades up front.

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And here are a couple of players to avoid, regardless what the substitute stats may say:

Ruslan Fedotenko, F, Philadelphia/Alexei Ponikarovsky, F, Winnipeg - both with Donbass (KHL)

You may have heard the Ukranian duo have returned to the motherland. Perhaps you also got wind of Fedotenko's recent hat-trick - all set up by Ponikarovsky. Don't be fooled by this or their combined numbers (17 in 14), since this will not translate to the NHL. Both guys have passed their prime, which frankly was never.

Michael Frolik, F, Chicago/Chomutov (Czech)

The ex-Panther became one of the first to jump across the pond and hasn't looked back. An amazing beginning (13 in 10, including nine goals) but based on career trends, most of us are waiting for the uneventful middle and the disappointing ending. Don't let us down, Michael.

Marc-Andre Gragnani, D, Carolina/Charlotte (AHL)

Remember when Gragnani was the toast of Buffalo after a solid 2011 playoffs? That led to a spot on Team Canada's World Championship squad and the keys to the Sabres' offense. But poor defensive lapses and an inability to seize the opportunity turned into a trade to Vancouver. Carolina decided to take a flyer on Gragnani (four in five), but he'll be down on the depth charts when he arrives in Tobacco Country.

Kris Russell, D, St. Louis/Turku (Finland)

Russell has so much potential, but has been unable to capitalize due to his height (5'10”) and defensive shortcomings. Russell has fought through these deficiencies and has even transformed his game into a well-rounded approach. Unfortunately, that means he's no longer one of the top few blueline scoring options. But that hasn't stopped Russell from topping the Turku charts right off the bat (five in four).

Wayne Simmonds, F, Philadelphia/Chris Stewart, F, St. Louis - both first with Crimmitschau (Germany 2nd division), now on Liberec (Czech)

The two buddies have become inseparable during their European vacation. Their jaw-dropping point totals in Germany may have been nice (25 in nine), but c'mon, it wasn't even the top league in the country. Times will be much tougher in the Czech Republic, although most expect only Simmonds to succeed since Chris Stewart is, well, Chris Stewart.

Tim Stapleton, F, Winnipeg/Minsk (KHL)

Technically, Stapleton is no longer a Jet since he inked a deal with Minsk in July. So perhaps there wouldn't be any expectation he would want to go back. Still, there's no discounting what the undersized winger has accomplished to date. Team leader in goals (nine) and points (16) and now joined by former teammate Evander Kane.

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Next week, we'll talk about...hmm, not sure. Anyone got any ideas? I've already hinted about looking at junior/college players, but most of them are either way too young or will never see an NHL roster. So maybe I'll let the readers decide upcoming material. And when I say 'readers', I mean 'reader'. And when I say 'reader', I'm obviously referring to 'quails144'. So, let's hear what you want, kid. (DISCLAIMER: Nothing laden with stats, hearsay, or risque' material. And definitely NO LISTS WITH SLIDESHOWS. The management (i.e. me) has final approval and can switch the topic at any time. Your fantasy choices may vary.)

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