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Neutral Zone Wrap: The Underappreciated

Evan Berofsky

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Do you think your job sucks? Have you ever been frustrated when your work goes unnoticed while others receive attention? How about feeling like you are not being paid enough? Or those regular daydreams where you see yourself in a better environment (and probably on some beach too) surrounded by friendlier colleagues?

The following NHLers may be able to empathize. After all, their teammates are headed to Ottawa to partake in the 59th All-Star Game while they will either be parked in front of a TV watching the festivities or having a good time in some tropical locale. OK, so they may not prove to be a fair comparison to average office folk. But these skaters still must stand in the shadows and wait for their opportunity to shine. And while others' efforts make the headlines, their fantasy contributions remain essential. So let's give the following players a well-deserved hand:

Top 7 Underappreciated First-Half Fantasy All-Stars

Zach Bogosian, D, Winnipeg

With both Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien having missed long stretches this season, Bogosian has filled in quite nicely. The young American is still known for his rocket from the point, but he has complemented this asset with tangible numbers (19 points, 84 hits, 76 blocked shots). However, Bogosian's most impressive stat can be found in him logging an average of just under 24 minutes in 45 contests. Not bad for someone who was considered trade bait in every one of his previous three campaigns.

David Clarkson, F, New Jersey

200 pounds and hands like pillows. Except, of course, when they strike an opponent during a fight. Clarkson can be chippy at times, but possesses a keen skill to push his way toward the front of the net. And when he finds himself around the crease, he can really make it count. Already approaching his career high in goals (one short of 17), while maintaining a nasty repertoire (86 PIM, 101 hits). Also receiving added power-play shifts, of which Clarkson has boosted his overall standing (eight of his 22 points have come on the man-advantage).

Jason Garrison, D, Florida

Betcha didn't realize the fourth-year pro was tied for sixth in the league with eight power-play goals. Pretty sweet for someone who was never drafted and gets slotted behind Brian Campbell and Dmitry Kulikov in the Panthers pecking order. Thanks to an accurate shot that could rip the roof off a barn, Garrison can also claim preferred status in the shots department (16th among defensemen with 107). And try not to forget he registers around 24 minutes a night.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere, G, Colorado

Best known for taking the Ducks all the way in 2007, but also remembered for being pushed out of Toronto by a string of injuries (and, oh yes, James Reimer). Jiggy arrived in Colorado this past summer with little expectation, seeing how much the team spent to acquire Semyon Varlamov from Washington. But when the Russian struggled in mid-November, the 34-year old stepped in and pulled off a streak of eight wins in 11 starts. Times haven't improved much for Varlamov (not including getting hurt), while Giguere is still holding his own.

Martin Hanzal, F, Phoenix

No disrespect to shots-on-goal machine Radim Vrbata, but Hanzal is so hot right now. Fine, maybe he was before getting whacked across the face last month (like seven points in his first 11). But no one can deny the Czech's value in deeper categories. Even having missed a few weeks, Hanzal sits in the top-25 in hits (126). Defensive stats generally don't count, but if they did, then he would rank as one of the elite two-way forwards - something that should translate to offense as he returns to speed in the coming weeks.

Chris Neil, F, Ottawa

Like Clarkson, someone who knows how to score in tight but also isn't afraid to throw down the gloves or get under an opponent's skin. Always labeled an enforcer, Neil has occasionally deviated from the path to help Ottawa on the scoresheet. Not only has he preserved his tough guy persona (currently at a respectable 94 PIM and a whopping 167 hits), but he has made the leap to decent secondary scorer (nine goals and 17 points - well on his way to having his best output in six years).

Rich Peverley, F, Boston

Peverley literally came out of nowhere after being claimed by Atlanta off waivers only three years ago. The Guelph native immediately impressed, tallying 35 points in 39 outings mainly playing sidekick to Ilya Kovalchuk. Fast-forward two successful seasons and he was traded to Boston. While his new home wasn't a hit to start, Peverley showed glimpses of his skill (12 points) during the Bruins' Cup run. And now he has firmly solidified his role in the lineup with an outstanding first half (33 points and a plus-18 in 41).

(Second Team: Eric Brewer, D, Tampa Bay; Troy Brouwer, F, Washington; Dustin Brown, F, Los Angeles; Danny Cleary, F, Detroit; Cal Clutterbuck, F, Minnesota; Dan Girardi, D, NY Rangers; Evgeni Nabokov, G, NY Islanders)