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Neutral Zone Wrap: Skater Tiers

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 or follow him on Twitter (@evanberofsky).

Just when you thought you were done with fantasy hockey for the season, the playoffs appear out of nowhere with promises of wonder and excitement for the next two months. And that means another pool (or pools) to enter, where you'll require a strategy and the proper tools to draft your way to another title.

The planning portion is rather simple and begins with determining which teams you believe will advance to the Conference Finals. From there, you can focus your picks on four clubs - with the last few pieces from the remaining rosters. Trying to figure out whether an injury will hurt one's performance becomes a complicated issue. The latest reports may claim someone is back to health and available to help. But if you don't believe a skater will be ready, then it's better to err on the safe side and avoid.

Most likely, you will then look at the different positions and analyze each one. For forwards, check the numbers, the lines, and the proven producers. For defensemen, go for the point getters and the power-play performers. And in net, grab the ones who you believe will advance as far as possible. (Which is why you won't see any netminders in the following lists.) In addition to this, you can find comprehensive positional rankings and other goodies by checking out the latest cheat sheets.

If you don't see a particular person in the upcoming lists, then they may have been omitted for various reasons. Some may lie in between categories, but that doesn't mean they should be avoided. Meanwhile, you won't see others who carry significant pain, are in a slump, or are not fit for consumption.

(NOTE: Each section is shown in alphabetical order by player surname.)

Sure, Fire

You wanted the best, you're getting the best. Some could be classified as superstars, but others are lesser likes who still possess a proficient postseason pedigree:

David Backes, F, St. Louis; Nicklas Backstrom, F, Washington; Patrice Bergeron, F, Boston; Dan Boyle, D, San Jose; Ryan Callahan, F, NY Rangers; Brian Campbell, D, Florida; Zdeno Chara, D, Boston; Sidney Crosby, F, Pittsburgh; Pavel Datsyuk, F, Detroit; Alexander Edler, D, Vancouver; Patrik Elias, F, New Jersey; Johan Franzen, F, Detroit; Marian Gaborik, F, NY Rangers; Claude Giroux, F, Philadelphia; Scott Hartnell, F, Philadelphia; Marian Hossa, F, Chicago; Patrick Kane, F, Chicago; Erik Karlsson, D, Ottawa; Ryan Kesler, F, Vancouver; Anze Kopitar, F, Los Angeles; Ilya Kovalchuk, F, New Jersey; David Krejci, F, Boston; Kris Letang, D, Pittsburgh; Nicklas Lidstrom, D, Detroit; Milan Lucic, F, Boston; Evgeni Malkin, F, Pittsburgh; Patrick Marleau, F, San Jose; James Neal, F, Pittsburgh; Alexander Ovechkin, F, Washington; Zach Parise, F, New Jersey; Joe Pavelski, F, San Jose; Alex Pietrangelo, D, St. Louis; Brad Richards, F, NY Rangers; Daniel Sedin, F, Vancouver; Henrik Sedin, F, Vancouver; Alexander Semin, F, Washington; Jason Spezza, F, Ottawa; Joe Thornton, F, San Jose; Kimmo Timonen, D, Philadelphia; Radim Vrbata, F, Phoenix; Shea Weber, D, Nashville; Ray Whitney, F, Phoenix; Henrik Zetterberg, F, Detroit

Just As Good, Not As Famous

Players who can be classified under the first tier. Probably second or third liners, with the potential to raise their game:

Daniel Alfredsson, F, Ottawa; Artem Anisimov, F, NY Rangers; Kevin Bieksa, D, Vancouver; Daniel Briere, F, Philadelphia; Dustin Brown, F, Los Angeles; Brent Burns, D, San Jose; Alex Burrows, F, Vancouver; David Clarkson, F, New Jersey; Ryane Clowe, F, San Jose; Logan Couture, F, San Jose; Michael del Zotto, D, NY Rangers; Shane Doan, F, Phoenix; Drew Doughty, D, Los Angeles; Pascal Dupuis, F, Pittsburgh; Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, Phoenix; Martin Erat, F, Nashville; Valtteri Filppula, F, Detroit; Mike Fisher, F, Nashville; Tomas Fleischmann, F, Florida; Jason Garrison, D, Florida; Dan Girardi, D, NY Rangers; Sergei Gonchar, D, Ottawa; Martin Hanzal, F, Phoenix; Martin Havlat, F, San Jose; Tomas Holmstrom, F, Detroit; Patric Hornqvist, F, Nashville; Marcus Johansson, F, Washington; Duncan Keith, D, Chicago; Niklas Kronwall, D, Detroit; Chris Kunitz, F, Pittsburgh; Brooks Laich, F, Washington; David Legwand, F, Nashville; Brad Marchand, F, Boston; Paul Martin, D, Pittsburgh; Milan Michalek, F, Ottawa; T.J. Oshie, F, St. Louis; David Perron, F, St. Louis; Rich Peverley, F, Boston; Alexander Radulov, F, Nashville; Mike Richards, F, Los Angeles; Brent Seabrook, D, Chicago; Tyler Seguin, F, Boston; Dennis Seidenberg, D, Boston; Patrick Sharp, F, Chicago; Kevin Shattenkirk, D, St. Louis; Jordan Staal, F, Pittsburgh; Viktor Stalberg, F, Chicago; Derek Stepan, F, NY Rangers; Steve Sullivan, F, Pittsburgh; Ryan Suter, D, Nashville; Petr Sykora, F, New Jersey; Kris Versteeg, F, Florida; Jakub Voracek, F, Philadelphia; Stephen Weiss, F, Florida; Ian White, D, Detroit; Dennis Wideman, D, Washington; Justin Williams, F, Los Angeles; Keith Yandle, D, Phoenix; Marek Zidlicky, D, New Jersey

FANTASY ERROR 501: Player Not Supported

Warning! Danger ahead! If you select any of these folks, then be ready to pay the consequences. High risk with generally low reward. Move along and try not to stare:

Todd Bertuzzi, F, Detroit; Joe Corvo, D, Boston; Brandon Dubinsky, F, NY Rangers; Michael Frolik, F, Chicago; Mike Green, D, Washington; Michal Handzus, F, San Jose; Sergei Kostitsyn, F, Nashville; Matt Niskanen, D, Pittsburgh; Chris Stewart, F, St. Louis

Stealing The Show

John Druce. Chris Kontos. Paul DiPietro. Ville Leino. Joel Ward. Those names made a lasting impression in the annals of NHL playoff history, but will generally not be remembered for anything else. The following guys may be next-in-line:

Jordan Caron, F, Boston; Alec Martinez, D, Los Angeles; Mason Raymond, F, Vancouver; Brayden Schenn, F, Philadelphia; Andrew Shaw, F, Chicago; Craig Smith, F, Nashville; Alex Steen, F, St. Louis; Kyle Turris, F, Ottawa; Marc-Edouard Vlasic, D, San Jose

The first round looks ripe for upsets, with San Jose (7) over St. Louis (2) as the popular choice in the West. Technically, both Detroit (5) and Chicago (6) would qualify as surprises, but both lineups contain enough experience to balance the matchups. Meanwhile in the Eastern Conference, Washington (7) have come on of late but Boston (2) owns too much depth and fewer injuries. New Jersey (6) comes out of the tough Atlantic Division, so first-time division winner Florida (3) is in for some trouble.

As much as I'd like to back Detroit, I can't really see them getting past the second round. St. Louis surprised many with their unbelievable second-half run, but Vancouver is just that much better and more seasoned during this part of the year. So give me the Canucks to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

Can't argue with anyone who likes the Rangers and Bruins, but I can't see how the Penguins - at full capacity - doesn't reach the Final. Even if Philly (and other opponents) bang and bruise Pittsburgh at every opportunity, their skill set is just too strong for others to overcome.

So then, it's only fitting for Vancouver to go down in consecutive seasons to thwart their first championship. Give me Pittsburgh in six and let it ride.

Which teams are in your Final? List them in the comments, along with any other notes you may find relevant.

Enjoy the playoffs, folks. I'll be back in a few weeks to preview the second round. And to make sure y'all have been paying attention.