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Neutral Zone Wrap: It's Never Sunny In Philadelphia

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 or follow him on Twitter (@evanberofsky).

Some owners panic early when their stars falter immediately. That's when it's time to swoop in and buy low. Heck, a friend of mine is part of a carryover league where an owner has already actively shopped Jonathan Quick. Sound the alarms! Call the fantasy police for assistance! Luckily, we're here to steer you away from this type of idiocy.

Another thing to generally ignore in the first couple weeks involves goalie matchups. You may have to strategize about who to start when you have less open spots than available bodies. But you need to trust your established netminders before you truly make a conscious decision to omit him from your lineup.

Welcome back to this column's regular format! For all but one week of the month, five NHL clubs will be featured and their most intriguing fantasy players will be discussed. The other week - usually the last one of the month - will be devoted to nap time, er, some random best-of list. Since we're very early in the season, there aren't too many stats from which to draw but we'll try our best to showcase the ones that matter. And remember, no superstars; y'all can figure that out on your own time.

But first, let's take a food break. As digestible options go, I'm partial to chicken. But once in a while, you might see me eat crow. Remember when I said the following back in November when discussing which AHLers could successfully make the jump?:

Cory Conacher, F, Syracuse (Tampa Bay)

Conacher was never drafted and only inked his first professional contract in 2011. The reigning AHL MVP and Rookie of the Year (80 points, 114 PIM) is once again killing it (12 in nine) but raw scoring alone will not ensure glory. While his height (5'8") may be obvious, it isn't his only diminished quality. Although inexperience and bad habits can be corrected over time. Still, it's asking for a lot for Conacher to excel - let alone survive - in the NHL.


Fantasy fowl never tasted so good. Although one can't completely shut the door on my negative claim; after all, anything can happen in the final 90% of the season. And now back to our standard league buffet…:

(NOTE: Stats as of Thursday January 24th)

Last season saw a rejuvenation of the Panthers franchise and (finally!) a playoff return. At 39, Alexei Kovalev may not be the youngest skater but he's established an odd, albeit successful, couple with 19-year old junior stud Jonathan Huberdeau (each with three points). The Florida front line seems to be missing a touch off the first unit without Kris Versteeg (groin pull, probably another week away) - and now Stephen Weiss has mysteriously fallen off with whatever malady moniker management can mention. Dmitry Kulikov (none, minus-two) is still finding his legs after a delayed arrival, which leaves room for another 35-plus member, Filip Kuba (one, over 23 minutes a night), to prolong his solid play.

As far as local supporters are concerned, it's never sunny in Philadelphia. So how does a 1-3 start make them feel? (Odds on it is probably better than 0-3.) Or the latest foot note for Scott Hartnell (broke it, out 4-8 weeks) combined with Daniel Briere's wonky wrist (rumored to return soon)? Worried about Brayden Schenn's one-game suspension transforming him into an enforcer? Anyone remember Matt Read (hit his first point Thursday)? Paging Andrej Meszaros (nothing in any meaningful category)? Really concerned Ilya Bryzgalov (2.52 GAA, .910 SV%) will relinquish the #1 goalie duties when Michael Leighton is the only secondary option?

Like Flyers fans, it seems as if Bruins Nation has a few bones to pick with their team. I mean, how dare Boston only claim five out of a possible six points?!? But seriously, it's great to see Nathan Horton (one goal) participating at 100% health. Patrice Bergeron might not be there yet (one assist) but it's not as if he is relaxing (leads with 12 shots on goal). Don't get too excited about Gregory Campbell (two assists, five PIM). Shame Dennis Seidenberg has succumbed to the dreaded 'lower body injury' (but could be back Friday), but Dougie Hamilton (power-play assist, almost 19 minutes per night) has really picked up his game - no surprise to anyone who has followed his career.

Things may appear to be status quo in Nashville, but looking deeper reveals a couple subtle changes. While Martin Erat and Patric Hornqvist (four apiece, four total PPPs) may be dominating the opening numbers, keep an eye on Nick Spaling (goal, assist). By no means a stellar scorer, the Preds' 2007 second-round selection provides loads of effort, earning him additional minutes (averaging almost 17). It may surprise some to discover Roman Josi is right up there in total ice time with partner Shea Weber (25:28 compared to 26:35 a game) but the more shocking figure is their combined zero points (along with 11PIM and 18 SOG) to date.

Look who have dragged themselves out of the basement…and then fell back down the stairs. Columbus could easily be pointless if it wasn't for Sergei Bobrovsky making some sparkling saves. Cam Atkinson may not be top level yet (just a goal to his name), but watch him and you will believe. It looks as though Derick Brassard (two assists) wasn't completely reliant on Rick Nash for production. Derek Dorsett's trip to the top line (with two assists and 19 PIM in tow) creates an intriguing fantasy pickup. The second blueline combo of Nikita Nikitin and Fedor Tyutin outdoing James Wisniewski and Jack Johnson (by a count of six to one)? Yup, it's really happening.