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Neutral Zone Wrap: Out of the Shark Tank and Into the Wild

Evan Berofsky

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

Don't ever give up. Even if you believe there isn't any chance for you to win or even make the playoffs in your league, there's still an incentive to keep up the fight. Rolling over was made for odometers and discount retailers, not fantasy sports.

And what entails making an effort? Well, doing something is a great start. To be more specific, anything involving following trends and news and applying them to transactions counts as work. Got some dead weight to drop? Junk overboard! See the hottest player on the waiver wire? Yup, he's now yours. Hey, they may never end up helping but it probably makes you feel better to prevent others from owning then. So go out there and spoil it for the other guys (and gals).

Check the following flyer material to see what's in stock and what isn't even fit for clearance:

(Stats as of Monday January 13)

Instead of leading with the main attraction, let's change it up and start from the bottom. And what better place to begin than Buffalo. It's amazing to see how competitive the Sabres have been of late, seeing how terrible they are at scoring (league-worst 1.58 goals per game). This column has already tabbed Tyler Ennis (17 points in 44 games with a minus-12) for an upswing and you expect Matt Moulson (one in six, minus-six) will turn it around. Once known as a better producer, Steve Ott isn't even posting enough penalty minutes (43 in 44) to justify a pickup. Much promise was bestowed on Marcus Foligno (scoreless in eight) but his dreams of becoming a top power forward have faded away. And if you're hoping for Ville Leino (one in 12) to break out, then the fates predict disappointment.

Philadelphia freedom. Gives peace of mind. Maybe not to the Flyers but it sure sounds like a good idea. No Matt Read (concussion, imminent return) means the likes of Michael Raffl (12 points on the first line) and Tye McGinn (three goals in eight and a temp job on the second power-play) see their chances to shine. It also allows Sean Couturier (20, over 19 minutes) greater opportunities to grow. Try to recall Steve Downie (zero in eight and a scratch) as a promising overall fantasy option and then quickly forget about it. Don't be fooled by the recent play of Andrej Meszaros (like those three assists last Wednesday), as his better fantasy days are long gone. Be confident in Steve Mason (despite allowing five goals in 40 minutes Saturday), since the alternative - Ray Emery - isn't exactly taking advantage of his chances (two wins in seven starts).

The specter of doom surrounds Minnesota but that hasn't stopped them. Without their top two forwards (Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu) and their breakout goaltender (the all-world Josh Harding), the Wild have introduced an almost never-ending forward supply. All their accumulated young talent is paying off, with Charlie Coyle (four in two), Justin Fontaine (four in three, including a hat-trick), and Jason Zucker (three in six) the newest examples. The Islanders have to be kicking themselves for giving up on Nino Niederreiter (eight in eight). Welcome back, Dany Heatley (five in five). Temper your expectations on Jonathon Blum (17 in 31 while in the AHL), since he's only in there due to injuries.

Like the previous paragraph, the Sharks have lost a lot of personnel of late. And while San Jose doesn't own as many experienced pieces to fill in, that hasn't prevented them from maintaining their strength. Logan Couture (broken hand, out a few weeks) will sorely be missed and Tomas Hertl (knee surgery, maybe a few months away) can still be a fine secondary performer, but the remaining offense still functions properly. Kudos to anyone not in a keeper league or from the Bay Area who heard of Matthew Nieto (four in seven skating on the second line) and Bracken Kearns (four in nine following 18 in 27 with Worcester) before this season. A knock (of the upper-body variety) to Matt Irwin has provided Jason Demers (nine in 11, including four PPPs) with a prime position.

A club's fate should never be dependent on one player. While Alexander Steen (concussion, give him a few more days) does not yet fit in the elite category, his absence hurts the team. But anyone who has followed St. Louis in recent years realizes their superb depth. Vladimir Tarasenko (12 in nine), come on down. Patrik Berglund (five in four with a plus-five) looks natural in an expanded role. Look out for Vladimir Sobotka (11 in nine). Chris Stewart (two goals in eight) may not be the most active skater (between 13-14 minutes) but he should do better. And yes, there's more on the Blues blueline (try saying those two words 10 times fast) as Jordan Leopold (three in four) has shown.