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Neutral Zone Wrap: Better Get Youth To It

Evan Berofsky

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Struggling clubs have historically employed youth with greater frequency when they know the playoffs are out of reach. But it seems as if more teams nowadays have copied the same approach regardless of record. It's almost as if they realize that capable bodies and fresh legs late in the season will provide energy and allow workhorses to rest a little bit. Logic is a funny thing when it actually makes sense.

To follow last week's projected duds from here on in, here are their useful compatriots. Give any of these guys a try for the remainder of the season; you're guaranteed to do well*. It's no coincidence all are under the age of 30. We've even highlighted a couple teenagers for good measure.

(*WARNING: Guarantee not guaranteed.)

(NOTE: No goaltenders will be included due to the fact no repeat past recommendations are allowed and any remaining candidates don't exactly fit the criteria.)

Raphael Diaz, D, Vancouver

It's easy to get lost in Montreal when you're stuck behind the likes of P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov. Just ask Diaz, who looked to have set his career in motion during 2012-13 (14 points in 23 games, including eight power-play assists) before a concussion halted progress. The Habs deemed the Swiss blueliner expendable following a few healthy scratches and shipped him out West. Since arriving, Diaz made an immediate impact (scored and skated 25 minutes in his debut) and looks to have solidified a spot in the top-four D rotation. When he returns from the Olympics, expect him to continue on one of Vancouver's dangerous power-play units.

Lars Eller, F, Montreal

Eller's breakthrough last season (30 in 46) has hit a roadblock. The minutes may have increased (almost 17), but the numbers (including one in his last 17) have fallen off. An experiment on the wing produced negligible results (nothing in eight). Being third-line center isn't necessarily a hindrance, especially for someone with the talent and size to succeed. And Eller is still only 24, so his game is bound to mature in the near future. While it's a shame Denmark didn't qualify for Sochi, the kid should be able to use this free time to reenergize his body and strengthen his mind.

Dougie Hamilton, D, Boston

Don't blame Dougie for the seasonal slump (went 11 straight scoreless in November), with Torey Krug occupying the other coveted point on the Bruins' seventh-ranked power-play. A knee injury and a concussion - along with the rigors of a full season - have also played their part. However, since returning from the latter ailment, Hamilton has recovered his offensive touch (four in eight). With Boston competing for a top conference spot, it appears as though the now-healthy former Niagara IceDogs All-Star is being handed more responsibilities. And that can only enhance his value.

Elias Lindholm, F, Carolina

With only two senior-level years under his belt, it wasn't expected that an 18-year old would crack the Hurricanes roster out of training camp. Lindholm more than exceeded expectations and was ready to go from Day 1. Unfortunately, the fifth selection last summer was only given spot duty (amassing seven in 21 while barely averaging 10 minutes), so his skills were better served in the AHL (three in six) and for Sweden at the WJHC (nine in six). Since being recalled in early January, Lindholm has grown into his expanded role (over 15 a night) and now apprentices under Jordan Staal on the second line and with older brother Eric on special teams.

Tomas Tatar, F, Detroit

The Detroit days of veterans leading the way may be over. While all of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel Alfredsson, and Johan Franzen have gone down for a significant portion in recent months, the next generation of Red Wings looks to be ready to handle the heavy load. Among them is Tatar, a Slovakian winger who earned himself MVP honors (21 in 24, including 16 goals) to help Grand Rapids take the 2013 Calder Cup. Gustav Nyquist may be producing at a healthy rate (24 in 33) and Tomas Jurco may serve as the flashy forward (three highlight goals in 19), but Tatar (seven in 18) should also enter the conversation if you are looking for a long-term prospect who can also be of service right now.

(Honorable mention: Cory Conacher, F, Ottawa; Sean Couturier, F, Philadelphia; Seth Jones, D, Nashville; Jamie McGinn, F, Colorado; Kris Versteeg, F, Chicago)