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Neutral Zone Wrap: A Winning Hab-it

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 eberofsky@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter (@evanberofsky).

Welcome back to the Wrap. The column returns to its usual format of highlighting players from five teams, but don't be surprised if a special list pops up every month or so. Because it's nice to see something different. And, well, y'all deserve it.

Most of the big names will only be included to prove a point. They should already be known, so your focus should be directed toward the remaining fantasy-worthy folks. Which is where the following information comes into play.

This week, let's look at a few clubs who have either impressed out of the gate or have struggled to find their form. See if you can tell the difference:

Montreal Canadiens

When you possess the most otherworldly netminder since The Dominator, then it shouldn't surprise anyone to end up undefeated through six. But there's more to the Habs' success than Carey Price (1.20 GAA, .957 SV% in five starts). The offense (averaging 3.33 goals per game) is sufficiently supplemented by Alex Galchenyuk (goal, four assists). Even with less ice time (13:35 as the third center), David Desharnais (five) still finds a way to make it work. Training camp holdover Tomas Fleischmann (two goals, assist) has filled in nicely. There's promise in Lars Eller (two goals), though more was expected of Alexander Semin (two). He may be lost behind two above-average blueliners, but Jeff Petry (two, both on the power-play) can help in deeper leagues.

Vancouver Canucks

Many, including myself, wrote off Vancouver as a pushover heading into the season. It's still early, but the Canucks (at 3-1-2) have displayed enough hustle and creativity to provide tough opposition. Brandon Sutter (five) was appointed the first third wheel to the Sedins and that has vaulted the ex-Pen to the top of the scoring charts. Jannik Hansen (goal, three assists) has now claimed that honor, a role with which he's familiar. Bo Horvat (PPG, ~17 minutes), a 2013 first-round pick, is slowly getting his feet wet, pairing with Calgary castoff Sven Baertschi (two assists). Alexander Edler (goal, assist, eight PIM) will always be the alpha but Ben Hutton (league rookie leader with three assists) can be a believable beta.

Winnipeg Jets

If the Jets didn't play in the Central, we would be discussing their chances at a division title. Third-year pro Mark Scheifele (four, three goals) and hotshot freshman Nikolaj Ehlers (four, including two PPP) make quite the tandem. Mathieu Perreault (five, 10 PIM) rounds out the trio, but also gets a look on the first man advantage (three there). A short stint overseas seems to have rounded out Alex Burmistrov's game (goal, assist). Ondrej Pavelec (2.52 GAA, .926 SV% in four) has looked solid, but Michael Hutchinson (1.00 GAA, .968 SV% in two) is lurking and will undoubtedly pick off a good number of starts.

New Jersey Devils

Don't be fooled by the Devils because they still suck even after breaking their duck against the Rangers on Sunday. One will never be in awe what either Adam Henrique or Michael Cammalleri (both at four) will be able to do in Jersey. Ooh, look, there's former 28-goal man Lee Stempniak (three, six PIM). Kyle Palmieri (PPG, assist) hasn't been terrible, but there's enough time to correct that. The only defenseman worth owning is Damon Severson (two, 3:07 as the PP QB), though John Moore (nothing in four) might eventually enter the conversation.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Pinpointing one deficiency in Columbus becomes futile since all areas appear awful. At least the offense (13 goals in six) has been thinly spread among top two-plus lines, so newcomer Brandon Saad (three goals, assist) and injury returnee Boone Jenner (three goals) receive passing fantasy grades. David Savard (two, minus-8) has regressed while Jack Johnson (goal, minus-8) is beginning to fall off the tracks. And when a former Vezina winner like Sergei Bobrovsky (0-5, 5.07 GAA, .835 SV%) is publicly questioning his performance, maybe it's time to run with Curtis McElhinney (he of 131 NHL starts in eight seasons) for a while.