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Neutral Zone Wrap: Wild Wild Rest

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).

Change. Whether you like it or not, itís bound to happen.

The NHL has undergone numerous modifications over the years, with many resulting in controversy. Not everyone was pleased when the league introduced the red line in 1943 to spur offense. Goalies cried foul in 2005 when equipment restrictions were enacted. Purists were up in arms when the shootout was adopted the same year. And the backlash from the new three-on-three overtime and coachesí challenges can only be matched by fan complaints over concession beer prices.

Like the actual league, your fantasy strategy cannot remain static. Adjust and adapt throughout the season in order to keep up with recent trends and stay ahead of the pack. Donít focus on acquiring the same type of player every time; itís often best to mix and match categories (especially in rotisserie setups). The difference between status quo and moving ahead could be the difference between finishing first and falling out of the money.

Change. Which teams need to use it immediately? Who can wait a little longer? What players will be affected by these moves? Read on and find out.

(Stats as of Monday, Nov. 30)

Itís amazing how quickly the Blackhawks can keep replenishing the corps and continue to excel. Rookie revelation Artemi Panarin, who leads all freshmen with 23 points, and Columbus castoff Artem Anisimov (second on Chicago with 10 goals) have benefited immensely from the Kane Effect. Marian Hossa (six in eight) is beginning to fire his way back into the fold. Inconsistency and a three-game absence due to an upper-body injury have hindered Teuvo Teravainenís development (scoreless in four). Thereís not much chance Brent Seabrook (19 points, eight on the power play) can maintain this pace, but even a 50 percent drop-off would be fine. While it was envisioned Trevor Daley would arrive from Dallas and step into the second scoring spot, reality (five assists in 24) hasnít cooperated.

Without much depth, Ottawa has pleasantly surprised. Questions about effort have always surrounded Bobby Ryan (eight goals, 13 assists), but thereís no denying how much heís currently giving. Perhaps the Sens werenít crazy when they selected Mika Zibanejad (eight in 12) sixth in 2011. Alex Chiasson (four in 23, minus-4, but 21 PIM) is gladly accepting a secondary role now that itís clear his dreams of top billing are highly unlikely to materialize. Either of Cody Ceci (five in 22) or Patrick Wiercioch (three in 18) should at least be providing adequate offense, but Miami RedHawk alum Chris Wideman (three goals in 12 after 61 points last year in Binghamton) could be the one to ultimately fill that requirement.

After an unbelievable early run, the Coyotes settled back to earth, but have now won three straight. Initially, it appeared as if Anthony Duclair (seven in his first six, including a hat trick) would be the alpha young gun, but Max Domi (nine in 11) has surged past his teammate from World Juniors. Veteran leadership and above-average playmaking skills make Antoine Vermette (five in four) valuable in both the real and fantasy worlds. The 22-year old German Tobias Rieder isnít shy about finding the scoresheet (points in six of his last nine). Thereís OEL and then a huge gap on D, but nothing is wrong with Michael Stone (four in four). Itís unlikely Mike Smith (2.81 GAA, .909 save percentage in 18) can ever relive those 2011-12 glory days, but he should at least be solid enough to hold off Anders Lindback (2.58, .911 in eight) for No. 1 duties.

Disappointment and distress have highlighted Minnesotaís November. Zach Parise (knee sprain, missed eight games) has returned from a brief setback, but we may have to wait a bit for him to contribute. Definitely no confidence lost for Thomas Vanek (19 in 22, with six on the PP). A little lull from Jason Zucker (one in seven), but thatís normal for most of the Wild contingent. It seems Nino Niederreiter either shoots the lights out (three goals in first six) or becomes invisible (three in 12). All that hype for Mathew Dumba has led to very little (one assist in 10, averaging under 17 minutes), and that may be completely extinguished with Marco Scandella (three goals, three assists) ready to run again.

Based on the way most predicted Philly would suffer this season, I guess things could be worse. No Flyer forward is dazzling anyone, but quite a few have left poolies wanting. Wait and see where Brayden Schenn (two in nine, scratched in the middle) lands in the lineup before trusting him. Will Matt Read (six in 24, minus-10) ever return to his mediocre ways? A warrior on the ice, Sean Couturier hasnít been able to translate that to goals (two) or assists (three). Shayne Gostisbehere (five in eight, with four on the power play) got a fortunate break, as heís filling in for Mark Streit (sensitive male injury, out another four weeks) on the top man-advantage unit. Steve Mason (2.78 GAA, .911 save percentage in 15) earned a shutout Saturday, but canít be recommended when Michal Neuvirth (2.05, .939 and three shutouts in 11) has been the better netminder.

That concludes the initial trip through all 30 teams. The next couple weeks will look ahead to 2016, including lists of first-half surprises who will slip and underachievers who should recover. Enjoy!