Fantasy hockey draft: Strategy guide to goalies

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There’s no cheating in filling this position on your fantasy roster, not with so many vital categories at stake. For instance, ESPN’s standard game rewards wins, saves, shutouts, and – a key takeaway here – penalizes goals-allowed. To fall back on my evergreen illustration, a goalie who stops 28 of 30 shots in a 4-2 win earns an impressively valuable haul of 5.6 fantasy points. On the fantasy flip side, allowing five goals on 31 shots in a 5-4 loss results in a net of -4.8 points. In just about any form of fantasy hockey competition, there’s no greater potential swing in glory/pain. Not even close.

So in usual summary, ESPN’s ideal fantasy goalie plays/wins most games, while allowing few goals on a good number of shots. The odd shutout is a happy, precious bonus. Those who manage to draft top-tier characters to start and/or fiddle successfully throughout the season, should remain in contention until the end. As the well-worn adage assures, while you may not win it all with good fantasy goaltending, you’re assured to fall short without.

Strategy

As is a perennial habit, this year’s aim is to select my No. 1 fantasy netminder early in standard ESPN leagues. Not before a forward of elite ilk like Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl, but ahead of the next, much larger glut, of only very good fantasy skaters. Headlined by Dallas’s No. 1, my current top three features below. Securing my No. 2 netminder becomes a priority two or three rounds later, when more options are likely to remain available, depending on how the draft unfolds.

Once my one-two goalie duo is secured, I’m more willing to roll the dice in padding my netminding outfit with an underrated mid-tier asset and/or high-ceilinged sleeper. This is when a strong member of a recognized tandem is more likely to catch my attention. These candidates can eventually be replaced, if unfortunately necessary, once the position’s under-radar candidates emerge mid-season, which always happens. But locking in my G1 and G2 early-ish in drafts remains a reasonable priority.

Last bit of advice: Don’t draft goalies on bad teams. Even the good individuals, no matter how tempting. They will break your fantasy heart.

Top-tier goalies I like

Jake Oettinger, Dallas Stars (No. 2 goaltender)

He’s the real deal. After taking full ownership of the Stars’ net, the 24-year-old is set and eager to equal, or even better, his performance/numbers from this past season. Considering those figures amount to a 37-11-11 record and 2.35 GAA – no minor feat. Still doable though. Especially since this Dallas squad may be in even stronger overall shape now, with a nod to the addition of veteran Matt Duchene. That Oettinger was also solid in more limited play in his two previous campaigns also adds to his appeal. Only Linus Ullmark and Alexandar Georgiev amassed more fantasy points for their respective owners in 2022-23. With full respect to that pair, Oettinger is my top goaltending target in fantasy play this fall.

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Mid-tier goalies to target

Jacob Markstrom, Calgary Flames (No. 18 goaltender)

The go-to starter for the Calgary Flames is a good goaltender coming off a lousy year. A freakishly bad campaign, considering it was only the season previous that Markstrom lost the Vezina to Igor Shesterkin. Now there’s a new coach in town in Ryan Huska, along with fresh-faced management, and the scent of revitalization is in the air. While there are some roster kinks to iron out in determining who wants to stay or not, the Flames are still a solid enough hockey team competing, arguably, in the NHL’s weakest division. The recent positive news about contract extension talks with top center Elias Lindholm – a not-dead conversation, apparently – offers a whiff of optimism on that front. I would happily invite Markstrom onto my fantasy squad as a No. 2 in deeper leagues or No. 3 in more shallow competition.

Joonas Korpisalo, Ottawa Senators (No. 21 goaltender)

If the confidence shown in Korpisalo by way of his five-year, $20-million deal doesn’t sway you, knowing the ever-improving Senators are an even better club this year might. To start, Vladimir Tarasenko is aboard, Josh Norris is healthy, Jakob Chychrun is more accustomed to playing in Ottawa, and Jake Sanderson is about to show us all what he’s really got. In the final year of his twenties, this is the former Blue Jacket’s ripe chance to prove he has the chops to be a top-tier No. 1 in the NHL. We got a taste of what Korpisalo is truly capable with a more quality club in Los Angeles to wrap up last year, and he looked splendid (7-3-1, 2.13 GAA, .921 SV%).

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Key sleepers

Devon Levi, Buffalo Sabres (No. 28 goaltender)

I buy the premature hype. Sure, he’s only 21, and making the jump from college to the NHL is often riddled with challenging hurdles, and a limited seven-game resume is difficult to judge, but this young lad has me convinced he’s ready to give it a good go. Beyond bright and incredibly determined, Levi is working his caboose off this summer with the focussed goal of making the Sabres right out of camp. Hardly a guarantee with Eric Comrie and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen also in the netminder mix, but not out of the realm of the possible either. I’m all over taking a swing with this sleeper as part of a Buffalo club headed in the right direction.

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Pheonix Copley, Los Angeles Kings (No. 30 goaltender)

Rock steady in the crease for the Kings through 2022-23, Copley helped the team win games to the tune of 24-6-3. That’s the gig; winning more often than not. Now with Jonathan Quick in New York, Korpisalo sporting a Senators’ sweater, and Cal Petersen in Philly, Copley need only realistically fend off Ottawa export Cam Talbot for starts in L.A.’s crease. I like his chances. I also appreciate the current makeup of this Todd McLellan’s club, playing in the Pacific, including new center Pierre-Luc Dubois, semi-new defender Vladislav Gavrikov, and up-and-comer Brandt Clarke. I’ll take Copley as a fantasy sleeper at any given opportunity.

Late-round picks to consider

Laurent Brossoit, Winnipeg Jets (No. 62 goaltender)

First of all, the Jets could very well trade Connor Hellebuyck out of Winnipeg mid-season, before their current No. 1 becomes a free agent next summer. If the relationship has truly dissolved, it serves as a much better route than coming away with nothing. Then there’s Brossoit’s own performance to consider, which was considerably better than average, albeit in reduced play, for Vegas this past run. The element of Winnipeg familiarity for the once-again-Jet doesn’t hurt either. Also, I don’t feel this club, with new additions from L.A. and a healthy-again Cole Perfetti, is in bad shape at all. Even with a good number of variables to consider, through the fantasy lens, Brossoit should be ranked much higher.

Avoid in drafts at current value

Linus Ullmark, Boston Bruins (No. 7 goaltender)

As an invested fantasy manager, unicorn seasons make me uncomfortable. Which is precisely what we just experienced from Ullmark and the Bruins as a collective. Even with Patrice Bergeron (retired) and David Krejci (also retired) still on board, there’s no chance Boston wins 65 games – or even nears that number – for a second straight season. And after a hearty handful of only solid enough campaigns in the NHL, Ullmark’s own atypical showing feels too outstanding to equal. Plus, tandem partner Jeremy Swayman wants to play too. I’m not suggesting you don’t invest in the reigning Vezina winner at all – he’s unquestionably one of the league’s best – just don’t leap out of the fantasy blocks too early.

Vitek Vanecek, New Jersey Devils (No. 12 goaltender)

There’s no reason to believe Akira Schmid won’t start 35 – 40 games for the Devils this season, if not more. The better of New Jersey’s two netminders in 2022-23, Schmid (a sleeper favorite of mine) impressed fans the league over before hitting the wall against Carolina in the second round of the postseason. Small sample size (27 NHL games altogether), but that can be expected from any 22-year-old making his true NHL debut. There’s also talk of the Cup-pursuant Devils musing about bringing in a more prolific netminder from outside the organization. Either way, Vanecek doesn’t appeal to me as an early goalie grab in any and all fantasy competition.

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