Much like in the NHL, goaltending can make or break a fantasy hockey season. There’s a premium on difference-makers between the pipes and, with that in mind, we’re going to identify some netminding options to target and avoid leading up to your drafts.
We omitted some obvious choices – the Andrei Vasilevskiys and Igor Shesterkins of the world, among others – because it goes without saying that rostering top-calibre goaltenders is an obvious recipe for success.
Jake Oettinger, Stars 🎯
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Oettinger has been a hidden gem for the past two fantasy seasons, but his highly impressive resume makes him one of the top up-and-coming goaltenders in the NHL. Although the 24-year-old is much more well-known than he was a year ago, he still falls behind the league’s veteran superstars in most rankings. If the usual suspects go off the board in the opening rounds of your draft, make Oettinger your first goalie pick and reap the benefits throughout the season.
On top of respectable raw stats – he posted 37 wins, a .919 save percentage, a 2.37 goals against average (GAA), and five shutouts en route to finishing fifth in Vezina voting last season – Oettinger’s situation as Dallas’ No. 1 is highly attractive. The Stars are bonafide Stanley Cup contenders and play in a Central Division that, outside of the Colorado Avalanche, lacks firepower. Oettinger went 13-2-3 with a .927 clip within his division in 2022-23 and should replicate his success this season as one of the most dependable goaltenders in the league.
Linus Ullmark, Bruins ❌
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There isn’t a clearer regression candidate in the entire league. We aren’t suggesting Ullmark suddenly isn’t a quality goalie anymore, but it will be virtually impossible for him to improve on his Vezina-winning season. The Bruins’ stalwart led the league in wins, save percentage, GAA, and goals saved above average to backstop a record-setting Boston squad in 2022-23, but we’re admittedly frightened at what the wholesale changes in Beantown might do to Ullmark’s fantasy stock.
The Bruins lost a ton of talent throughout the roster, and it remains to be seen how difficult life in the post-Patrice Bergeron era will be. Boston tends to prove naysayers wrong, but a step back after the best regular season in league history is all but guaranteed. Just how far the Bruins fall in a deep Atlantic Division is the million-dollar question, and the uncertainty makes Ullmark a significant gamble this fantasy season.
Ullmark’s rocky playoff against the Florida Panthers is also cause for concern. And backup Jeremy Swayman is likely as motivated as ever to take the No. 1 role after going through arbitration this summer.
Filip Gustavsson, Wild 🎯
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Gustavsson wrangled Minnesota’s starting gig from future Hall of Famer Marc-Andre Fleury last season and is the Wild’s no-doubt No. 1 heading into 2023-24. The club rewarded the Swede’s strong campaign – which included a .931 save percentage – with a three-year contract this summer, and the 25-year-old is certainly a player to watch.
His small sample size may scare some fantasy managers away, but Gustavsson proved he’s a legitimate game-changer last season with 31.3 goals saved above average in only 39 games, a total that trailed only Ullmark and New York Islanders superstar Ilya Sorokin. Gustavsson was a primary reason Minnesota reached the playoffs this past spring and should be again as the Wild have the inside track on the third seed in the Central. Taking Gustavsson in the middle of your draft, or in the later rounds if you’re lucky enough to tandem him with another No. 1, is a surefire way to get an upper hand.
Sergei Bobrovsky, Panthers ❌
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Bobrovsky made the hockey world take notice with a Herculean playoff run this past spring, but the veteran’s magical performance fell three wins shy of the Stanley Cup and we reckon it won’t carry into the 2023-24 campaign. The Panthers’ netminder posted a .935 clip in the first three rounds of Florida’s surprise effort, then an extended break before the final seemed to crater Bobrovsky’s momentum as he went 1-4 with an .844 save percentage against the Vegas Golden Knights.
That playoff run surely took a ton out of the 34-year-old, and he’s much more likely to perform near the .905 save percentage he’s mustered through four seasons in Florida than at the level he performed at in the postseason. Making matters worse, the Panthers will likely be without Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour for the early stages of the year. Although Bobrovsky showed flashes of his old two-time Vezina-winning self in the playoffs, we don’t feel he’s a safe bet as a fantasy starter entering his 14th NHL campaign.
Devon Levi, Sabres 🎯
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Levi shouldn’t be an early-round target in your drafts this fall but he should be at the top of every manager’s mind later on – especially in keeper leagues. The 21-year-old is one of the top goaltending prospects in the world and the up-and-coming Sabres didn’t bring in any veterans to stand in Levi’s way between the pipes.
He only made seven appearances as a rookie last season, going 5-2 with a modest .905 save percentage. However, Levi’s sterling collegiate and international careers made him a can’t-miss prospect for a reason, as he’s shown all the tools to become a quality NHL starter in short order. It’s safe to expect a learning curve – as is often the case with young netminders – but drafting Levi this season has scintillating upside potential.
Darcy Kuemper, Capitals ❌
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Kuemper‘s been a sought-after commodity in fantasy for several seasons, but a rocky debut campaign in D.C. made him a red flag for 2023-24. He registered an .898 save percentage across his final 25 appearances last season, and the Capitals are trending in the wrong direction in a top-heavy Metropolitan Division. Despite hiring a new, offensive-minded coach in Spencer Carbery, the Caps’ roster simply doesn’t appear to have enough support outside of Alex Ovechkin to make Kuemper worth drafting high.
The 33-year-old won only nine of 21 divisional matchups last year, and the Hurricanes, Devils, and Penguins all made big-ticket offseason moves to get deeper. Washington seems to be stuck in the middle of wild-card contention and rebuilding and, while injuries were a big issue for the club in 2022-23, the Caps hardly addressed last year’s weaknesses over the summer. Kuemper has long been one of the most talented goalies in the NHL, but the roster turmoil surrounding him makes him a pass for us this year.
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