By Jordan Mazzara, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
The 2020-21 NHL rules require teams to carry three goalies at all times, which will inevitably lead to some oddities in roster construction for the 56-game season. Will teams employ a veteran as their No. 3, or will they carry a prospect that isn't NHL ready? These variables are important to keep in mind when drafting your fantasy squad this season. If you miss out on top dogs like Andrei Vasilevskiy, Connor Hellebuyck or even Jordan Binnington — unequivocal starters with unreliable backups — then successfully picking goalies in the middle rounds becomes imperative.
Here are some goaltenders to keep in mind when assembling your virtual roster on draft day…
Braden Holtby, Canucks
Holtby is coming off the worst statistical season of his career, as he registered an .897 save percentage and a 3.11 GAA over 47 starts. Nevertheless, the 31-year-old was rewarded with a two-year, $8.6 million contact by the Canucks to help replace Jacob Markstrom, who left for Calgary in free agency. Holtby's situation in Vancouver with 25-year-old Thatcher Demko waiting in the wings looks similar to the one in Washington when Ilya Samsonov was sitting in reserve. Demko — the No. 36 pick in 2014 — didn't enjoy the immediate NHL success that Ilya Samsonov had in Washington last season. Still, he was sturdy during his first full season in the show, recording a 13-10-2 record and a .905 save percentage. Demko played well in the playoffs against Vegas, too, allowing just two goals on 125 shots over three games. There's a decent chance that coach Travis Greene will deploy a 1A-1B tandem right out of the gate, and if Demko made offseason strides in his development, he could be the preferred option over Holtby.
Who to stash
Kaapo Kahkonen, Wild
Goaltending was a significant impediment for the Wild last season. The team boasted a league-best 1.95 xGA/60 at even strength, per Natural Stat Trick, but the net felt like it was full after three periods more often than not. So, it was even more frustrating when Kahkonen was sent back down after flashing success at the top level; he posted a .913 save percentage and a 3-1-1 record over five starts. After being sent down to AHL Iowa, Kahkonen further established himself as a promising goaltending prospect by compiling a 25-6-3 record, a .927 save percentage and a 2.07 GAA, earning honors as the AHL's most outstanding goaltender. With Devan Dubnyk jettisoned to San Jose and Alex Stalock out indefinitely with an upper-body injury, Kahkonen should have an immediate opportunity with the big club. The No. 1 job is Cam Talbot's to lose after signing a three-year, $11 million contract, but Kahkonen is due for a few starts in the first month of the season and could play his way into more crease time.
Ilya Sorokin, Islanders
Drawing a comparison between Sorokin and Elvis Merzlikins — who was dominant in his first NHL season after an extended career in the Swiss League — is useful. Sorokin dominated the KHL for the past six seasons, recording a .929 save percentage or better in each campaign. The 25-year-old posted nine shutouts in 40 games last year, as well, and he's finally ready to make the NHL leap. The landing spot on Long Island is ideal, as head coach Barry Trotz continuously puts together sound defensive systems. Semyon Varlamov is still a dependable goalie and will start the year as the No. 1, but Sorokin is the Islanders' goalie of the future and will be afforded plenty of opportunities to prove his case. This could shape up as a timeshare by season's end.
Alexandar Georgiev, Rangers
Buying out Henrik Lundqvist would've been taboo in the Big Apple just two years ago. Times have changed, in large part to the respective emergences of Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin. Georgiev is a promising netminder, having accrued a .910 save percentage and a 17-14-2 record last season. Nevertheless, it has become a foregone conclusion that Shesterkin will be the No. 1 goalie in New York after dominating his first NHL season, registering a .932 save percentage and a 10-2-0 record. It's hard to argue with those numbers, but Georgiev is going to get his looks and is only being drafted in 25 percent of Yahoo leagues. As such, he's probably one Shesterkin cold streak away from being the hottest commodity on fantasy waivers.
James Reimer, Hurricanes
Reimer is admittedly an unexciting option. The 32-year-old netminder hasn't surpassed a .914 save percentage in any of the past three seasons, and he'll open 2020-21 as Petr Mrazek's backup. However, Mrazek's inconsistencies in net precede his days in Carolina, and if they surface once again, coach Rod Brind'Amour may have no choice but to grant Reimer a consistent workload in the shortened season. The skaters in front of Reimer provide a fantasy goldmine. The Hurricanes have one of the league's deepest blue lines, headlined by Dougie Hamilton, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. Their forwards are oozing with talent, too, which should help pad Reimer's win column. Carolina has 10 sets of back-to-back games this season, so Reimer is locked into a decent workload even without Mrazek faltering. You can currently nab Reimer in the late 14th round in Yahoo Leagues, compared to the eighth for Mrazek.
MacKenzie Blackwood, Devils
Corey Crawford's arrival in New Jersey has sent Blackwood's draft stock tumbling; Blackwood is being taken at 178 overall in Yahoo Leagues, while Crawford is being scooped up a few spots ahead of him. Crawford's two-year, $7.8 million contract is a reasonable concern relative to Blackwood's workload, but there's little evidence that Crawford's the better goalie at this stage of his career, and the veteran carries a documented injury history. Blackwood's .915 save percentage last year is just low enough to stave off a preseason hype train, but a deeper dive suggests that the then 23-year-old made considerable improvements throughout the season. The Ontario native started the year with a 14-12-6 record and a .907 save percentage before suffering an upper-body injury in early January. He was dominant upon return to the lineup, posting an 8-2-2 record and a .936 mark before the league's pause of play. In those last 12 outings, the Devils provided enough offensive support to cushion Blackwood's poor outings, as well, averaging 3.25 goals per game. The Devils should take another step forward in their development this year, and they acquired Ryan Murray to bolster their blue line. All told, it wouldn't be surprising for Blackwood to push for 35-40 starts, enjoying success along the way.
Tuukka Rask & Jaroslav Halak, Bruins
The two netminders switched off in the net for the better part of the 2019-20 season, and both produced intriguing numbers in that format. Rask finished with a .929 save percentage and a 26-8-6 record, while Halak recorded a .919 mark and an 18-6-6 record. Rask is 33 and Halak is 35, and keeping the pair fresh for each game paid dividends last year, so it would only seem logical for head coach Bruce Cassidy to deploy his goalies in a similar fashion in a condensed 56-game 2021 schedule. If there were ever a situation to grab both netminders from a single NHL team for your virtual squad, this would be it.
Philipp Grubauer & Pavel Francouz, Avalanche
Francouz's postseason unraveling is still top of mind, but we can't discount what he did during his first NHL regular season (.923 save percentage, 21-7-4 record). He signed a two-year contract extension in February, and he figures to share the crease with Grubauer, who is on the last year of his deal. This should quickly transpire into a "hot-hand" situation. Colorado's offensive firepower makes both goalies appealing, but it's tough to decipher who has the edge.