Fantasy hockey goalie preview: How early do you take Vasilevskiy, Binnington?

Don't forget last year's other breakout rookie, Carter Hart. Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

It's nearly unfair how much responsibility these particular figures shoulder in most conventional leagues: two or three individuals stuck carrying the weight of four or more categories all on their own. And while competent goaltending hardly guarantees success, poor play in net most certainly ensures months of fantasy misery. Again, it hardly feels reasonable.

That said, in examining this year's crop of contenders, there's little justification in blowing a high draft pick (one singular exception outlined below) to fill the position. Unless your league is exceptionally large, sufficient goaltending talent should be available in the fourth round and beyond. This year, I'll target a proven performer with a quality team near that stage, then grab an underrated mid-tier player a bit later, followed by a potential sleeper with a high ceiling before it all wraps up. That approach usually works out, especially when also keeping a close view of potential breakout acts - i.e. Jordan Binnington - throughout the season.

Top-tier goalies I like

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning (No. 32 overall, No. 2 goaltender)

From my perch, there's the No. 1 netminder for the best regular-season (ahem) team in the NHL and then there's everyone else. Enjoying his finest campaign to date in 2018-19, despite sitting out a month with a broken foot, Vasilevskiy suffered only 10 regulation losses through 53 appearances, all the while posting a 2.40 save-percentage and .925 goals-against average. Fantasy managers intent on securing an elite netminder in a draft's earliest stages should turn to the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, and only him, otherwise wait it out a bit.

Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues (No. 90 overall, No. 8 goaltender)

It's true, he only competed in 32 regular-season games in his first legit NHL campaign. But then the 26-year-old battled through another 26 grueling postseason contests on route to winning the Stanley Cup. By my arithmetic, that adds up to 58 appearances through fewer than six months. One of 2018-19's greatest fantasy surprises, Binnington outwardly sports the emotional fortitude and unabashed confidence to impress us all over again. Again, between the pipes for a Stanley Cup-winning Blues team largely unaltered since their triumphant run.

Mid-tier goalies to target

Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs (No. 127 overall, No. 13 goaltender)

Since traipsing over to Toronto in 2016, Andersen has averaged 64 regular-season games a year, with only 17 annual counting as regulation losses. And the already daunting Maple Leafs appear in their best shape yet, heading into 2019-20. There's only a small handful of fantasy netminders I would select ahead of Andersen. Three, maybe four, tops.

Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers (No. 158 overall, No. 16 goaltender)

As with Binnington, I'm a believer in Hart despite his limited sample size of NHL-level work. The analytics-driven crowd will hate this take, but Hart passes the eye test with flying colors. I watched this kid a fair bit this past season, before then as a junior standout, and he genuinely looks like a netminding star in the making. Unless the 21-year-old flounders consistently, veteran backup Brian Elliott isn't likely to see action on the regular. Plus, the fresh crew of bench bosses, led by head coach Alain Vigneault, is reportedly focussed on bolstering the Flyers defensively. Which also helps.

Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals (No. 219 overall, No. 21 goaltender)

Holtby is a proven work horse, competing for a club - Stanley Cup champs only a year ago - that remains favored to contend for a playoff spot. He'll play 60 games, win most of them, all the while posting a fully respectable goals-against average and admirable save-percentage. While content enough to roll him out as my No. 1, I would be thrilled - ecstatic, really - to roster him as my fantasy No. 2.

See also: John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks (No. 110 overall, No. 12 goaltender), Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets (No. 176 overall, No. 19 goaltender)

Key sleeper

Carter Hutton, Buffalo Sabres (No. 278 overall, No. 33 goaltender)

As first reported by the Buffalo News, Hutton is super-jazzed to be working with new goalies coach Mike Bales. Small wonder, after what Bales accomplished with Curtis McElhinney and Petr Mrazek in Carolina this past season. And while the Sabres aren't there yet, they're moving in the right direction, and are reportedly thrilled to play for new head coach Ralph Krueger (the offseason acquisition of defenseman Colin Miller strikes as another positive). Just one year removed from a stellar, if limited, showing in St. Louis, Hutton screams sleeper to me this fall.

Late-round picks to consider

Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks (No. 271 overall, No. 26 goaltender)

Somehow the No. 1 netminder for the perceivably better Canucks ranks lower than a handful of potential back-ups, tandem colleagues, or starting netminders for seemingly weaker teams. It's even more puzzling, given that Markstrom was pretty good last season, posting a 2.77 goals-against average and .912 save-percentage in winning more games than he lost, when his club was lesser than they are now. So I'm selecting Vancouver's starter well ahead of both goalies with the not-there-yet Coyotes, and Jimmy Howard of the rebuilding Red Wings, all of whom rank higher .

Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers (No. 274 overall, No. 29 goaltender)

With forward Artemi Panarin, rookie Kaapo Kakko and defenseman Jacob Trouba joining ranks this offseason, the Rangers will properly contend for a playoff spot this season, just watch. Which bodes well for one of the better netminders of the past 15 years. Yes, he's 37, and sure, his finest years are in the rear-view, but Lundqvist also appears sternly determined to make amends for last year's inconsistent play. I think there's enough in the tank for another solid campaign or two. If available late, this fiercely competitive veteran more than merits fantasy consideration.

Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils (No. 275 overall, No. 30 goaltender)

Post-Valentine's Day, Schneider was more than competent in wrapping up an otherwise disappointing 2018-19, first delayed by offseason hip surgery, then later disturbed by a serious abdominal strain. The veteran also proved individually proficient in representing the United States in six spring appearances at the World Championship, posting a 2.49 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. Back to full health, Schneider is expected to earn the initial nod over MacKenzie Blackwood to start for a Devils squad significantly improved through several offseason acquisitions, including defenseman P.K. Subban, No. 1 draft pick Jack Hughes, and KHL export Nikita Gusev. I anticipate a solid bounce-back campaign from the 2016 All-Star, who should serve handsomely as a No. 2 or 3 fantasy netminder in most leagues.

Avoid in drafts at current value

Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars (No. 26 overall, No. 1 goaltender)

Workload is mostly at issue here. After appearing in 46 games this past regular season, and with competent back-up Anton Khudobin hovering about, Bishop doesn't comfortably deserve squatting a-top the fantasy goaltending heap - certainly not ahead of Tampa's aforementioned star netminder. Top-10, maybe, but not No. 1 overall. It's also difficult to count on the 32-year-old nearing his recent league-leading .934 save-percentage after posting .916 with the Stars only one season earlier.

Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders (No. 67 overall, No. 6 goaltender)

Although I appreciate the hook-up with goalie guru Mitch Korn in Long Island, workload is again a concern. Varlamov won't see more than 45 starts, if Thomas Greiss has anything to say about it. Comeback kid Robin Lehner absolutely sparkled crease for the Isles in 2018-19, and was still forced to split time with Greiss. At this stage, the ex-Avs netminder portends to serve as a sturdy No. 2 fantasy goalie in most leagues, not your preeminent option.

Antti Raanta, Arizona Coyotes (No. 133 overall, No. 14 goaltender)

There's an excellent chance Darcy Kuemper, not Raanta, shoulders the weight between the pipes in Arizona, as was the case this past season. Remember, Kuemper was really good, surprisingly so, through most of 2018-19. Otherwise, coach Rick Tocchet could divvy up the load rather evenly within one of the league's more obvious tandem teams. Which is hardly ideal from a fantasy standpoint. As such, there are more appealing options outside the Coyotes' crease.

See also: Petr Mrazek, Carolina Hurricanes (No. 92 overall, No. 9 goaltender)