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When drafting your fantasy team, oftentimes the most difficult position to figure out is goaltender. There have only been a few netminders whom you could rely on over the past few years (Andrei Vasilevskiy and Connor Hellebuyck), and even last season, Hellebuyck was a disappointment, especially considering he was generally selected in the first or second round of fantasy drafts, as he struggled through a good portion of the season.
Last year's breakout goaltender was Igor Shesterkin, who finished third in the Hart Trophy race behind Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid, despite slumping the last quarter of the campaign. His start to the 2021-22 season was so outstanding that he was the favorite for the Hart heading into the month of March.
While Shesterkin and Vasilevskiy should be considered surefire first-round picks in most hockey pools this year, there are a few breakout candidates who should be considered later in drafts (some much later).
Ilya Samsonov, Toronto Maple Leafs
Samsonov gets a change of scenery moving from Washington to Toronto as the Capitals did not give the young netminder a qualifying offer. Samsonov has struggled over the last two seasons with his GAA and save percentage, but not with his record. He was 13-4-1 with a 2.69 GAA and a .902 save percentage in 2020-21 and fell even further in 2021-22 when he was 23-12-5 with a 3.02 GAA and an .896 save percentage. He'll battle Matt Murray for starts to begin the NHL campaign with the Maple Leafs but Samsonov's only 25 and was a first-round pick (22nd overall) in 2015, so there is some pedigree here.
Toronto has a stronger team than Washington and has a better defense than the Capitals with Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, T.J. Brodie and Mark Giordano leading the way. If Samsonov is able to grab the starter's job with the Maple Leafs, he should end up as a top-10 goalie, especially when accounting for wins.
Vitek Vanecek, New Jersey Devils
Washington parted ways with both of their goaltenders from last season with Samsonov now with Toronto and Vanecek moving to New Jersey. Vanecek had a tough campaign last year, as he was taken by Seattle in the expansion draft from Washington, but then found himself back with the Capitals after the Kraken inked Philipp Grubauer as a free agent. Vanecek was 20-12-6 during the regular season with a 2.67 GAA and a .908 save percentage, but he was dealt to the Devils when Washington signed Darcy Kuemper as a free agent.
Vanecek has been a solid NHL goaltender through his two seasons thus far — he's gone 41-22-10 with a 2.68 GAA and a .908 save percentage with a good Washington team. The move to the Devils will see him battle Mackenzie Blackwood, who struggled with a heel injury last season missing over three months, for playing time. Vanecek would seem to be in line for the top job due to his better play with the Capitals, and with New Jersey expected to make a big leap forward with a healthy Jack Hughes and a newly-signed Ondrej Palat on the top line, Vanecek could make a big leap forward.
Spencer Knight, Florida Panthers
Knight was regarded as the Panthers' goaltender of the future when drafted 13th overall in 2019, and that didn't change in 2020-21 when he made his NHL debut, going a perfect 4-0-0 in the regular season and then starting Games 5 and 6 against Tampa Bay in the team's first-round playoff loss. However, Knight got off to a rough start last season and was finally sent to the minors in early February after going 9-6-2 for a strong Panthers team. He regained his confidence and went 10-3-1 the rest of the way once he returned to the NHL on Mar. 7.
While Sergei Bobrovsky was the starter for most of the campaign, Bob faltered in the latter stages of the season and could not win a single contest in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Look for Knight to take on a more prominent role for Florida this season, and don't be surprised if the youngster ends up as the No. 1 goaltender for the Panthers in 2022-23.
Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders
Sorokin was outstanding last season, but it was hard to notice with the Islanders having a terrible year and missing the playoffs after going to the Eastern Conference Finals in each of the previous two campaigns. Sorokin went 26-18-8 with a 2.40 GAA and a .925 save percentage as well as seven shutouts. His GAA was fourth-best in the NHL, while his save percentage was second-best among goaltenders who qualified. He was outstanding, relegating Semyon Varlamov to a backup role for the Isles. Sorokin has always been highly touted and with the Islanders expected to improve dramatically this season (don't forget, they opened the 2021-22 season with 13 straight road games as their new arena was being finished), his win total should go up, and he should maintain his outstanding peripheral stats as well.
Alexandar Georgiev, Colorado Avalanche
After serving as a backup to Igor Shesterkin with the Rangers over the past few campaigns, Georgiev will get a new home in Colorado with the defending Stanley Cup Champions in 2022-23. Georgiev is slated to be the starter for the Avalanche — his competition for the job is the oft-injured Pavel Francouz. Georgiev has shown brilliance at times in his NHL career and while he has also floundered on occasion, the Bulgarian netminder is poised for a big season in 2022-23. Wins should come easy playing for Colorado and the big question is whether or not he'll be able to improve his GAA as well as his save percentage, something that will help him become a bonafide breakout goaltender this year.
Two seasons ago, Philipp Grubauer was the starter in Colorado, and he posted a 30-9-1 record with a scintillating 1.95 GAA and .922 save percentage. Last year, Darcy Kuemper took the reins in the Avalanche cage and went 37-12-4 with a 2.54 GAA and a .921 save percentage while leading the Avalanche to the Stanley Cup. Georgiev sported a 15-10-2 record with the Rangers last season, posting a 2.92 GAA and an .898 save percentage. He's poised to emerge as the biggest breakout goaltender of 2022-23 largely because Colorado is the best team in the Western Conference — and arguably the NHL.