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Fantasy hockey: Super-early goalie assessment

The Flyers' Carter Hart is off to an impressive start. Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

First impressions are funny. While often providing a realistic hint of what's to come, they also tend to inspire frenzied and unrealistic expectations. For instance, the currently faultless Carolina Hurricanes, a perfect 4-0, will obviously win 70 games this year. However early though, it never hurts to gauge how certain fantasy-relevant figures, and in some cases their respective coaches, are managing the start of a fresh season. In this case, at the goaltender position. They may not have topped everyone's do-draft list above elite fantasy heavyweights, yet the following are still launching 2019-20 very much the right way.


Cream of the crop

Jordan Binnington (rostered in 96.5 percent of ESPN.com leagues): It already feels silly to have worried, however slightly, about a potential Stanley Cup hangover and/or sophomore slump badgering this unflappable netminding machine. Off and running, Binnington is already boasting a pair of wins, .928 SV% and 2.30 GAA, including a victory in front of 50 family members and friends near his hometown of Richmond Hill -- his first Toronto visit as an NHLer. Like I said, stone cold. And he's going to play a ton. Pat yourself on the back if you had the foresight to draft this 26-year-old instead of those more established.

John Gibson (82.1 percent): So far, so good under new coach Dallas Eakins as the Ducks are off to a 3-0 start, outscoring their opponents 8-3. While hardly an offensive onslaught, that pace still betters last year's bottom-barrel rate of 2.39 goals per game. And no goalie deserves the improved support more than Gibson. If Eakins keeps his promise of allowing more freedom on offense, and the slew of gifted kids adapt sooner-than-later, one of the league's finest goaltenders -- still only 26 years old -- could be in for an outstanding year. Barring injury, No. 2 Ryan Miller won't see much action at all.

Carter Hart (75.8 percent): Two games in and Hart has already banked a shutout, the first of his NHL career. Viewers of Wednesday's 4-0 victory over the Devils -- that save on Taylor Hall, my goodness -- will assure you the 21-year-old sophomore is confident and utterly zoned in to launch 2019-20. All goes well, and backup Brian Elliott may not play 20 games this year. Plus, the Flyers are better with Kevin Hayes aboard and seem to enjoy competing for new head coach Alain Vigneault. If somehow Hart is available in your ESPN.com league, scoop him up asap.

Troublesome tandems?

Semyon Varlamov (84.6 percent)/Thomas Greiss (54.0 percent): No question, coach Barry Trotz will coldly ride the hotter netminder, regardless of perceived pecking order. Right now, after falling victim to James Neal's scoring party Tuesday, Varlamov stands on wobblier ground. Especially after Greiss nearly shut out the Jets two days earlier. Remember, while Robin Lehner received the bulk of press this past season, and rightly so, the Isles' other goaltender was nearly as impressive, posting a .927 SV% and 2.28 GAA through 43 appearances. And Varlamov has battled injury issues on the regular. Managers unsatisfied with their lot in net, plus Daily Fantasy competitors, should keep a close view of how it shuffles out under Trotz' watch. Greiss could be a sneaky-good asset this year.

Antti Raanta (58.5 percent)/Darcy Kuemper (35.2 percent): I get it, people are rooting for Raanta -- good goaltender (see: 2017-18), even greater guy. But he's prone to injury. After appearing in only 12 contests all last year, the 30-year-old is due back this weekend, having missed the first bit with a lower-body injury suffered this preseason. Meanwhile, following last year's impressive personal campaign -- .925 SV%, 2.33 GAA -- Kuemper is again trying his best to keep the Coyotes competitive, allowing only three goals on 55 shots. So I don't really get it. If anything, handcuff this tandem, for when Raanta inevitably falls hurt again, and hope the 'Yotes start scoring.

Robin Lehner (34.2 percent)/Corey Crawford (14.9 percent): After only one overseas contest, it's impossible to seize a truly telling grip on the netminding scene in Chicago. However, following that 4-3 loss to the Flyers, it's interesting to note that coach Jeremy Colliton is looking to engage Crawford once again -- not Lehner -- in the follow-up home opener. Fantasy managers in favor of jumping to radical conclusions might then suppose the starting gig is Crawford's to lose. And why not? It's his team, and the 34-year-old finally seems in decent health after two years of battling concussion-related and other physical issues. He may be worth a fantasy flier early.

Backups worth watching

Jaroslav Halak (23.4 percent): By pitching a shutout against the Coyotes in his only start to date, Boston's No. 2 is picking up right where he left off after last year's admirable campaign. It seems the only impediment standing between Halak and full goaltending glory is a certain Bruins starting netminder named Tuukka Rask. Remember that, in case Rask should unfortunately fall hurt. Halak posted .922 SV% and 2.34 GAA through 40 appearances in 2018-19.

Alexandar Georgiev (6.4 percent): A tempting DFS asset for now, Georgiev could wriggle his way into conventional league relevance if No. 1 Henrik Lundqvist sees the concerted dip in action many expect. Following last year's promising, if inconsistent, campaign, the 23-year-old is off to a good start, allowing one goal on 32 shots in Saturday's win over the Senators. Premature, sure, but I like this guy a lot as a potent second-half fantasy asset.

James Reimer (3.8 percent): Filling in beautifully for a departed Curtis McElhinney, Reimer is quickly wooing the Raleigh hockey crowd with a pair of wins and .940 SV%. Of course, the 31-year-old has been around the league long enough for us to know he's good for a few striking blow-up showings, but maybe fewer than usual in Carolina. If so, Petr Mrazek (86.3% rostered) is in danger of seeing fewer starts himself. And DFSers should definitely jump all over Reimer when he's hot.

Dark horses

David Rittich (53.5 percent): Calgary's No. 1 recorded his first shutout of the season Saturday, stopping all 34 shots faced against the Canucks. He also surrendered four goals in each of his two other starts (admittedly largely hung out to dry in Tuesday's overtime loss to the Kings). Within that mixed bag of evidence, the most positive takeaway for Rittich's fantasy managers, shutout aside, is the Flames' clear inclination to run with him over Cam Talbot. If Calgary's skaters offer a little more defensive support, and continue to score, Rittich could be in for a busy, bang-up year.

Carter Hutton (28.2 percent): Never mind his surrendering of four goals versus the Canadiens on Wednesday, what matters most is his teammates scored more. And the Sabres' No. 1 still appeared solid enough in his third win of the season. Jack Eichel is on fire, rookie Victor Olofsson is a revelation, and the club clearly adores playing for new coach Ralph Krueger. Most importantly, Hutton looks comfortable and confident. Just wait until Buffalo's blue line -- missing several key pieces -- is back to full health. A thin apology to those already sick of my fantasy cheerleading on behalf of the Sabres' starting netminder, but I'm not done yet.

Reason to worry?

Martin Jones (83.7 percent): Jones' contemporary fantasy value largely stems from his altogether mediocre play for an otherwise pretty good team. Now that team doesn't look so good, as made evident by the club paying 40-year-old Patrick Marleau $700,000 to skate on the top line. If the Sharks don't holistically smarten up fast, Jones' fantasy value will plummet.

Devan Dubnyk (81.9 percent): No, there's no reason to panic after consecutive losses to the Predators and Avalanche -- two of the best sides in the West. Coach Bruce Boudreau is still figuring out where all the pieces fit up front, including newbie Mats Zuccarello, and the Wild remain altogether defensively sound. Give it a minute, Dubnyk will be fine.

Connor Hellebuyck (72.3 percent): Despite Tuesday's stick-it-to-the-naysayers win over the Penguins, the state of the Jets' cobbled-together blue line is disconcerting. Now, Dmitry Kulikov is due back Thursday after reportedly ushering a child into the world, as is Josh Morrissey following minor injury, but still, significant holes remain without Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers etc. Invested fantasy managers beware: Hellebuyck has his work cut out for him this year.