Ben Bishop, Stars
Bishop allowed eight goals (!) on 34 shots in his first start with AHL Texas since the bubble playoffs, and the expectation was that he would be rusty, not in pieces. Jokes aside, the fact that Bishop managed to return is a great sign, but clearly, he still has quite a bit of catching up to do. The immediate implication is that Jake Oettinger, who stopped 37 of 39 shots on the road against the Kings despite getting tagged with the loss, will stay with the big club, maintaining mostly a 1B role with Braden Holtby taking the majority of the starts.
Bishop turned 35 last month and would be the 10th-oldest goalie in the league had he played a game. Among those older than him, only Marc-André Fleury and a healthy Mike Smith could claim to be undisputed starters. The odds were stacked against Bishop in the first place, and fantasy managers who have stashed him may end up holding their breath for no good reason at all if Bishop cannot play at the NHL level.
Mackenzie Blackwood, Devils
The news was not good for Jonathan Bernier, who is expected to be out indefinitely with no return date set due to his troublesome hip. He sported a 4-4-1 record with a .902 Sv% and had just made his 400th appearance in the NHL, and thus far had split starts pretty evenly with Blackwood this season. That’s definitely going to change now with Blackwood becoming the undisputed starter, but the Devils face an interesting decision right away; after starting Blackwood on Friday against Nashville, the Devils could either start him on back-to-back nights or let Akira Schmid make his first NHL start.
The only other goalie the Devils have under contract right now is Nico Daws, who was hurt earlier in the month with AHL Utica and is not expected to return until January. The Devils’ prospect pool is pretty good, but the injury to Bernier has highlighted their lack of depth after losing Scott Wedgewood on waivers, and Gilles Senn, the 25-year-old Swiss netminder who remains Devils property as a restricted free agent after his contract expired earlier this summer, is playing a key role for fourth-place Davos in the Swiss league and therefore unlikely to leave. The biggest workload Blackwood ever carried was 47 games in 2019-20, and his splits suggested that his play really tailed off in the second half of the season. On sheer volume alone, Blackwood’s fantasy value has increased, since the Devils really don’t have anyone else to rely on.
Charlie Lindgren, Blues
Jordan Binnington is expected to return without delay once he has cleared COVID-19 protocol, but Ville Husso’s absence could be much longer after being placed on injured reserve. Until Binnington returns, it seems like the net is Lindgren’s; he lucked out with a win after making just three saves in a relief appearance for Husso, but in his first start of the season made 29 saves against the Wings for his second win. He gets a good chance to go 3-for-3 on Saturday against the Habs, who have so many injuries it can’t be counted with two hands.
Binnington has earned a lifetime of goodwill from the Blues after winning the Cup, but he’s struggled for stretches this season, and if Lindgren gets hot, why not ride him for a little bit? The Blues are currently in a wild-card spot but second and fifth place in the Central is separated by two points, and stubbornly staying with Binnington when he struggles hoping that he can play through it can be a dangerous game.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Sabres
It was UPL’s second straight start and for the second time in a row allowed just two goals in a losing effort. It’s not his fault the Sabres have scored just once in his two starts, and on a team with better goal support, he would easily be 2-0. The Sabres’ goaltending situation is a mess, but unlike the Devils it’s not the lack of options, but the lack of quality options. Luukonen’s one of the Sabres’ prized prospects, but he may be handed the reins to the No. 1 job much earlier than expected. His fantasy is still close to nil since his job status is still uncertain and, as it’s been clearly shown, even on his best nights the wins might be difficult to come by.
Jonathan Dahlén, LW, Sharks
There was a brief lull where it wasn’t clear if Dahlén was going to stick around, partially because it’s hard for rookies to be consistently good and nobody was quite sure if the Sharks were good or not. But the answer is yes, Dahlén is definitely a pretty talented player who hasn’t had much ups and downs, and the 23-year-old’s pro experience in Europe certainly shows. He could and probably will command a hefty raise for his contract extension with 14 points in 23 games this season, and he’s shown plenty of ability on the power play. He ranks third in 5v5 CF% and second in 5v5 CF/60, per naturalstattrick.com, on a top line with Logan Couture and Timo Meier that grades out very high.
Nathan Walker, LW, Blues
Walker deserves a mention after an impressive hat-trick performance in his season debut, and even helping Dakota Joshua net two helpers against the Red Wings. The Blues have numerous injuries to key players and it’s nice to know they have this kind of depth though given their veteran depth it’s unlikely either of them play high in the lineup.
Ross Colton, C/LW, Taylor Raddysh, RW, and Boris Katchouk, LW, Lightning
All three players came up through AHL Syracuse, which is pretty neat and a testament to the Lightning’s ability to develop prospects, and Raddysh and Katchouk actually go back to the 2018 World Juniors with Team Canada and beyond. The Lightning are having a lot of success because their stars – the ones not injured, of course – are playing like stars, and the homegrown talent on cheap contracts are helping them remain an elite team.
Raddysh has since been moved to the top line with Steven Stamkos and Ondrej Palat, displacing Mathieu Joseph who has formed the second line with Colton and Alex Killorn. That leaves Katchouk on the fourth line, opposite Gabriel Fortier, another Syracuse call-up who was given a chance with the top-six earlier this week. Even though there’s some opportunity for upside in fantasy hockey, it’ll be like playing whack-a-mole figuring out who will be the hero from game-to-game.
Other rookies we’re keeping an eye on: Brett Murray, LW, Sabres; Anton Lundell, C, Panthers; Tanner Jeannot, LW/RW, Predators; Nils Lundkvist, D, Rangers; Morgan Frost, C, Flyers; Jacob Middleton, D, Sharks; Vasily Podkolzin, LW/RW, Canucks; Connor McMichael, C, Capitals
Logan O’Connor, RW, Avalanche
O’Connor has been a great story this season, a straight-ahead, no-frills type of player who has probably saved the Avs penalty kill from ranking last in the league. He scored two goals against the Rangers and stuck around on the top line because it helps the Avs spread out their talent and use Mikko Rantanen as their second-line center with Nazem Kadri unavailable, and between Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, they probably don’t need a third player to score goals anyway. O’Connor, a bit of a local boy with three seasons with the Pioneers and another two with the Eagles, will likely remain a fixture in the Avs lineup for the rest of the season.
Robby Fabbri, C/LW, Red Wings
He’s about as streaky as they come, and it looks like he’s heating up with four goals in five games. Injuries have robbed Fabbri of some potential breakout seasons, but he hasn’t missed any so far – knock on wood – though the knock against him remains the same; he’s a one-dimensional player, and the question is whether his offense outweighs his poor defense. We shall see, but he’s only 10 goals from tying his career high, which was set during his rookie season.
Oliver Wahlstrom, RW, Islanders
Speaking of streaky scorers, Wahlstrom’s another one on a hot streak with three goals and six points in four games. Not much is going right for the Isles and their restrictive style and tendency to get outshot means their forwards don’t get much time with the puck, and it’s a shame because that’s probably the deepest part of their lineup. New Jersey, Detroit and Montreal are coming up, which are favorable matchups for scorers but the Isles and Wahlstrom score so infrequently that they’re just not reliable options at the moment.