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Weekly NHL Roundup (Jan. 8 Edition): Who You Need to Know

From unheralded rookies to veteran goaltenders, Jason Chen catches you up with some names you need to know for your fantasy hockey team.
Juuse Saros

Goalies

Tuukka Rask, Bruins

Never before has an AHL goalie who wasn’t a promising rookie generated this much interest. Rask signed a tryout with P-Bruins on Jan. 6, and the expectation is that after a few games the Bruins will see where he’s at and sign him. It’s a good plan, in theory, because there are at least two big obstacles. Firstly, with the games against Lehigh Valley postponed, the P-Bruins won’t play until Jan. 14 against Hartford, and after that they have only two more games left in January, which doesn’t give them a lot of opportunities to evaluate Rask. Secondly, we assume that Rask fully recovers from his hip injury and plays at the near-Vezina level he used to be, which is a tough ask for any goalie.

As far as upside goes in fantasy, Rask is probably still better than any goalie on the waiver wire, so he’s worth a roster stash if it doesn’t involve sacrificing a player of good value, but the potential downside doesn’t seem to have garnered as much discussion. There’s also no guarantee that Rask will play for the Bruins, either, though if he ends up on waivers he could just threaten to not play at all.

Juuse Saros, Predators

It’s pretty amazing how Nashville keeps doing it. Though he was drafted in the eighth round, Pekka Rinne lit the league on fire right away, finishing fourth in Calder voting, garnering All-Star Game votes for four straight seasons and was runner-up for the Vezina in his third full season. Saros has been the opposite, a fourth-round pick who was Rinne’s long-time understudy has only taken over the starting job in the past two seasons.

But Saros has been dominant, and you wonder if the three Vezina finalists last season – Vasilevskiy, Grubauer and Fleury – will be replaced by three new names this season, with Jack Campbell, Igor Shesterkin and Tristan Jarry in the mix. We were skeptical of Saros because Rinne had set the bar so high, but Saros’ .915 Sv% in his first 100 games is better than Rinne’s .911 Sv% in his first 100 games, and Saros is only to get better. The Preds are on a roll, but expect Saros to join the elite tier – if he hasn’t already – and fantasy managers thinking about selling high on Saros… just step back away from the keyboard.

Darcy Kuemper, Avalanche

Kuemper’s won seven straight games but we’re back where we started again – is Kuemper a good goalie? There was some serious doubt before Kuemper’s current run, and Philipp Grubauer’s struggles in Seattle added some fuel to the idea that the Avs make their goalies look better than they really are. But beyond just seeing with our own eyes, Kuemper has improved from -0.34 GSAA per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 prior to the start of his winning streak of Dec. 8, to 0.95 GSAA per 60 minutes since. That’s a swing of almost one-and-half goals per game. The Avs’ odds as the Cup favourites never changed even when they were struggling, and fantasy managers who stubbornly held onto Kuemper and believed the Avs would boost his fantasy production before and during the season are reaping the benefits.

Jordan Binnington, Blues

The leash does seem to be pretty short for Binnington, doesn’t it? After losing 5-3 on Wednesday to Pittsburgh (the hottest team in the league), and despite beating Edmonton and Minnesota previously and with no back-to-back games scheduled, the Blues started Ville Husso in favour of Binnington against the Caps on Friday. The move paid off; Husso made 26 saves in a 5-1 win. The Blues’ goaltending situation has been in a bit of flux all season with Joel Hofer, Jon Gillies and Charlie Lindgren also getting starts, and Binnington’s hold on the No. 1 spot seems even shakier than before.

Long-term, Binnington’s fantasy value does change much due to his multi-year contract, but the short-term fluctuation due to his up-and-down play and Husso’s strong showing against the Caps certainly makes you wonder if the Blues wouldn’t mind giving Husso a bigger role, if only for the upcoming stretch of games. Among goalies with at least 10 wins, Binnington has the fifth-worst save percentage (.908) and third-highest GAA (3.00). Husso’s worth keeping an eye on because it doesn’t look like Binnington can turn it around right now.

Rookies

Tanner Jeannot, LW/RW, Predators

Jeannot’s been mentioned in this space a couple of times this season and warrants a longer with nearly half season’s worth of evidence. In roto leagues, Jeannot has become a full-fledged fantasy beast, and he’s still just a rookie. The hard-nosed, multi-purpose winger ranks eighth in PIM, fifth in hits and sixth on his team in scoring with 21 points. There are only a handful of players who fit this kind of profile – a physical forward who can put up 100-plus hits and 50-plus points – and you know the names: Brady Tkachuk, Tom Wilson, Gabriel Landeskog and perhaps Marcus Foligno with his new-found scoring touch, and all of them would be considered players who could play in any era. Jeannot is only rostered in 44 percent of leagues, which means the rest of the population is starting to come around.

Janis Moser, D, Coyotes

At 0.8 Point Shares, according to hockey-reference.com’s model, Moser has been the most valuable player to come out of the 2021 draft. Sure, Moser’s three years older than everyone else and has plenty of pro experience in the Swiss leagues, but it’s still impressive what he’s been able to do in just five games, during which he’s scored three points. Mason McTavish is in the OHL and Cole Sillinger has plenty of veterans ahead of him in Columbus, but jobs are open on the Coyotes blue line. With the expectation that they will start auctioning off what other pieces they can by the trade deadline, Moser’s in line to see an increase in minutes. He’s worth looking at in deep leagues because he’s probably one of the few left on the waiver wire with some offensive potential.

Marco Rossi, C, and Matt Boldy, LW, Wild

Taken one year and three picks apart, Rossi and Boldy made their NHL debuts Thursday against Boston, with Boldy scoring his first goal in front of his home crowd. The Massachusetts native and Boston College alum was known as one of the best goal scorers not in the NHL, and he definitely proved his worth right away. Rossi sat out nearly an entire year due to long-term complications from COVID, but at the time of his call up was their leading scorer in the AHL.

If Kirill Kaprizov misses extended time, look for Boldy, Rossi and the underperforming Kevin Fiala to take on bigger roles on offense. The Wild rank third in the league scoring 3.63 goals per game, but there’s no question Kaprizov drives that train. Without him, the Wild have few scorers who can strike fear into their oppositions’ hearts. Boldy probably has the most immediate upside because he will be tasked with shooting the puck, though Rossi will end up playing more minutes because he’s a center and plays a stronger two-way game. Rossi’s 10 percent rostered in Yahoo leagues, outpacing Boldy’s three percent, but their respective fantasy values will likely depend on the league settings. In most standard leagues, Boldy should have a slight edge since he’s more likely to shoot the puck.

Other rookies to keep an eye on: Peyton Krebs, C/LW, Sabres; JJ Peterka, LW, Sabres; Bowen Byram, D, Avalanche; Anton Lundell, C, Panthers

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