Welcome back – Nate Groot-Nibbelink! Founder and host of the Apples & Ginos Fantasy Hockey Podcast; originator of the Zero G draft strategy; and contributor to Yahoo Fantasy Sports. If you’re considering fading goaltenders and/or defensemen in 2023-2024, then this is an episode you will not want to miss – Zero G & Zero D – Finding Value Late In Drafts!
- Pre-Season Discussion – Andrei Vasilevskiy Fallout, Tyler Toffoli’s Ceiling, Erik Karlsson’s Penguins Debut (and Kris Letang’s Value).
- Nate’s Draft Preparation & Strategy
- Zero G Targets – Jacob Markstrom, Philipp Grubauer, Karel Vejmelka and more!
- Zero D Targets – Michael Matheson, Sean Durzi, Gustav Forsling and more!
If you like the content we are producing, please subscribe to the podcast on your favorite directory; and consider leaving a 5-Star Review so more people can find our show.
Also, in case you missed it, the Fantasy Hockey Hacks now have a LIVE show Wednesday nights at 9 PM on Edmonton Sports Talk (EST)! The show will be more of a roundtable format, and will feature a regular rotation of special guests that fantasy hockey fans will be sure to recognize. All ‘Hacks Hangout’ episodes on EST will be uploaded to our regular podcast feed as well.
- Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy underwent a successful microdiscectomy this morning to address a lumbar disc herniation. Vasilevskiy is expected to miss approximately the first two months of the regular season. Nate, how do the Tampa Bay Lightning fill the void left behind by Vasilevskiy? Likewise, what do fantasy managers do here; particularly if they’ve already drafted?
- Connor Bedard collected an assist at United Center this evening, and looked pretty comfortable in the couple clips that I saw…
- Tyler Toffoli scored his first goal with the Devils in a 3-2 win over the Rangers. Akira Schmid made 19 saves before being replaced half-way through the game. Both Hughes brothers (Jack and Luke) posted assists as well.
- Tom Wilson had a goal and an assist in the Capitals 4-3 win over the Red Wings. Both John Carlson and Rasmus Sandin scored as well. Robby Fabbri scored twice for Detroit, and Daniel Sprong had a goal and an assist.
- Tristan Jarry made 25 saves in the Penguins 3-1 pre-season victory over Buffalo. Erik Karlsson made his Pittsburgh debut, but was rather quiet with just one shot in just over 19 minutes of time on ice. Tage Thompson scored in the losing effort as well.
2023-2024 Zero G Targets
Now that we’ve covered general draft strategy, observations, and mailbag questions; we’d like to hear what Nate has to say about the top ten ‘Zero G’ goalies and ‘Zero D’ defenseman heading into the 2023-2024 season.
#1 Thatcher Demko (G)
🎯 Vancouver Canucks | 2023 Pre-Season Yahoo ADP: 98.1, Fantrax ADP: 108.71 | Prediction: 60 Starts (73% Net Share), 32 Wins
Upon returning from injury in late February, Thatcher Demko posted an 11-4-2 record with a 2.52 GAA and .918 SV%. Without getting hung up on the small sample size, consider that quality of play projects to a 39-win campaign over 82 games. Over that short stretch, Demko had the same 5v5 SV% (.930) as Ilya Sorokin; and was better than Juuse Saros, Ilya Samsonov, Alexander Georgiev, and Connor Hellebuyck!
Demko’s PKSV% (.830%) and PPSV% (.848%) are both well below historical league averages of .861% and .909, respectively; and regression should occur this season. They say that “Players Always Know First”, well Leon Draisaitl was recently singing the Canucks praises in his 32 Thoughts interview, and if Demko can stay healthy, expect real improvement in 2023-2024 for Vancouver.
It’s interesting that the Yahoo and Fantrax crowds are drafting the 27-year old within roughly a round of each other – somewhere between the 9th and 10th rounds of standard, 12-team redraft leagues. The Hacks have Demko projected for 60 starts and 32 wins; but it’s worth mentioning that Elite Prospects has Demko slated for 63 games played, 35 wins, and a .924 SV%!! In fact, EP has the Canucks netminder ranked THIRD among all goaltenders for fantasy purposes next season.
#2 Jacob Markstrom (G)
🎯 Calgary Flames | 2023 Pre-Season Yahoo ADP: 130.8, Fantrax ADP: 163.54 | Prediction: 57 Starts (70% Net Share), 26 Wins
Which version of Markstrom are we going to see this season? Are we going to get the 2021-2022 version that got 37 wins, 0.922 SV% and a 2.22 GAA or are we going to get a repeat of last year’s season 23 wins, 0.892 SV% and a 2.92 GAA.
Following the exit of Darryl Sutter, we are banking on a better season. If Calgary’s 10-0 blowout over Vancouver is any indication of things to come – lookout. Jonathan Huberdeau posted a couple goals, Nazam Kadri looked good, rookie Matt Coronato posted a hat trick, and Markstrom had a strong showing as well.
Currently going in the 13th round in Yahoo and 16th in Fantrax.
#3 Ilya Samsonov/Joseph Woll (G)
🎯 Toronto Maple Leafs | 2023 Pre-Season Yahoo ADP: 81.0/167.9, Fantrax ADP: 126.63/253.9 | Samsonov Prediction: 48 Starts (59% Net Share), 32 Wins; Woll Prediction: 34 Starts (41% Net Share), 18 Wins
Ilya Samsonov finally put it all together last season, starting in 42 games enroute to a 27-10-5 record, a 2.33 GAA and a .919 SV%. The Leafs are going to win a pile of games in 2023-2024, and Samsonov could be an excellent option in the 11th round or later of 12-team drafts. The real question has to be whether the 26-year old has put injuries and inconsistent play behind him?
Enter Joseph Woll. In 2022-2023, the 25-year old made just 7 appearances, posting a 6-1-0 record to go along with a 2.16 GAA and .932 SV%! Woll has lost just two games in 11 games with Toronto, while maintaining a .924 SV%. With Samsonov being an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) in 2024, you have to wonder if the Leafs give a few more starts to their netminder of the future?
#4 Adin Hill/Logan Thompson (G)
🎯 Vegas Golden Knights | 2023 Pre-Season Yahoo ADP: 146.2/157.8, Fantrax ADP: 188.82/187.74 | Hill Prediction: 55 Starts (66% Net Share), 34 Wins; Thompson Prediction: 27 Starts (34% Net Share), 16 Wins
Adin Hill was brilliant for the Vegas Golden Knights during their Stanley Cup winning playoff run (11-2-2, 2.17 GAA, .932 SV%, 7.7 GSAx – 3RD); and he was rewarded for it with a 2-year contract at an average annual value of $4.9M. Thompson’s current deal expires in two years, setting him up to take the reins full-time starting in 2025-2026. Until then, this appears to be a timeshare at best for Thompson, unless Adin Hill really falters.
It’s worth mentioning that Thompson posted very respectable numbers in 2022-2023: 21-13-3, 2.65 GAA and .915 SV%. Additionally, the 26-year old was ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT in his final three starts last season: 1.88 GAA and .950 SV%!!
#5 Joonas Korpisalo/Anton Forsberg (G)
🎯 Ottawa Senators | 2023 Pre-Season Yahoo ADP: 90.9/–, Fantrax ADP: 166.32/423.37 | Korpisalo Prediction: 49 Starts (60% Net Share), 25 Wins; Forsberg Prediction: 33 Starts (40% Net Share), 18 Wins
The value for Joonas Korpisalo is certainly better among the Fantrax crowd, going on average somewhere in the 14th round! I believe the Ottawa Senators are going to compete for a playoff spot this season, so if I can grab the 29-year old Korpisalo outside of the 12th round, I would be very happy.
However, it is worth mentioning that the former King’s even-strength save percentage (EVSV%) last season was the second-highest of his career at .926%; Korpisalo’s career EVSV% is actually just .912. Adjusting for career EVSV% and league averages, as well as moving to a worse shot suppression team, Korpisalo could see his overall save percentage and GAA dip in 2023-2024.
Anton Forsberg showed flashes of brilliance during the 2021-2022, posting a 21-13-4 record along with a 2.64 GAA and .921 SV% between December 1st and the end of the season. Forsberg declared himself “100% healthy” heading into this season – keep a close eye on him in Ottawa this season.
#6 Cam Talbot/Phoenix Copley (G)
🎯 Los Angeles Kings | 2023 Pre-Season Yahoo ADP: 171.7/176.0, Fantrax ADP: 222.9/214.03 | Talbot Prediction: 49 Starts (60% Net Share), 32 Wins
I’ve said it in previous blogs/podcasts, but the history between Cam Talbot and head coach Todd McLellan has to play a factor this season. Talbot had his best season under McLellan in 2016-2017, posting a 42-22-5 record with a 2.39 GAA and .919 SV%. Obviously I don’t expect 73 starts and 40+ wins from Talbot in 2023-2024, but 45+ starts and 30+ wins behind a very good LA Kings club seems like a reasonable expectation.
Phoenix Copley was good for Los Angeles last season, particularly in the Wins category, posting a 24-6-3 record overall. In his final 9 starts of the season, Copley was actually quite good with a 2.19 GAA and .916 SV%… A 50% net share seems to be a plausible scenario, which makes the crease very difficult to project; at least until we see a few more games in pre-season.
#7 Philipp Grubauer (G)
🎯 Seattle Kraken | 2023 Pre-Season Yahoo ADP: 160.5, Fantrax ADP: 193.2 | Prediction: 54 Starts (65% Net Share), 29 Wins
From January 1st to the end of the regular season, Philipp Grubauer posted a 14-7-3 record with a very serviceable 2.53 GAA and .902 SV%. It’s certainly worth mentioning that Grubauer’s 2.53 GAA ranked 14th over that stretch – ahead of Igor Shesterkin, Juuse Saros, and Connor Hellebuyck! Grubauer’s winning percentage would also project to a 30-win season based on our expected net share of 65%.
In Seattle’s first-round, 7-game series win over the defending Stanley Cup Champions (COL), Grubauer was excellent; posting a 2.44 GAA and .926 SV%. Unfortunately, the Dallas Stars were just too much for Grubauer and the Seattle Kraken in the second round.
Seattle is going to be very competitive again this season, and if you can stomach the odd ‘Really Bad Start’ (RBS), then you have a netminder that can provide valuable coverage in two (Wins, Goals Against Average) of Yahoo’s four standard categories. That is incredible value if you can draft the 31-year old in the 14th round, or later, in 12-team redraft leagues.
#8 Darcy Kuemper (G)
🎯 Washington Capitals | 2023 Pre-Season Yahoo ADP: 100.8, Fantrax ADP: 136.39 | Prediction: 57 Starts (70% Net Share), 28 Wins
Darcy Kuemper’s career even-strength save percentage is an impressive .922, comparable to both Andrei Vasilevskiy (.925 EVSV%) and Connor Hellebuyck (.923 EVSV%). However, Kuemper’s even-strength save percentage fell to .912 this past season, and his goals-against average dropped to 2.85 (worst since 2016-2017).
Similar to many players on the Capitals Roster, Kuemper is entering the twilight years of his career; and truthfully, I am not that bullish on the Capitals for this upcoming season. Washington will have a mostly healthy roster though, and a 12th round selection for Kuemper has a chance to return value, right?
#9 Karel Vejmelka (G)
🎯 Arizona Coyotes | 2023 Pre-Season Yahoo ADP: 180.0, Fantrax ADP: 209.47 | Prediction: 57 Starts (70% Net Share), 22 Wins
Given the roster in front of him last season, it is a minor miracle that Karel Vejmelka was able to post a save percentage anywhere close to league average at .900 SV%! The Coyotes look significantly improved from my perspective, with the additions of veteran NHL players like Jason Zucker, Nick Bjugstad, and Sean Durzi to go along with the impressive stable of young talented players like Logan Cooley, Barrett Hayton, Dylan Guenther, and Matias Maccelli.
Vejmelka should go anywhere outside of the 15th round, and at that price point is certainly worth a gamble as a 3rd-string netminder for your fantasy roster.
#10 Jeremy Swayman (G)
🎯 Boston Bruins | 2023 Pre-Season Yahoo ADP: 52.6, Fantrax ADP: 199.56 | Prediction: 33 Starts (40% Net Share), 20 Wins
What started as me promoting a player as a late-round gem, has quickly turned into a public service announcement for all Yahoo fantasy managers – DO NOT DRAFT Jeremy Swayman anywhere near his current ADP of 52.6. The only theory I can suggest is that fantasy managers are attempting to nab the Bruins tandem, as Ullmark is going at a current ADP of 30.1, and that has inflated Swayman’s ADP.
Swayman should not be drafted ahead of players like Filip Gustavsson, Frederick Andersen, Tristan Jarry, and Thatcher Demko. The Bruins simply do not have the personnel they have had in previous seasons, and the Atlantic is very competitive. This may FINALLY be the season that Boston misses the playoffs.
That said, Jeremy Swayman is still an excellent option at the right price point. In 37 starts, the 24-year old posted a 24-6-4 record with a 2.27 GAA (6th) and .920 SV% (6th league-wide) – impressive numbers to say the least.
2023-2024 Zero D Top Targets
#1 Zach Werenski (D)
🎯 Columbus Blue Jackets | 2023 Pre-Season Yahoo ADP: 157.2, Fantrax ADP: 68.61 | PTS. Prediction: 16 Goals, 54 Points
Zach Werenski has not played a full 82-game season since 2018-2019, so there has to be some level of concern for his durability. However, Werenski has proven to be an excellent fantasy asset when healthy, particularly when it comes to his shot rate. In just 13 games played last season, the 26-year old ranked 5th among defensemen at 8.0 SOG/60 (3.2 SOG/GM) behind only Roman Josi, Dougie Hamilton, Michael Stone, and Brent Burns.
Werenski logs big minutes for Columbus, both at even-strength and on the power play (67% PP Share last season, 3:04 PPTOI/GM). With his elite-level shot rate, ample ice-time, and exposure to Johnny Gaudreau, Patrik Laine, Boone Jenner, and rookie Adam Fantilli – Werenski could be one of a handful of defensemen to reach the 20-goal plateau this season.
It is baffling to me that this player is going somewhere in the 13th round of standard drafts on average. People are sleeping in Werenski, and that presents an opportunity for more seasoned fantasy managers looking for value later in the draft.
#2 Michael Matheson (D)
🎯 Montreal Canadiens | 2023 Pre-Season Yahoo ADP: 170.02, Fantrax ADP: 115.45 | PTS. Prediction: 14 Goals, 47 Points
As we’ve mentioned previously, the Montreal Canadiens have plenty of high-quality, defensive prospects in the pipeline, including 2023 first rounder David Reinbacher, Lane Hutson, and Kaiden Guhle. For now though, Michael Matheson is the man you want for fantasy hockey purposes.
Last season Matheson played a career-high 24:27 TOI/GM and 3:11 PPTOI/GM (or 63.3% PP Share); exactly the kind of deployment fantasy managers look for when drafting a defenseman. Matheson also managed career bests in SOG/60 (6.4) and Pts/60 (1.7), to go along with a very serviceable 1.67 Blocks/GM and 1.10 Hits/GM.
There are a couple minor concerns with the 29-year old though. First, his nearly 54% IPP was not just a career-high, it was 9th among all defenseman last season. For reference, most defensemen have an IPP of around 30%. Second, just 9 PPPs last year is nothing to write home about, though that should increase as the Canadiens improve their 29th ranked power play, which converted at just 16% in 2022-2023.
#3 Thomas Chabot (D)
🎯 Ottawa Senators | 2023 Pre-Season Yahoo ADP: 134.11, Fantrax ADP: 118.33 | PTS. Prediction: 12 Goals, 54 Points
Prior to last season, Thomas Chabot had scored a grand total of just 3 PPGs in 313 NHL games! That changed in 2022-2023, when the Sens blueliner shot 14.2% (career-high) on 35 power play shots, cashing in 5 PPGs and 20 PPPs. Assuming Chabot maintains his 62.5% PP Share, I could see another 20 PPPs; but will he continue producing PPGs? Will his role on the power play change with the acquisition of Jakob Chyrchurn and emergence of Jake Sanderson?
Of note, Chabot over the past three seasons has played the second most minutes per game (25:45) of any defensemen, behind only Drew Doughty (26:10). Another metric worth mentioning is Chabot’s IPP of 34.5%, which was a career low last season – expect that to be closer to his career average and bring up his overall production.
#4 Shea Theodore (D)
🎯 Vegas Golden Knights | 2023 Pre-Season Yahoo ADP: 142.8, Fantrax ADP: 101.97 | PTS. Prediction: 13 Goals, 60 Points
Shea Theodore has played at over a 60-point pace in two of the past three seasons, so to see him going in the 12th round in Yahoo and 9th round in Fantrax feels like pretty good value. Theodore doesn’t cover a ton of categories outside of points and blocks, and the Vegas power play has been pedestrian the past few seasons; but at the right number, Shea Theodore is certainly worth a look. At 6.92 SOG/60 (all-strengths), Theodore ranked 10th among all defensemen last season in SOG/60.
NOTE: AT 0.85 2A/60, Theodore posted a career-high secondary assist rate, something that should come down closer to his career average of 0.45 2A/60. Additionally, Theodore’s IPP was also a career-high at 56.2%, which we all know is due for regression; so not all is ideal with the Vegas defenseman…
#5 John Carlson (D)
🎯 Washington Capitals | 2023 Pre-Season Yahoo ADP: 92.5, Fantrax ADP: 45.64 | PTS. Prediction: 17 Goals, 70 Points
John Carlson suffered a gruesome injury early in the third period against the Winnipeg Jets on December 23, 2022. The Capitals top defenseman would play just 10 more games in 2022-2023, but was still effective with 8 points (1 goal) in those contests. It was actually pretty amazing that Carlson was able to just step in and play like nothing had happened – 23:23 TOI/GM, 76% PP Share (2:46 PPTOI/GM), and 17 BLOCKS in 10 games post-injury!
For those of you hoping that your fellow fantasy managers forgot about John Carlson, you’ll be disappointed on draft day, as the Caps PP QB is going on average in the 7th round of 12-team drafts (92.8 ADP).
Looking at the advanced metrics, Carlson has room for regression when you consider his secondary assist rate (2A/60) was a near career-low at 0.27 2A/60, relative to his career average of 0.41 2A/60. An 8.1 tEVSH% is below both the league average and Carlson’s personal career average; and his individual points percentage (IPP) last season sat at 46.8%, the lowest since 2018-2019 (45.5%). One of the safest selections in fantasy hockey, draft with confidence.
#6 Sean Durzi (D)
🎯 Arizona Coyotes | 2023 Pre-Season Yahoo ADP: 158.8, Fantrax ADP: 159.01 | PTS. Prediction: 10 Goals, 44 Points
Initially, my take was that Jusso Valimaki would retain his role as the top power play option in Arizona, given how well he had played at times last season. However, I have had several conversations with smart fantasy folks, and my stance has changed a bit this off-season. I think it’s entirely possible that Sean Durzi and Valimaki split time on the top power play unit, or Durzi claims it outright. Time will tell of course and I will be watching this situation closely in training camp and pre-season.
#7 Owen Power (D)
🎯 Buffalo Sabres | 2023 Pre-Season Yahoo ADP: 166.1, Fantrax ADP: 197.81 | PTS. Prediction: 7 Goals, 46 Points
The future is bright in Buffalo and Owen Power is a big part of the reason why. The 20-year old played nearly 24 minutes per game, posting 35 points and 4 goals in 79 games. Power received some secondary power play time (1:58 PPTOI/GM, 36.4% PP Share), but he will be stuck behind Rasmus Dahlin indefinitely.
The first overall pick from 2021 may not be the first defenseman to own in Buffalo; but looking at his ADP in both Yahoo and Fantrax, he should easily return value if he is anywhere near our projection of 46 points and 7 goals.
#8 John Klingberg (D)
🎯 Toronto Maple Leafs | 2023 Pre-Season Yahoo ADP: 165.7, Fantrax ADP: 180.84 | PTS. Prediction: 10 Goals, 50 Points
Many Leafs fans were not pleased with the team’s off-season acquisitions, John Klingberg included. However, early in training camp, the former Duck was taking reps on the first power play unit. For me personally, this was exactly what I expected to occur – why else are you acquiring John Klingberg, if not to run your power play?
Outside of straight points, the 31-year old Swede really doesn’t provide great category coverage, with maybe the exception of blocks at 1.67/GM. Klingberg is generally a lock for ~10 goals and 40+ points though; and playing on the league’s second best PP (26.02% in 2022-2023) with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander is very enticing. If I am able to get Klingberg in the 16th round, which Fantrax would suggest is possible; that seems like pretty good value to me.
#9 Gustav Forsling (D)
🎯 Florida Panthers | 2023 Pre-Season Yahoo ADP: 133.3, Fantrax ADP: 162.67 | PTS. Prediction: 12 Goals, 42 Points
Gustav Forsling has generally been a very nice depth add on defense the past couple of seasons; but now with both Brandon Montour and Aaron Ekblad slated to miss a fairly significant chunk of time, this guy is going to crush it. Expect Forsling to play big minutes for the first half of the season, capped with a role on the top PP unit.
The 27-year old posted career-highs last year with 41 points and 13 goals in 82 games played. Looking at the underlying metrics, there are no regression concerns from my perspective; and the shot rate is fantastic at 6.53 SOG/60 (15th) at all-strengths and 6.86 SOG/60 5v5 (11th).
Our projection of 42 points and 12 goals may be a bit light considering the premium deployment early in the season. However, the expectation is that the second-half will be closer to the norm for Forsling, making PP time harder to come by.
#10 K’Andre Miller (D)
🎯 New York Rangers | 2023 Pre-Season Yahoo ADP: 146.7, Fantrax ADP: 170.79 | PTS. Prediction: 10 Goals, 47 Points
K’Andre Miller had an impressive 3rd NHL season with 43 points and 9 goals, despite receiving virtually NO PPTOI. The lack of power play time is concerning for Miller’s fantasy ceiling, and with the addition of Erik Gustafsson to the Rangers lineup, it’s a real possibility that problem persists in 2023-2024.
However, Miller was one of just 3 defenseman last season, along with Kris Letang and Moritz Seider, to post at least 40 points, 150 hits, and 100 blocked shots. With 214 NHL games already under his belt and playing for a contender in his 4th year, Miller could be in for another step forward in 2023-2024. 2.05 Hits and 1.33 Blocks per game provides managers with excellent category coverage, the only glaring issue is Miller’s lack of shot volume at 1.4 SOG/GM, and the previously mentioned lack of power play time. No issue with underlying numbers – performance not boosted by luck.