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In the Cage: A deeper look at this year's rookie class

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Every Thursday during the season, Justin Goldman, a regional goalie scout for USA Hockey and founder of The Goalie Guild, will provide you with an in-depth analysis of fantasy goaltenders in NHL.com's weekly segment: "In the Cage." From updated goalie rankings to guys you should keep a close eye on and much more, Goldman will be your fantasy goalie expert all season long.


As of Thursday, a total of 88 goaltenders have made at least one NHL appearance this season.

To put that number in perspective, it's the highest total since the 2011-12, 2008-09, and 2007-08 seasons, when 89 goalies appeared in an NHL game. But that doesn't trump the 2005-06 season, when a whopping total of 91 goalies were used.

Of this season's 88 goalies, 19 of them comprise the rookie class. Eddie Lack 's shutout in a 2-0 win over Nashville on Wednesday pushed their record to 88-62-23, a solid .575 point percentage. The rookie class also has a cumulative .914 save percentage, stopping 4,690 of 5,133 total shots on goal.

Last season, the rookie class of 14 goalies went 32-32-7 with a .906 cumulative save percentage. In the 2011-12 season, 20 rookies combined for a 63-72-16 record with a .913 save percentage.

With so much emerging goalie talent being used so often this season, we wanted to provide you with a top-10 keeper league ranking. This will not only help you pinpoint some of the best long-term goalies to own in a keeper league, but it will show you just how deep the talent pool has become.

TOP 10 KEEPER LEAGUE GOALIES
RANK
PLAYER
TEAM
1. Frederik Anderson ANA
2. Martin Jones LAK
3. Antti Raanta CHI
4. Petr Mrazek DET
5. Jacob Markstrom VAN
6. Darcy Kuemper MIN
7.
Joni Ortio CGY
8. Niklas Svedberg BOS
9. Joacim Eriksson VAN
10. Anders Nilsson NYI
Note: Goalies included in this one-time keeper league ranking are restricted to those that have made at least one NHL appearance this season and are under the age of 25.

If you take a snapshot of every NHL team's current depth chart, you would find starting goalies average 28.9 years. That's a key number to keep in mind when managing goalies in a keeper league, because in the two seasons prior to the lockout, the average was closer to 27.3 years. This goes to show you need even more patience than ever when deciding whether to keep or drop a goalie prospect.

By this point in the season, you know full well goalies like the Anaheim Ducks ' Frederik Andersen , the Los Angeles Kings ' Martin Jones , and the Minnesota Wild 's Darcy Kuemper are coveted assets in a keeper league. That's easy to determine because of the role they played at key moments this season when injuries occurred, and how well they performed in different pressure situations.

But beyond the rookie goalies recognized for their achievements this season, one clearly defined coveted keeper league prospect is Petr Mrazek of the Detroit Red Wings . After starting his pro career in the ECHL with Toledo last season, he quickly graduated to the American Hockey League and eventually played every single playoff minute for Grand Rapids en route to the team's first-ever Calder Cup.

Mrazek has followed up a storybook rookie season with an even better sophomore campaign. Through 24 games with the Griffins, Mrazek has an 18-5-1 record and is tied with Jones for the AHL's best save percentage (.928). Despite earning just one win in eight appearances (1-4-0) with the Red Wings, he still has a 2.01 goals-against average and .916 save percentage.

You might be surprised to see two Vancouver Canucks goaltenders on our keeper league ranking, but Joacim Eriksson 's recent play in the AHL also warrants a spot on the list. He was 8-10-1 with a .907 save percentage in his first 20 games with Utica, but he's now 20-18-2 with a .916 save percentage and four shutouts. He's also 4-1-0 in his past five games with a .936 save percentage, so the Canucks goalie coaching tandem of Rolie Melanson and Dan Cloutier are making nice strides with his development.

TOP 30 FANTASY GOALIES

These modified re-rankings are a projection of a goalie’s fantasy output for the entire season. Our rankings are based on volume categories like games played, wins, saves, and GAA and SP%. The plus or minus for each player is movement based on our most recent rankings from last week (NR means not ranked in previous rankings). It is important to note that our rankings reflect sheer fantasy value, not talent. A less-talented goalie could be ranked higher due to their team’s strong defense and offense.
  • 1. Tuukka Rask, Bruins (same)
  • 2. Ben Bishop, Lightning (+1)
  • 3. Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins (-1)
  • 4. Semyon Varlamov, Avalanche (+1)
  • 5. Carey Price, Canadiens (-1)
  • 6. Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers (same)
  • 7. Antti Niemi, Sharks (+1)
  • 8. Sergei Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets (+1)
  • 9. Jonas Hiller, Ducks (-2)
  • 10. Ryan Miller, Blues (same)
  • 11. Jonathan Quick, Kings (+1)
  • 12. Roberto Luongo, Panthers (+3)
  • 13. Jaroslav Halak, Capitals (+5)
  • 14. Steve Mason, Flyers (-1)
  • 15. Mike Smith, Coyotes (+1)
  • 16. Corey Crawford, Blackhawks (+1)
  • 17. Darcy Kuemper, Wild (+1)
  • 18. Ben Scrivens, Oilers (+2)
  • 19. Cory Schneider, Devils (-5)
  • 20. Anton Khudobin, Hurricanes (+2)
  • 21. Jimmy Howard, Red Wings (same)
  • 22. Kari Lehtonen, Stars (NR)*
  • 23. Pekka Rinne, Predators (same)
  • 24. Eddie Lack, Canucks (+2)
  • 25. Craig Anderson, Senators (same)
  • 26. Ondrej Pavelec, Jets (-2)
  • 27. Alex Stalock, Sharks (+2)
  • 28. Braden Holtby, Capitals (same)
  • 29. Martin Brodeur, Devils (-2)
  • 30. Tim Thomas, Stars (same)
* Appeared on injured list last week

Injured:
Josh Harding, Jonathan Bernier, Niklas Backstrom

Beyond the goalies listed below, almost every team has at least one quality prospect with NHL upside. We even had to omit a handful of goalies that appeared in NHL games this season like Philipp Grubauer (Washington Capitals ), Marek Mazanec (Nashville Predators ), Jack Campbell (Dallas Stars ), and even Magnus Hellberg (Predators).

Truth be told, aside from the quality skill these goalies bring at such a young age, it's the goalie coaching that has become the most significant driver of rookie goalie success. Less than five years ago, only one or two teams had an assistant goalie coach. Today, nearly 20 teams have a goalie coaching tandem.

Goalie coaching is not only a vital component to a team's success, it's a must-have due to numerous nagging injuries, a grueling schedule and a plethora of trades before the deadline. Because of those dynamics, this season has been a perennial breeding ground for quality goalie prospects, as we've had 23 teams use a third goalie. With three weeks left in the season, that number could reach 25 or more.

That number may be an anomaly compared to seasons past, but the fact remains every NHL team must have a "black ace" goalie that can jump into the fire and earn valuable points at any given moment. It could be the difference between earning a wild-card spot and missing the playoffs.

TRENDING UPWARD

Jaroslav Halak , Washington Capitals -- He didn't play for 10 days from Feb. 26 to March 8, but since joining Washington, Halak has gone 4-2-0 with a 2.35 GAA and .931 save percentage in six games.

Antti Niemi , San Jose Sharks -- San Jose's workhorse is 5-1-0 with a 1.84 GAA and .936 save percentage in his past six games. He also has two shutouts in that stretch; huge points during the fantasy playoff push.

Roberto Luongo , Florida Panthers -- In his past six games, Luongo is only 3-2-1. But by facing an average of 34.8 shots per game, he has a .928 save percentage to go along with one shutout.

TRENDING DOWNWARD

Jonas Hiller , Anaheim Ducks -- With only one win in his past five (1-2-2), Hiller has given up 15 goals on just 121 shots, which is a .876 save percentage. He allowed four goals on 38 shots in his only win this month.

Ondrej Pavelec , Winnipeg Jets -- After stopping 39 shots in a 3-1 win over Nashville on March 1, Pavelec has gone 0-2-2 in his past five games. He has allowed 16 goals on his past 169 shots, a .905 save percentage.

Cory Schneider , New Jersey Devils -- Playing in just seven games since Feb. 1, Schneider has one win in his past five games and has allowed 15 goals on just his past 76 shots, a dismal .803 save percentage.

KEEP AN EYE ON ...

Matt Hackett , Buffalo Sabres -- Due to injuries to Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth , Hackett will become the 89th goalie to appear in an NHL game this season when he gets the start against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday.

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