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The Case for Drafting Iaroslav Askarov

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Should the Preds take the high-ceiling goalie 11th overall?

Kontinental Hockey League: Spartak Moscow vs SKA St Petersburg Photo by Mikhail Japaridze\TASS via Getty Images

It’s not a secret that I’m hoping Nashville calls the name of a goaltender this weekend. I’m a goalie nerd and I’m not sorry. There’s an average crop of draft-eligible goaltenders in this year’s draft, but Yaroslav (Iaroslav) Askarov and Nico Daws are drawing the most attention. Yaroslav Askarov would be a huge boost to Nashville’s goaltending pipeline. More than a few NHL writers have predicted Askarov will one day pull on a gold sweater. However, there are plenty of talented skaters that Nashville could select, and it’s likely they go that route.

But the temptation to draft another franchise goalie might be too much for David Poile.

I have seen some conversation on social media over the last few weeks about potentially drafting Askarov at #11. While ten teams in front of Nashville could all make a case for drafting the young Russian, there’s a great amount of talent in the first two rounds of this draft, and goaltenders are often polarizing players when chosen in the first round.

The Florida Panthers drafted Spencer Knight at 13th overall in 2019, but rarely are goalies taken in the top 10. Notable exceptions are Marc-Andre Fleury and Carey Price. Is Askarov on the same level as Price or Fleury? Some analysts think Askarov is a generational talent.

He spent most of last season in the minors, but made his debut last season with SKA St. Petersburg in October as a 17 year-old, picking up a win in his first KHL contest. He’s made three starts for SKA St. Petersburg this season and his play is certainly drawing attention. He is a sure lock in the first round, but is he top-10 material? Drafting a goaltender in the first round can be dangerous...looking at you, Chet Pickard.

Here’s some things to love about Askarov:

  • He’s got pretty nice NHL size. At 6’3”, Askarov is not a giant like Ben Bishop; rather, he’s more in the middle of the pack in terms of size.
  • Askarov is a right-catch goalie. That’s rare in NHL netminders. Louis Domingue, Michael Hutchinson, and Pavel Francouz are the only right-catch goalies who’ve seen NHL time in the last two seasons.
  • In the style of up-and-coming goalies, Askarov is technically very sound. He’s rarely beat on a shot, and when he is, he doesn’t flail or flop desperately. His adjustments are very precise for such a young goalie.
  • Askarov is most certainly a student of the game. He plays an intelligent game and he is very vocal in communicating with his teammates.
  • Many scouts have used the term “athleticism” when discussing Askarov’s talents. For the casual viewer, it means that Askarov sets himself up well to make the first save, but if he needs to adjust, he has the strength, agility, and positioning to do so.

The youngster’s contract with SKA St. Petersburg goes through 2021-2022. He’s been playing pro for a full season, however. Scouts often comment how NHL-ready he looks (as noted by prospect writer Corey Pronman in The Athletic).

But why do the Predators need Askarov? They’ve got a good goaltending pipeline, right? I’m personally not so sure. They appear to have several guys, some playing professionally, who could be very good AHL starters or NHL backups. Drafting Askarov would immediately put him at the top of that depth chart. With NHL play shifting more toward a tandem effort in net, Askarov would be an excellent 1A/1B option with Juuse Saros.

Further, with Askarov under Nashville’s control, the Predators could use Connor Ingram or Tomáš Vomáčka as a trade piece to acquire another asset—perhaps an impact forward. Askarov wouldn’t be in Nashville for another few years, but he could one day fill the skates of Pekka Rinne. Plenty of casual fans do not believe Juuse Saros is able to take the starting role, citing his size and a pretty disappointing play-in round in August. While I don’t believe that Saros’s size is a factor preventing quality NHL play, calling Askarov’s name tomorrow evening could eliminate some of those concerns.

In an interview with Adam Vingan of The Athletic, Predators assistant GM Jeff Kealty noted that Askarov would certainly be considered if he was still available to them at #11. There are, however, plenty of teams drafting before Nashville who could use Askarov a little more desperately. One team is going to be very happy that they were able to snag Yaroslav Askarov. The Predators should take the chance on a high-ceiling goaltender rather than make a safe pick.

I’m of the opinion that Nashville has no shortage of quality future NHL talent to select from in tomorrow’s draft. An impact forward could certainly modify the disappointing downward trajectory of this team. You could even argue that there’s goaltenders available in later rounds who could turn into NHL talent...heck, Pekka Rinne was drafted in a round that doesn’t even exist in 2020. When Askarov is drafted in the first round, it’ll be a major accomplishment for the young Russian netminder. That’s a lucky NHL club. Let’s just hope he doesn’t get drafted by a Central Division foe.

What do you think, Preds fans? Don’t yell at me.