It’s not often that we see an elite-calibre goaltender be identified so early headed into a draft year. Goalies are usually the hardest prospects to predict and the ones that take the longest to develop. However, this year’s NHL Entry Draft boasts a goaltender who may just check the boxes for a future star already. That goalie is none other than Yaroslav Askarov, the 17-year-old Russian netminder who spent this last season dominating the the Russian junior league.
Askarov has been touted to be a possible top-10 pick all year and has topped the NHL’s Central Scouting list as the top European goaltender in this draft. According to The Leafs Nation’s very own consensus rankings, his average draft position according to several rankings is around the 10th overall spot. His hype has been undeniable and if he is chosen in the top 10, he would be the first goalie since Carey Price in 2005 to be taken that early. Although it seems unlikely, surprises do happen in drafts, and it’s always possible Askarov could fall, which would be convenient for the Toronto Maple Leafs who have pick #15.
|ISS (GOALIES)||CENTRAL SCOUTING (INTERNATIONAL GOALIES)||ELITE PROSPECTS||BOB MCKENZIE||CRAIG BUTTON|
Askarov truly shined on the international stage throughout his career. In the 2019 Under-18 World Championships, he posted a .916% save percentage and was named the tournament’s top goaltender as Russia won the silver medal. He also led Russia to gold at the U-17 World Hockey Challenge, capturing top honours once again. His 2019-20 season officially started last summer, when he helped lead Russia to a gold medal at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup under-18 tournament. He made 35 saves in the gold medal game against Canada to help seal the victory.
Afterwards, he spent most of his season playing in Russia’s VHL for the SKA-Neva St. Petersburg, which is essentially the minor league affiliate of the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg. In 18 games with the team, Askarov posted a 2.45 GAA and a save percentage of .920%–impressive numbers for a 17-year-old. He also got the chance to play one game with the big club, and in doing so, became the second youngest goalie to play in the KHL. In his brief appearance with the team, in which he shared the ice with soon-to-be Leaf Alexander Barabanov, he impressed by saving 23 out of 25 shots and posting a 9.20% save percentage.
In terms of his skillset, Askarov is loaded with the tools required to become a premier goalie in the NHL. His quickness is probably his most obvious asset. His reflexes make him ever so quick on the puck, also allowing him to slide in the crease easily. He moves from post-to-post with ease and seems to always be where the puck goes.
And of course his hockey IQ matches his quick play. He knows exactly where to position himself and his vision is unmatched in this draft class. There’s a reason he’s been so good, as he always finds himself in the scoring lane ready to make a save. Part of his game is his size, which he utilizes effectively. Being 6’3, he’s able to cover a good amount of the net to cut down angles. His skating, rebound control and puck handling are all also upsides to his game.
This is #2020NHLDraft prospect Yaroslav Askarov's game from December 8th (VHL). He stopped 29 of 31 shots and recorded the overtime Win. Askarov made multiple highlight reel saves, the best coming at 1:09. He gets across just in time to get his glove on the puck.
Part (1/2) 👇🥅 pic.twitter.com/ITXclkInlL
— Daniel Gee (@DanielGScouting) December 17, 2019
It’s no surprise at this point that the Maple Leafs are open to moving on from starting goaltender Frederik Andersen, as it has been reported numerous times. Although the Leafs will definitely be looking for a current NHL goaltender for immediate success, it’s interesting to think about the potential of Askarov being that star goalie for the Leafs. Earlier this week, Jon Steitzer wrote about the Leafs’ biggest draft need being goaltending, mainly because Joseph Woll and Ian Scott have not been developing as planned. Sure, Askarov may not be NHL ready right now, but if we learned anything from watching Philadelphia Flyers goalie Carter Hart and by looking at the projection Askarov’s going at, it’s likely he won’t take too long to make his debut. At the least, he might be a great fit for the Leafs goalie of the future, giving the Leafs some flexibility to be set up after this current starting goalie circus ends.
That all depends, of course, on whether he will fall to pick #15 or not, or if the Leafs are willing to trade up to select him. That will all be left up to Kyle Dubas, but nonetheless, Askarov is an intriguing prospect with a bright future ahead of him.
All stats taken from Elite Prospects.