Drafting and developing goaltenders has not been a fruitful endeavor for the Leafs in the last couple of decades. Under the guidance of various management groups since 1995, the Leafs have drafted 18 goaltenders and just three of them have played at least 40 NHL games – Mikael Tellqvist, James Reimer, and Tuukka Rask. Not exactly a sparkling record, especially considering where Rask has played his 14 NHL seasons.
Kyle Dubas and his scouting staff took a swing at improving Toronto’s goaltending draft record this year, selecting a Russian goaltender for just the second time in franchise history when they called Artur Akhtyamov’s name in the fourth round. He makes his debut on TheLeafsNation’s prospect rankings at 16th, but the talent is there for him to climb this list in the coming years.
Weight: 157 lbs
Drafted: 2020 4th round, 106th overall
What kind of player is he?
Akhtyamov is an athletic, aggressive goaltender who is very active in his crease. His speed and ability to adjust with reactionary saves helps to overcome some of the positional struggles that he, along with many other young goaltenders, are prone to. He moves well while covering the bottom part of the net but sometimes allows his hands to drop down too far when in the butterfly, leaving him vulnerable to shots over the glove and blocker.
Akhtyamov is a good puck handler who isn’t shy about trying to make a play to his teammates when given the opportunity, but he is also aggressive attacking loose pucks around the net with his stick. Check out this play where he initially makes a desperation attempt at what he expects to be a dangerous shot from in close, but is able to adjust and attack the puck with his stick when the opposing forward fans on the shot:
While his athleticism is his greatest attribute right now, it is also what can get him in trouble as he can get caught swimming and lose his net from time to time. He also has a tendency to be a bit too active in his crease while tracking the play, and isn’t always set when the shot arrives. That said, he does a really good job of tracking pucks through traffic and swallowing them up without allowing rebounds.
He is aggressive in attacking opposing shooters rather than waiting for the play to come to him, and while it can leave him vulnerable to lateral dekes or back door passes, it more often than not takes away time and space from the shooter. Learning to pick his spots a bit better while gambling on fewer plays will be an area of focus for him as he continues to develop.
Still a very raw goaltending prospect, Akhtyamov will need to pair his high end athletic ability and competitiveness with a more stable positional base. Becoming more consistent in his technique, and having to rely less on being a purely reactionary goaltender, will help prevent some of the goals against that he has proven to be susceptible to in the early part of his career. Thankfully those things can be improved upon more easily than the natural physical abilities he’s already been blessed with.
By the Numbers
|2020-2021||Ak Bars Kazan||KHL||3||2.90||.904|
Akhtyamov spent the entirety of his draft year playing in the MHL – Russia’s U20 league – and put up impressive numbers. It’s important to note that Akhtyamov played on one of the stronger teams in the MHL where there is a sizeable gap between the top teams and the bottom teams, but a .931 save percentage is nothing to scoff at either way.
So far this season, Akhtyamov has been shuffled around the Kazan system a bit and even got his first taste of KHL action at the ripe old age of 18, as the big club dealt with players missing time for various reasons. Playing at that level and keeping his head above water as a teenager is a feat in itself, regardless of the circumstances. He began the year back in the MHL but has found himself on the VHL roster following his brief KHL stint, and he’s continued to post strong numbers there as well. Through seven appearances, his .935 save percentage currently exceeds the mark he registered against weaker competition in the MHL last season.
What’s next for Akhtyamov?
Akhtyamov will continue to man the crease for Bars in the VHL, but he will soon be leaving for Russia’s World Junior camp where he is expected to be the backup to top goaltending prospect Yaroslav Askarov. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, he will probably receive one start at most over the course of the tournament, but it will be nice to see him competing against the best his age group has to offer if he gets the opportunity. A return to Bars in the VHL following the tournament seems the most likely outcome and Akhtyamov will look to pick up where he left off to close out another strong season.
Though there are a couple of other recent draft picks on the organizational goaltending depth chart, neither of them are guaranteed NHLers and the Leafs took a worthwhile gamble in the fourth round by selecting Akhtyamov. Like any other goaltender, the development curve is sure to be long and he will spend his next few years working towards a starting role for Ak Bars in the KHL. If he does end up coming to North America, it won’t be until at least four or five years from now but he has the potential to follow in the footsteps of the numerous young Russian netminders that have joined the NHL ranks in recent years.
(Statistics from eliteprospects.com)