Yaroslav Askarov is the first goalie being evaluated in our draft series. He is a 17-year-old Russian who stands at 6-foot-3, 176 pounds. He has played his whole junior career in Russia, this split between the VHL and MHL, as well as one start for the top-Russian league, the KHL. Specifically, he plays in the SKA St. Petersburg’s system and has represented his country on several different occasions in international play.
For those who do not know how Russian hockey is tiered, it is quite simple. The KHL is the first-tier league, where Nikita Gusev came from last season. The VHL is Russia’s version of America’s AHL and is the second-tier pro league. The last tier of hockey worth mentioning in Russia is the MHL. This is their junior league and where younger prospects, like Askarov, get started.
In his junior career, Askarov has done nothing but put up terrific numbers for his age. He began his junior play first in the Russian U-16 league as a 15-year-old. He contributed a .913 save percentage and 1.96 goals against average in 16 games played. The following year he moved to the MHL (the third-tier explained above), where he played 31 games, totaling a .921 save percentage (32nd out of 75 qualified goalies) and 2.37 goals against average.
During this past season, Askarov played 18 games in the VHL. In these games, he had a 12-3 record, a .920 save percentage (47 out of 84 qualified goalies), and a 2.45 goals against average. He also made one start in the KHL, where he made 23 saves on 25 shots and recorded the win.
Additionally, Askarov played several different times internationally. He played in two Hlinka Gretzky Cups, tallying four starts in each and a .913 save percentage in the first one and a .960 in the second one, along with leading his country to a gold medal. He also played in this year’s World Junior Championships and struggled mightily, as he posted a .877 save percentage. However, Russia was still able to capture the silver medal.
The Scouting Report
For a young netminder, Askarov’s game is extremely well-rounded. Watching his film, he is always moving in net, and his lateral movement is terrific. He gets from one side of the net to the other with ease and great speed.
He also has a terrific glove, as he has made some flashy saves with his right hand. Having such a great glove is mainly because of his terrific reflexes. He processes the game and sees the puck like a grizzled veteran. This gloving ability also results in Askarov being able to freeze the puck often, and it helps limit the number of rebounds he gives up.
The only glaring issue that can affect Askarov, at times, is he becomes to over-reliant on the use of his glove hand. And honestly, given how great he is with it, this may not be such a bad thing. One other aspect to look out for is he is only 176 pounds, meaning, at times, he is susceptible to letting a goal up that sneaks in short side. This, of course, will be addressed as he fills out. Keep in mind he is only 17-years old.
Askarov is the best goaltender in this draft and it is by a humongous margin. According to every public scouting report on him, people are expecting him to be a “star” or even a “franchise-altering goaltender,” and this is also what you see watching even just 15 minutes of his film.
Drafting goaltenders is a tricky thing for many general managers. As usual, they are not a commodity until past the first round. And in most circumstances the great goaltenders today are all later-round draft selections. Despite this, teams such as the Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, and even the Devils should be intrigued by Askarov. Expect him to go anywhere from picks eight and eleven.
Fit With the Devils
The Devils have had goaltending issues for years now. However, thanks to a great two seasons by the young Mackenzie Blackwood, it seems as if the team finally as its number one netminder for years to come. Instead, the team needs to find a solid backup to complement Blackwood.
Askarov will most likely be one of the top goaltenders in the league in about five to six years and will be for a long time. However, the issues come down to the historical stigma around drafting goaltenders, and the fact that most starting goaltenders are picked in the later rounds.
Now, the Devils will most likely own three first-round picks. This enables them to “take a shot” and draft a goaltender early. However, I would not do so until the team’s last first-rounder. And by this pick, selection 17, Askarov will likely be long gone.
The argument for not taking him with the first two selections is simple. The talent at the top of the board is too good, and the Devils have more pressing needs, as Mackenzie Blackwood has emerged as a solid starter option.
Ranking of Evaluated Prospects
1. Marco Rossi (04/30/2020)
2. Jamie Drysdale (05/01/2020))
3. Alexander Holtz (04/29/2020)
4. Lucas Raymond (04/28/2020)
5. Jake Sanderson (05/04/2020)
6. Yaroslav Askarov (Today)