The New Jersey Devils’ goaltending situation has improved over the last couple of seasons, thanks to Mackenzie Blackwood, who finished sixth in Calder voting in 2019-20. But for as good as Blackwood has been, their backup situation has been less than ideal.
The Devils had a .885 save percentage (SV%) and 6-15-4 record in games not started by Blackwood this season, partly due to Cory Schneider’s struggles. That means they’ll need to find immediate NHL talent to back up Blackwood, whether it’s in free agency or the trade market.
But just because the Devils need immediate help in net doesn’t mean they should ignore the position at the draft. Yaroslav Askarov is a star in the making, but there’s a lot of risk in using a high pick on a goalie at the draft. Fortunately, it’s a deep class at the position, meaning the Devils can find a legit NHL prospect in the mid to late rounds. Let’s take a look at some potential targets.
Bednar is a bit of an enigma among the goalies in the 2020 Draft. He posted a .917 SV% as a 16-year-old with HC Energie Karlovy Vary (Czech) in 2018-19, but his play regressed significantly in 2019-20, as he had a .884 SV% in 13 games. That led to Karlovy Vary demoting him to the Czech2, where his struggles continued, as he had a .873 SV% in 24 games.
Though Bednar’s play dipped noticeably in 2019-20, the upside is there:
“Enormous Czech goaltender who has shown athleticism and the ability to snuff high percentage shots. For the most part, he lets the plays come to him. Has an active stick and will advance pucks and actively handle them using his stick and paddle.” — Bill Placzek, DraftSite
“Enormous Czech goaltender” is a pretty accurate way to describe Bednar — he’s 6-foot-4, 196 pounds. He’s also one of the youngest players in this draft, having just turned 18 on Aug. 26. He’s ranked as high as 71st by Bob McKenzie and as low as 155th by Future Considerations. If Bednar doesn’t get drafted in the top 100, the Devils should consider him in the fourth round or later. There’s no doubt he’s a project, but he has the size and athleticism to be an NHL goaltender.
Garand was one of the best goaltenders in the WHL this past season, finishing with a .921 SV% in 42 games for the Kamloops Blazers. That ranked fifth in the league and was first among 2020 draft-eligible goalies in the WHL.
Like Bednar, Garand is one of the youngest players in the 2020 Draft — he turned 18 years old in June. But there is a noticeable difference in the makeup of Garand, as he’s 6-foot-1, 172 pounds. Most modern NHL goalies are bigger than Garand, and that could be why he’s not getting a ton of attention among the goalies in the 2020 Draft.
For example, Elite Prospects has Garand rated as the 64th overall prospect. But McKeen’s Hockey has him rated as 154th overall, while Future Considerations has him 165th overall. It’s not unreasonable to think he could fall out of the top 100 because of his lack of size. And if that’s the case, the Devils should take a shot on him later in the draft. His production at his age in a top junior league like the WHL signals he has NHL potential.
All the hype around Russian goalies revolves around Askarov, and rightfully so. But there are a few other Russians who’ll be good value picks in the later rounds, and Miftakhov is one. He’s an overager, but he’s put up more than respectable numbers in the VHL — the second division in Russia.
Miftakhov finished last season with a .913 SV% in 23 games for Bars Kazan. He also had a .919 SV% in 2018-19, so he’s had consecutive productive years in a pro league. And on top of that, he was a star for Team Russia at the 2020 World Junior Championships, where he had a .919 SV%.
Miftakhov is not big — he’s only 6-foot, 165 pounds. But he’s succeeded at the pro level in Russia for two seasons as a teenager. It also helps he outplayed Askarov at the WJCs. He needs time to put weight on his frame, but he has NHL potential. A tandem of Blackwood and Miftakhov could have the Devils in good shape for a long while.
Skotnikov isn’t going to show up in many draft rankings, but his numbers certainly grab your attention. He put up a .935 SV% and 1.48 goals against average (GAA) in the MHL — the Russian junior league — in 2018-19. He followed that up with .938 SV% last season, and he got some time in the VHL, where he had the same SV%.
Though the 2020-21 season is young, Skotnikov seems to be building on those stellar numbers. He has a .945 SV% in three games in the VHL, and he managed to get into a KHL game with CSKA Moskva, where he had a .952 SV%.
Future Considerations lists Skotnikov as the 233rd overall prospect for the 2020 Draft, but that’s about the only place you’ll find him ranked. So why isn’t he at least cracking the top 175? He’s only 6-foot, 175 pounds, so that might factor into things. But that’s not much smaller than any of the goalies listed here. There’s a good chance he’s available in the sixth or seventh rounds. And it’d be hard to argue he wouldn’t be a great low-risk, high-reward pick that late in the draft.
Clang is the top goalie to come out of Sweden for the 2020 Draft, and an impressive season helped him rise in the rankings. He finished with a .913 SV% for Rogle BK’s U-20 team in the Swedish junior league. He also starred for Sweden’s national team at the U-18 level, where he had a .939 SV% in four games.
Though not enormous like Bednar, Clang checks in at 6-foot-2, 175 pounds. He’s also on the younger side of the draft, as he turned 18 years old at the end of March. He’s ranked 73rd overall by Elite Prospects, as well as fourth by NHL Central Scouting for European goalies.
Clang may not become a full-time NHL starter, but he could be a solid 1B down the road. For a team like the Devils, drafting that type of goalie is what they should be looking for to complement Blackwood.
Akhtyamov is another Russian goalie who’s flying under the radar in the 2020 Draft. He had a .931 SV% in 46 games last season for Irbis Kazan (MHL). He began this season in the MHL, but he soon earned a call-up to Bars Kazan in the VHL, where he has a .959 SV% in two games played.
Akhtyamov has good size, at 6-foot-2, 170 pounds, though he could benefit from adding more weight to his frame. He turns 19 on Halloween, so it’s impressive he’s already getting playing time in a pro league. He’s not ranked on any prospects lists, but like Skotnikov, he’s a goalie worth taking a gamble on in the later rounds of the draft due to his play in the MHL and VHL.
Tynan’s season came to an abrupt finish after suffering a gruesome injury in December. But he was one of the better goalies in the OHL before having his season come to an end. He played in 23 games and had a .910 SV%, ranked sixth in the league and third among draft-eligible goalies behind Nico Daws and Brett Bochu.
Tynan is on the smaller side — he’s only 6-foot, 160 pounds — but that shows he has room to develop. He’s also among the younger goalies in the class, having turned 18 years old in June. How he returns from his injury is a big unknown. But he could prove to be a legit goaltending prospect if he builds off how he played in 2019-20.
Drafting Goaltenders Late Pays Off
If the Devils don’t choose Askarov, they should be able to find themselves a top goaltending prospect later on in the draft. Considering the goalie factory that is Russia, they’d look pretty smart selecting Miftakhov or Akhtyamov somewhere in the fourth to sixth rounds. And if they don’t take one of the Russians, taking a gamble on Garand or Clang wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.
It’s become commonplace to see goalies drafted in later rounds turn into top-flight starters (examples: Braden Holtby, Connor Hellebuyck). That’s why the Devils would be better off using a mid to late-round pick on a goalie rather than drafting Askarov with a first-rounder. The risk is just too high using a first-round pick on a goalie, even one of Askarov’s caliber.
Plus, the Devils already have Blackwood, who’s only 23 years old, and there’s no guarantee Askarov will end up being better than him. The aim should be to add a veteran backup who can be a stop-gap until a younger goalie is ready to play alongside Blackwood. And the later rounds of the 2020 Draft gives the Devils the best opportunity to find that younger 1B.
Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017