There’s a new wave of goaltenders about to hit the NHL. There may have never been a time in NHL history where there were this many elite goaltending prospects about to break into the league. With all of the talent coming up, one stands out, who looks to be the leader among them all: Yaroslav Askarov.
Despite being an undrafted prospect, Askarov has taken the hockey world by storm and it won’t be long before he’s doing it in the NHL. It’s already been mentioned by numerous analysts that the Russian goaltender might just be the best goalie prospect since Carey Price.
Askarov could very well be the best goaltending prospect ever. What makes it even more special is that he’s challenging that title in an era of elite young goaltending. Before we dive into why Askarov takes the crown, let’s take a look at his current competition.
The New Era of Goaltending
The NHL’s snipers should start getting worried. Some of these young netminders have been on everyone’s radar for a while, some were just drafted in 2019, and a few have yet to be drafted. They’ll hit the league at separate times, but it seems like goals might start getting harder come by very soon.
Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers
Carter Hart broke onto the scene for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2018-19 and stole the show. Drafted 48th overall in 2016, the goaltender played 31 games last season, putting up impressive numbers with a 2.83 goals against average (GAA) and a .917 save percentage (SV%). The Flyers have been long without a solid number one goaltender, and it looks like they have it in Hart.
Spencer Knight, Florida Panthers
The 2019 NHL Draft had one clear cut leader for goaltenders and that was Spencer Knight. The Florida Panthers ended up selecting him 13th overall, surprising many. But, Knight is a game-stealing goaltender who remains calm and collected while making big saves. He has the potential to make his draft selection look good.
Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals
Braden Holtby has been the goaltender of the Washington Capitals for a long time. It looks like the team has their next number one netminder in Ilya Samsonov. Drafted 22nd overall in 2015, Samsonov has shown elite talent at every level he’s played. Once he has some more North American hockey under his belt, it’s likely that he’ll be one of the best in the NHL.
Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders
Drafted 78th overall in 2014, Ilya Sorokin has taken a long route to become an NHL goaltender. However, with him entering the last year of his contract in the KHL, the New York Islanders may soon be bringing him overseas. Sorokin is very likely to be one of the best goaltenders in the league, as he’s currently one of the best outside of the NHL. In 40 KHL games in 2018-19, he had a 1.16 GAA and a .940 SV%. He’s an absolute wall.
Igor Shestyorkin, New York Rangers
Those impressive stats that Sorokin had last season? New York Rangers’ prospect Igor Shestyorkin was better, albeit in fewer games. In 28 KHL games, The Henrik Lundqvist-heir-apparent put up a 1.11 GAA and a .953 SV% – the best in the entire league for the 2018-19 season. He’s one of the best goaltending prospects in the world right now, no question.
Jesper Wallstedt, 2021 NHL Draft
If there’s one other undrafted goaltender to mention, it’s Swedish prospect Jesper Wallstedt. The netminder is looking just about as comfortable in the 2021 NHL Draft as Askarov is in the 2020 NHL Draft to hold onto the top-goalie title. For the last two seasons, he’s looked solid playing for Luleå HF J20. He’s 16 years old at the time of writing this and has been playing in an under-20 league for two seasons. Yeah, he’s good.
Other Young Goaltenders of Note
There are so many goalies coming up into the NHL right now, it’s truly an exciting time. Some other netminders not mentioned above include:
Jake Oettinger (Dallas Stars), Cayden Primeau (Montreal Canadiens, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (Buffalo Sabres), Thatcher Demko (Vancouver Canucks), Michael DiPietro (Vancouver Canucks), Filip Gustavsson (Ottawa Senators), Mads Sogaard (Ottawa Senators), Pyotr Kochetkov (Carolina Hurricanes), Cal Petersen (Los Angeles Kings), Jan Bednar (2020 NHL Draft), Joel Blomqvist (2020 NHL Draft), and Tristian Lennox (2021 NHL Draft).
There are a ton of elite goalies starting to break into the NHL. While I mention all of these goaltenders, this piece is a look at Askarov. I bring up all of these goalies, some with the potential to be elite and the best in the NHL, to make it clear just how good Askarov is.
He could be better than all of them.
Getting to Know Askarov
Askarov is no ordinary goaltending prospect. TSN Director of Scouting, Craig Button, believes that the netminder, among others, could challenge Alexis Lafreniere for the number one spot come draft day in June 2020. With all of the talent in the draft, I think that it will be difficult for Askarov to go first overall, but he’s definitely a top-10, possibly top-five, pick.
Playing his first season in the MHL, the KHL’s junior league, last season, the goalie came in and shut down the league as a rookie. Through 31 games, he put up a 2.37 GAA and a .921 SV%. This is playing against players up to five years older than him at the time.
When facing players closer to his own age, he’s on an entirely different level. International competition has given fans across the globe a chance to see him play and he hasn’t disappointed.
The netminder has stood on his head against the world’s best, stealing games and even tournaments while sending the favourites home. In just the last year, Askarov has helped Team Russia to two gold medals (2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup and the 2018 World U17 Hockey Challenge), two silver medals (2018 World Junior A Challenge and the U18 World Championship), and a bronze medal (2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup).
While his medal count is impressive, his statistics in these tournaments are just as good, if not better. His worst statistics came in the first event, the 2018 Hlinka, where he carried a 2.26 GAA and a .913 SV% – still fourth-best in the under-18 tournament as a 16-year-old. Not too bad and he still came away with a bronze medal.
From there, he just got better. At the 2018 World U17 Hockey Challenge, he had a 1.40 GAA and a .948 SV%. Next came the 2018 World Junior A Challenge and Askarov’s performance of a 1.26 GAA and a .954 SV%. He followed that up at the U18 World Championship with a 2.31 GAA and a .916 SV% – remember, he’s still 16 at this time. In that tournament, he also defeated the favourites, Team USA, in the Semifinals with a 40-save performance.
Finally, the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup came along in Aug. 2019. He’s 17 now and kicking off his draft-eligible season. He didn’t disappoint, collecting his best statistics yet with a 1.25 GAA and a .960 SV% en route to his second gold medal, and fifth overall medal in one year.
There will be more tournaments this season to watch him play, as he’ll likely be at the U18 World Championship and very possibly the World Junior Championship, on top of his regular season with SKA-1946 St. Petersburg. If he keeps trending the way he has been, there’s no question that he will be at the very least a top-10 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.
Scouting Report: Yaroslav Askarov
While his statistics are impressive, let’s take a closer look at Askarov’s game including what makes him elite. It’s in this that we can see why he’s going to be the new king of the NHL.
Watching Askarov play, it’s sometimes hard to believe his age. He’s currently 17 years old, but he plays like a seasoned NHL veteran. His upper body is like a statue that glides effortlessly across the crease. Yet, his legs are constantly moving. This allows him to consistently maintain his form while remaining square to the puck and being prepared to make a save. It’s exquisite to watch.
This ability is what sets Askarov apart. It combines his skating ability with his athleticism. His edgework seems better than some current NHL goaltenders, allowing his lateral movement to be near flawless. It doesn’t look like there’s very much movement, but his legs are working tirelessly to remain between the puck and his net. It’s this combination of footwork, strength, and textbook technique that make Askarov an elite goaltending prospect.
From this core skill, the rest of his game seems, as mentioned, effortless. By being in position, he can always see the puck. His vision is excellent. Even when being screened he seems to be able to find a clear path to the puck. If not, his positioning helps him out.
His anticipation is elite as well. He can read a pass across, either getting in it’s way or meeting the shooter with impeccable timing. If you have a breakaway on him, good luck. He is patient, we already talked about his elite ability on his feet so you know you won’t get past him, and his anticipation allows him to read the shooter’s moves.
While his stance is great, his butterfly is a key to his success. He can take away the entire bottom of the net, yet his skill allows him to explode across the crease. Or, he’s flexible enough to stretch out in a split save. Whatever it takes to stop the puck.
It’s truly hard to find flaws in his game. He sucks in rebounds or directs them to the corners, his glove hand is a puck-magnet, and he’s always aware. Some scouts say that he sometimes gets beat high from going down too early, but to have that as your only noticeable flaw at 17? Any team would take that as it’s something that can be easily addressed, and likely will be as he develops.
Askarov: The Next King of the NHL
Now we know Askarov and we know some of the other elite goalies coming up in the ranks. It doesn’t need any arguments to say that the current crop of goaltending prospects is elite. It’s very likely that this is the best group of goalie prospects ever. We’ve seen a few at a time, but this is a massive amount of puck-stopping talent. Among all of this skill between the pipes, Askarov looks to be the best.
The statistics at his age are historic. His 2019 Hlinka performance was the best ever in the tournament. Most of his accolades have been accomplished before he was 17 years old. We’re nine months away from the 2020 NHL Draft, and there’s already talk about him being challenging to be the first overall selection. Many are saying that he’s the best goaltending prospect since Carey Price (a reminder that Andrei Vasilevskiy was the last goaltender to get that title).
Price was selected by the Montreal Canadiens fifth overall in 2005. It was known that he was going high, but not that high. Still, it worked out for the Canadiens, and Price has been one of the best goalies in the league ever since. Askarov is more decorated than Price at the same age.
Vasilevskiy was selected 19th overall in 2012 by the Tampa Bay Lightning. His resume is closer to Askarov’s at that age. But Askarov has more medals and better statistics in the same tournaments. The Vezina-winning goaltender was better in the MHL, but Askarov has at least one (likely more) season to challenge that.
The fact that Askarov is 17 years old (if I haven’t mentioned that already), and is being compared to arguably the best goaltenders of their respective eras is nearly evidence enough that he’s going to be the next best NHL goalie. Looking at his resume and his scouting report, it further backs it up. Of course, goalies are tricky and anything can happen. There’s also an incredible wealth of prospects in net ready to take the NHL by storm and challenge him for the best in the league by the time he gets there. For now, I think it’s safe to say that Askarov will take the crown.
Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.