The NHL Entry Draft is always full of surprises; that was no different for the Nashville Predators in the 2020 Draft on Oct. 6 and 7.
Nashville had the 11th-overall pick in the first round of the draft, the 42nd pick in Round 2, and the 73rd pick in Round 3. Round 4 saw Nashville pick 101st, a selection they acquired from the Minnesota Wild in the Nick Bonino trade. In Round 6, they selected 166th overall, and in Round 7, they had two picks, 202nd overall and 209th overall, both acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers for Nashville’s 135th overall pick. Overall, they took three forwards, three defensemen and one goalie.
The 42nd pick, Luke Evangelista, is a native of Oakville, Ontario. He is a right winger who can solve problems with ease, is a fantastic playmaker and a great two-way forward. He is a hard worker on the ice. He played with the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League and put on a clinic with 61 points in 62 games. The Preds are getting a talented player in Evangelista.
Luke Prokop was the Preds’ third-round pick at 73rd overall. He hails from Edmonton, Alberta, and played for the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen, where he posted 23 points in 59 games. He is a skilled defenseman who is best known for his transitions off the puck. For someone of his size, 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds, he is agile and a solid skater; another solid pick for the Preds and their future.
Defensemen Adam Wilsby was selected 101st overall. He is a native of Stockholm, Sweden. He is just starting his Swedish league career and spent most of the 2019-20 season in Sweden’s second division. There, he had 27 assists – the most by a junior player in the league, and in 41 games, he grabbed 30 points. He is an elite skater and has a great ability to move the puck well.
With the 166th pick, the Predators took defenseman, Luke Reid. He played for the Chicago Steel in the USHL this past season, where he racked up 19 points in 45 games. He is a native of Geneva, Illinois; he makes good decisions with the puck and is a natural skater. He is in his freshman year as a member of the University of New Hampshire hockey team in the NCAA.
The 202nd pick for the Preds was Gunnarwolfe Fontaine from East Greenwich, Rhode Island. He was a teammate alongside Reid (166th pick) with the Steel, where he posted 57 points in 45 games. Fontaine is a dynamic forward who can shoot the puck very well. He is entering his freshman year at Northeastern University, where he will make an impact.
The last pick for the Preds was 209th overall. They chose Chase McLane, a native of Trenton, Michigan. He played his 2019-20 season with the Tri-City Storm in the USHL, where he got 16 points in 18 games. He is a strong centerman who can do everything; he plays hard and with a lot of character. He is a freshman at Penn State, where he will be able to develop his game further.
The first round of the draft typically sees forwards, and defensemen selected, but the Predators decided to take a different and unconventional approach for their first-overall selection. They selected goaltender Iaroslav Askarov. Predators chief of amateur scouting, Tom Nolan, said, “the selection of Iaroslav Askarov addressed our needs.”
The Predators’ Future Star Goalie
Askarov is 18 years of age from Omsk, Russia. He is 6-foot-4 and 176 pounds. He is a right-handed catcher, which is also not common for goalies. Only six of the 87 goalies who played in at least one NHL game this season are right-handed catchers. He played in the KHL, the Russian equivalent to the NHL for SKA Saint Petersburg, appearing in three games this season. He recorded a 2-1-0 record with a 0.74 goals-against average (GAA), a .974 save percentage (SV%), and one shutout.
He’s also been in the net for Saint Peterburg’s team in the Russian second league. Askarov appeared in two games this season after spending the entire 2019-20 campaign with the club, where he posted a 12-3-3 record and achieved a .920 SV% in 18 games. He made history on Nov. 27, 2019, when he made his KHL debut at 17. This made him the second-youngest goalie to ever start a game in the league.
The question is, with all the talent in the 2020 Entry Draft, why take a goaltender? For Nashville, the answer was easy. The Predators staff believes they got an elite prospect and franchise goalie in Askarov. Assistant general manager Jeff Kealty compares his athletism to their current goalie Pekka Rinne and the Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. His maturity stands out in his compete level and mental makeup. Askarov’s talent and athleticism were what stood out to the Predators staff.
The Predators are known for taking the best available player at any point in the draft, no matter their position. In the minds of Nashville staff, he has the potential to rival any goaltending prospect from the last decade. The Preds see something special in this young goalie. He is the fifth Russian-born goalie to be selected in the first round.
Comparison to an NHL Great
It is not common that goalies to get drafted in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft. Only 13 goalies have been taken in the first round since the 2000s. Askarov was just shy of being selected in the top 10; this would have made him the second goalie since Carey Price, who was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 2005 to be selected in the top 10. Even though Askarov was taken 11th overall, Craig Button, director of scouting at The Sports Network, stated, “he is the best goalie I have seen enter the draft since Carey Price.” (from ‘4 things to know about Nashville Predators first-round draft pick Iaroslav Askarov,’ Tennessean, 10/06/2020) This is high praise for the young netminder.
Looking Forward to What is to Come
I am genuinely looking forward to seeing how Askarov develops in the NHL. If he turns into the next Price, then the Predators made a clutch choice, and they truly locked down a fantastic pick for years to come.