With the 11th overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft, the Nashville Predators selected the Russian goaltender Yaroslav Askarov. Widely considered one of the best goalie prospects in the last decade, Askarov often draws comparisons to Carey Price. And while it’s been engrained in hockey folklore to not draft goalies in the first round, it’s no surprise that when Askarov was left available at No. 11 that the Predators capitalized on the opportunity.
Coming off a season of shaky goaltending from Pekka Rine and Juuse Saros, Nashville needs solid goaltending to help guide them to their first Stanley Cup. Askarov could be that goalie.
How Good is Askarov?
To put it simply: Askarov might be a franchise talent. Statistically, his numbers should scare the rest of the Central Division. At the 2018-19 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, he posted a .913 save percentage. Later that year at the World Junior Championship, that improved to an imposing .954 SV%. At the 2019-20 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, he somehow improved to a .960 SV%, the best in the history of the tournament. In just three games in the KHL this season, he already has a shutout.
Related: Our Free NHL Draft Guide
The greatest upside to this pick? He is a winner. At just 18 years old, he has won two gold medals (Hlinka ’19 & U17), two silvers (WJAC & U18), and one bronze (Hlinka ’18) in tournaments where his Team Russia were by no means the favorites, although, they also weren’t underdogs.
His play balances both athleticism and excellent positioning. According to Josh Bell, “His movement in the crease is near perfect, pushing across the net effortlessly, combining athleticism with almost perfect edgework. On top of this, Askarov is a textbook netminder.” All-in-all, his game has little weakness, other than perhaps his eagerness to drop early and needing to add some weight.
He’s also a right-handed catching glove goalie, a rarity in the modern NHL. According to NHL.com, only six played in the NHL this year and two were on the Colorado Avalanche. Askarov, then, could become one of the best, if not the best, right-handed catching glove in the world. While there doesn’t seem to be any obvious statistical advantages or disadvantages to a specific catching-glove, the oddity of it could still throw off opposing shooters.
Nashville was lucky they had solid defense in Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm, because Father Time finally got to Pekka Rinne, the long-time stalwart in the net. At 37 years old, in his 12th full season, Rinne for the first time in his career failed to post a save percentage above .900. His 3.17 GAA, likewise, was the worst in his long career—the first time his GAA exceeded 3.00.
Saros will most likely enter the season as the assumed starter. In the final month of the season, he was the best fantasy hockey goalie in the league and appeared to finally steal the job—although, he too had some shaky netminding earlier in the season. Saros, by comparison to Rinne, played almost 10 more games, recorded a .914 SV% and a 2.70 GAA. While these aren’t All-Star statistics, they are more than serviceable for an NHL starter. Most importantly, they buy time for Askarov.
How Askarov Fits In
There’s always a chance that Askarov could appear in a Predators jersey at some point in the 2020-21 season, but goalies tend to take time to develop. Carey Price, for example, was drafted in 2005 at fifth overall but didn’t play for the Montreal Canadians until 2007-08. Nashville would be wise to not rush Askarov in, and with Saros’s play, they might not have to.
From my perspective, Nashville’s plan for goaltending seems pretty straightforward:
- Assume Saros starts.
- Hope Rinne gives him a challenge and/or a comeback.
- If Rinne’s 2019-20 play is the new standard, keep him as back-up to Saros until Askarov challenges for the spot in a year or two or until Rinne retires.
- Edge Askarov into the starting role.
- Re-sign Saros, who will be a more than capable back-up to the franchise player, Askarov.
Nashville doesn’t need an immediate fix to their goaltending, hopefully. Saros should be able to ameliorate the situation and keep them afloat for the meantime. This is almost the perfect situation for both Nashville because they don’t have to rush their newest member.