Not since Petr Mrazek have the Detroit Red Wings had a goaltending prospect that screams NHL potential. While the organization does have a few goalies in the system that fans should keep their eyes on, there isn’t that standout blue-chip kid that looks like a difference-maker. Then you consider the unpredictability of goaltender development and the picture in goal looks fuzzy-at-best for the Red Wings.
With the fourth pick in the draft this October, the Red Wings have a myriad of options available to them. There will be great players at every position still up for grabs, and that includes goaltending. This year’s draft features possibly the best goalie prospect in over a decade.
That player is Yaroslav Askarov. The 18-year-old Russian is something of a phenom at his position. While it is always best to use caution when talking about goaltenders, his case is one where maybe fans can let their imaginations run wild.
Steady In Net
Goalies provide a calming effect on their team when they consistently make saves and give their team an opportunity to win. A big part of the reason the Red Wings struggled so heavily this season is because, despite Jonathan Bernier’s best efforts, the team did not receive consistent, solid goaltending. Heading into this offseason, a big point of focus for the organization will be determining how to fix this problem.
This season in the VHL (Russia’s equivalent of the AHL) Askarov was a steady force in net. He held a .920 save percentage (SV%) through 18 games, and he maintained that in his one game of KHL action. Keep in mind that this is a 18-year-old facing off against professionals of all ages.
But being “steady” isn’t just about making saves. Askarov is smooth and collected in the net, which leads to him not often being caught out of position. Instead, he expertly uses his body and technique to put himself in a position to make a save. The way he stabilizes the crease allows his team to play a looser game all over the ice.
At 6-foot-3, 176 pounds, Askarov is large, but still with plenty of room to grow. His reach is long and wide, allowing him to get to pucks that others might not be able to. You can foresee many highlight-reel saves in his future.
But that reach means nothing if he can’t track where the puck is going. Luckily for the team that drafts Askarov, he can — and he does it well. He keeps his head on a swivel and moves in the crease with precision to line himself up with the puck. The reason he is able to play a reserved game is because he almost always knows where the puck is.
Askarov also has that unteachable ability to clutch-up when the stakes are high. In international play, he has helped Russia capture multiple silver and gold medals. His success in these tournaments suggest that he may one day man the crease for Russia in other big-time events like the World Cup and the Olympics. This is high praise considering Russia has pumped out a lot of high-end goaltending prospects, such as Igor Shestyorkin (New York Rangers) and Ilya Sorokin (New York Islanders).
It is highly unlikely that anyone, no matter the hype surrounding them, can jump directly from the minor leagues in Russia to the NHL. Askarov is no exception.
That being said, there’s reason to believe that Askarov could cross the pond sooner rather than later. If the team that picks him in the draft has a lack of depth in the crease, he may follow the same path to the NHL as Shestyorkin did this season. Once he does arrive, he has all the tools to make an impact for his team right away.
The Red Wings could afford to acquire a placeholder solution in net for next season while Askarov presumably gets legitimate playing time in the KHL. The Red Wings’ tendencies will tell you that they would make sure that the young Russian has a veteran mentor available to him once he does make his way to North America.
Best Player Available
The name of the drafting game for the Red Wings is maximizing the value of their draft picks — especially their top picks. General manager Steve Yzerman has a real opportunity to add a player capable of being one of the best from the draft class. Though their prospect pool has gotten better and deeper, the Red Wings still don’t have enough depth in any one area to consider it an organizational strength.
It’s why there is such a wide variety of players that could go at pick four to the Red Wings. They need a dynamic talent that can become a real building block of the team’s future. Most scouts agree that Askarov has the potential to be exactly that in goal.
To put it simply: the Red Wings are very unlikely to have the opportunity to draft a goalie like this again. If they seize this opportunity, they’ll add a player with the potential to become one of the very best at his position.
And isn’t that the point of rebuilding?