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2020 NHL Draft Prospect Profile: Meet Yaroslav Askarov, the future face of NHL goaltending

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The projected top goaltender of the 2020 draft class had an impressive year in Russia as a 17-year-old.

2020 World Junior Ice Hockey Championship, final: Canada vs Russia Photo by Peter Kovalev\TASS via Getty Images

The 2020 NHL Entry Draft is coming up, and this year’s draft class has the potential to be one of the best in recent memory. For the next month, we will be profiling each of the top prospects available in the draft — many of whom could be candidates to be selected by the Minnesota Wild. Follow along as we dive deep into the strengths and weaknesses of each notable player eligible to be drafted this June.

We have finally come to our first goaltender in the draft class of 2020 — Yaroslav Askarov. The 17-year-old hails from Omsk, Russia and played his youth hockey for Avangard Omsk, a place that developed the likes of Jaromir Jagr and Vladimir Sobotka.

Askarov is pegged by most to be a top-10 pick in the upcoming draft and a generational talent, with hype similar to what Carey Price once had as a prospect. A key difference between Askarov and the select few goaltenders that have gone in the first round in recent years is that he catches with his right hand. Yes, folks, the kid that many peg as the next great goaltender catches the silly way.

Askarov seems to be a lock in being the sixth goalie to be selected in the first round since 2011. If he is selected inside the top 10, he’ll be the first since 2005 when Carey Price was selected fifth overall by the Montreal Canadiens. At 6’3, Askarov brings a big game with a high skill level and a combination of quick reflexes, fantastic lateral movement, and a hockey IQ that we haven’t seen in a goaltender in years. By all regards, Askarov looks to be the NHL’s goalie of the future.

2019-20 season review

The entirety of the 2019-20 season for Askarov was played as a 17-year-old. The youngster’s season started early with the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup in Slovakia and finished in the VHL, which is essentially Russia’s AHL league under the KHL, playing for SKA-Neva St. Petersburg.

Playing for Team Russia at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, Askarov and Team Russia won the gold medal. Askarov made 35 saves as Russia defeated Canada 3-2 on Saturday in the final of the under-18 hockey tournament.

The majority of the Russian goaltender’s season was spent playing against men in the VHL. Askarov started 18 games for SKA-Neva St. Petersburg, the minor team to powerhouse SKA St. Petersburg. The-17-year-old backstop was the youngest goalie in VHL history to appear in more than nine games and also finished with a 12-3-3 mark. He posed a .920 save percentage and let in 2.45 GAA per game. In November, Askarov was named VHL Prospect of the Week.

His play in the VHL earned him a glimpse of time in the KHL, playing behind former NHL players Jori Lehtera, Nail Yakupov, Sergei Plotnikov, and soon-to-be NHLers Alexander Barabanov and Vasili Podkolzin. In Askarov’s one start in the KHL, he only allowed two goals against and posted an impressive .920 save percentage, shying away 23 of the 25 shots on net, becoming just the fourth 17-year-old goalie, and the youngest overall, to suit up in the KHL. Askarov joins New York Islanders prospect Ilya Sorokin, Capitals prospect Ilya Samsonov and Alexander Trushkov as the only other under-18 goaltenders to start in a KHL game.

The only hiccup in his season was his performance at the 2020 World Juniors, where he played in five of the 10 games and struggled to keep the puck out of the net. He finished the tournament with a silver medal, but logged a poor 2.71 goals against average and .877 save percentage. It should also be kept in mind that he was the youngest goaltender at the tournament. He was almost unbeatable against his peers on the international stage at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and played very well in the VHL and KHL, thus his performance at the World Juniors shouldn't be too alarming.

Skill set

The first thing scouts and most viewers point out in Askarov’s game is his quickness. The Russian netminder has freaky fast reflexes and is quick to change his positioning in his crease. The quickness in Askarov’s game is demonstrated in the video below starting at the 21-second mark. He tracks and positions himself to stop the first shot, then quickly pushes off using his right leg to get over, shutting down his opponents scoring chance while making a fantastic save.

Another part of Askarov’s game that jumps off the page is his lateral movement. He moves from point A to point B fast and smooth while keeping his eyes locked in on the play. The 17-year-old gets post-to-post and post to the top of his crease as well as any goaltending prospect post lockout. In the clip below, Askarov thwarts a chance from the slot by moving laterally from his post to the top of the crease, cutting off the scorers chance.

A skill that is a little more subtle and very tough to judge for many goaltenders is their hockey IQ. How well does a goaltender see the game? Can they pick up how the play will develop before it even develops? This is a characteristic in Askarov's game that puts him above other goaltenders. He sees the game so well and understands where he will have to position himself before he has even moved. In the clip below, you can watch how Askarov positions himself quickly in each scoring lane, in instances moving before the puck moves from pass to pass as he anticipates passes and shots coming at him.

Bottom line

Askarov is far and away the best goaltender in this year’s draft class. He has the surefire potential to become a franchise goalie and a Vezina Trophy contender in the NHL down the road someday. All teams covet strength at the goaltending position, but many pass on selecting the position in the first round. Askarov is simply one of the outliers that should be selected inside the top 10 at the upcoming draft. If not, we all know a team sitting at 11 that might want a man of Askarov’s ability.

Do the Wild really need another goaltending prospect? Goalies are projects that need continued development for several years before making it to the NHL. It wouldn’t be the worst pick for the Wild at No. 11 if Askarov is still on the board. If the team were to spend their first-ever first round pick on a goaltender, they do have the luxury of having another first-round selection from the Jason Zucker trade to Pittsburgh. Askarov is regarded as the top goaltending prospect since Carey Price, so it might be a wise selection. As we all know, Stanley Cups are won with great goaltending, and Askarov is the closest prospect to a sure thing in years.