Each day over the next 10 days leading up to the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, held on Oct. 6–7, The Rink will be taking a look at draft prospects who could be available when the Chicago Blackhawks announce their selection with the 17th overall pick. We will group the players by position, wrapping up with a goaltender.
Finishing out the series of prospect profiles is Russian goaltender Yaroslav Askarov.
2019–20 Team: Neva St. Petersburg (Russia)
Date of Birth: June 16, 2002
Place of Birth: Omsk, Russia
Weight: 176 pounds
NHL Central Scouting Final Ranking: 1 (European Goalies)
NHL Central Scouting Midterm Ranking: 1 (European Goalies)
NHL Comparable: Andrei Vasilevskiy
Perhaps there is no better way to round out this series than with the age-old debate of how high is too high to select a goaltender. Projecting netminders is more difficult than any other position on the ice, and yes, high-quality goaltenders can be had later in the draft and even as undrafted free agents at times. But sometimes, a netminder comes along that is clearly a unique talent with an incredibly bright future. Simply put, Yaroslav Askarov is one of those goaltenders.
Now, this piece is not going to be an argument about if Askarov is worth a high pick or not. I have already made that argument. Instead, this will focus solely on Askarov’s play and what makes him a legitimate first-round draft prospect, and a relatively high one at that. Askarov has dominated at every level he has played at and has already continued to do so at the start of the 2020–21 season, posting a 0.74 goals against average and a .974 save percentage in three games to start the KHL campaign.
The most apparent thing about Askarov is his world-class athleticism. Someone with zero knowledge about hockey or goaltending could watch him play and quickly tell you Askarov is as athletic of a person as they have ever seen since it is that blatantly obvious. Askarov’s athleticism allows him to find ways to make show-stopping saves both with his physical ability and lightning-quick reaction time and reflexes.
This athleticism combines with Askarov’s leg strength and flexibility to create an extreme level of explosiveness in the crease. Askarov is able to move in the blue paint as well as anyone and has no difficulty covering a lot of ground to make cross-ice saves look easy. Askarov has a flair for the dramatic as well, as he enjoys using his top-notch glove hand to make flashy stops.
However, not only does Askarov have the raw athletic ability to be an elite goaltender; he also has a very high level of hockey smarts as well. Askarov reads and anticipates plays very quickly thanks in large part to his size and ability to track the puck with great vision.
Though not known for his puck handling, Askarov is effective with helping his teammates retrieve pucks in the defensive zone.
Of course, like pretty much any player, Askarov does have his areas for improvement. He sometimes struggles with rebound control and occasionally will be out of position due to moving too much, but that is not the norm. However, these areas are nothing he cannot overcome and will very likely be fixed with more time developing.
Implications for the Blackhawks
There is no sense in overthinking it. If Askarov is available when Chicago is picking at 17, they need to take him. Period. The Blackhawks have not developed an impactful goaltender through the draft since Corey Crawford way back in 2003. Crawford is now on his last legs, and there is no one currently in the organization capable of being a high-end starting netminder in the NHL. If the opportunity to select Askarov presents itself, the Blackhawks cannot afford to miss picking up their future franchise goaltender. That said, given Spencer Knight was selected 13th overall last year and Askarov is more highly regarded, Chicago would probably have to get lucky to land him after dropping in the draft order thanks to a play-in round victory over the Edmonton Oilers.
Like pretty much every netminder, Askarov will need time to properly develop, which he will continue to do in Russia. While it can be somewhat tough to project the readiness of a goaltender, Askarov certainly has the raw tools required to make an impact quicker than most. However, the selection is still an investment, a long-term one at that, so it is important to recognize Askarov might not be playing in the NHL until around 2023–24.
There is a reason he has received more hype than any draft-eligible netminder in the last 15 years. Askarov is a special talent, and while it can be quite difficult to accurately project goaltenders, it is beyond evident Askarov has the tools needed to be a Vezina Trophy candidate throughout his career. The sky is the limit with Askarov, but even his floor should be pretty high. Even if he is not taking home Vezina after Vezina, it is not unreasonable to expect him to become a top-10 netminder each season.
What others are saying
“I wouldn’t be foolish enough to give assurances, but Askarov passes a lot of the tests I’m looking for in a goalie. He’s 6-foot-3, has tremendous quickness, an elite brain and a great mentality in net where he combines efficiency and aggressiveness that distinguishes him from other very quick netminders. … The toolkit, the brain and the performance over a long period of time point to a unique goalie prospect. I may be wrong on him. Goalies are very hard to project, and even when they get to the league, even the best goaltenders’ performances fluctuate wildly, making them at times unreliable. But I think there’s something different about Askarov. I think he’s going to be one of the top goaltenders in the NHL.”
“Askarov uses a hybrid style similar to Patrick Roy—a total vertical stance that explodes into an airtight butterfly. A noteworthy aspect of Askarov’s style is constant movement, which is imperative to properly defend the upper half (stand-up) and dominate the lower half (butterfly). Askarov’s superior flexibility, athleticism and quickness (and proper stick positioning) are all on display during most possessions inside his own end. Viewing him as being ‘jittery’ or having ‘happy feet’ without understanding Askarov’s style and how it clearly works for him sets critics up for failure—Askarov is incredibly intelligent and possesses technical superiority in multiple areas that validate a style that not only works best for him but also has given him a proven track record in both league and tournament play.”