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2020 NHL Draft Preview: Yaroslav Askarov

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Could the Oilers use their first round draft pick on a goaltender?

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

It’s official!

We have entered draft season as the Oilers prepare for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft slated to get underway on October 6th and 7th. The Orange and Blue hold the 14th overall selection in this year’s draft and there is much speculation on who they could take at that position. In the next few weeks we will be covering a total of nine potential players who could be on their radar.

The first player to be covered will be a controversial one: Yaroslav Askarov. The notion of taking a goaltender in the first round is a risky one. Goaltenders tend to be a hit-or-miss position and taking one in such a premier position in the draft could backfire catastrophically. That being said, some of the league’s top goaltenders have been first round picks; think of Andrei Vasilevskiy who was taken 19th overall by the Lightning in 2012 or Carey Price at 5th overall in 2005.

The Oilers lack a premier goaltending prospect like Askarov and he could very well be on the team’s radar IF he is still on the board at pick 14. Let’s dive a little deeper and learn a little more about Askarov and if he is worth considering for the Oilers.

Who Is Yaroslav Askarov?:

Askarov is an 18-year-old Russian goaltender who stands at 6’3” and is being heralded as the top goaltender in the 2020 draft class. He spent the 2019/20 season in the VHL, Russia’s equivalent to the AHL, playing for SKA-Neva St. Petersburg. During that time he posted a 12-3-3 record while maintaining an impressive .920 save percentage.

He has been lauded by many scouts for his impressive range of talent at such a young age. Askarov has been described as a technically sound goaltender who reads the game well and makes very few mistakes. He has above average athleticism and is known to make a head-turning save from time to time. Askarov uses his size to his advantage and is uncontested at his age group when it comes to his technical skills.

There is also something to be said about the mental aspects of his game. He is an incredibly calm goaltender and is not often found to be floundering in the net in a panic. He thinks the game well and is able to track the puck in difficult circumstances. Askarov is also a vocal goaltender in constant communication with his defenders. He blends all of these traits into a very aggressive style of goaltending that has been very effective to date.

As far as comparable goaltenders this is where things get tricky. What Askarov has been able to do at the VHL level has not been seen by another goaltender of his age. He remains the only U18 goaltender in league history to play as many games as he did. In fact, the list of goaltenders who entered their draft year at the age of 18 after playing a full season of pro hockey is remarkably thin. To do what he has done at such a young age is a testament to how good Askarov is between the pipes. To get a better handle on what makes Askarov such an impressive prospect here is a look at some scouting reports:

Ryan Kennedy (The Hockey News): “Flat out, Askarov has the chance to be the best goalie of his generation. A world junior starter at 17, he had his ups and downs in Ostrava, but scouts still see a total-package netminder with No. 1 potential.”

Sam Cosentino (Sportsnet): “The enormous gap to the next best goalie prospect in addition to his size and athleticism makes Askarov a viable option from pick No. 5 on.”

Cam Robinson (dobberprospects): “Hits all the markers – size, composure, puck-tracking, elasticity, and competitive fire. Was very good in the VHL as a 17-year-old – something we never see.”

Craig Button (TSN): “His physical attributes and ability to read the play puts him in a category of excellent prospect. He has composure, an assuredness and a defiance in the face of challenges.”

Does He Make Sense At 14?:

Before we ponder whether or not he makes sense at Edmonton’s position, let’s take a quick look at where the experts expect Askarov to land on draft day:

Bob Mackenzie (TSN): 11

Craig Button (TSN): 13

Sam Cosentino (Sportsnet): 12

Josh Bell (The Hockey Writers): 11

It seems like there is a consensus among scouts that Askarov will, most likely, be off the board before the Oilers pick at 14 but, as we know, draft day is full of surprises. If he were to drop to the Edmonton’s position it would be no surprise if Ken Holland opted to add him to the prospect pipeline. The Oilers lack a true #1 goaltender prospect and if Askarov lives up to even half of his potential he could end up being invaluable to the team’s future.

Potential Fit with Oilers?:

As I briefly mentioned, the Oilers currently do not have a bonafide top prospect in their goaltending pipeline. At the moment, the organization’s top goaltender seems to bouncing between Stuart Skinner and Ilya Konovalov, with recent trends sliding toward the latter. Both of these players are still large unknowns. Skinner has struggled with consistency at the AHL level, while Konovalov, being an overage pick in 2019, is just starting to show signs in the KHL at 22.

The arrival of Askarov would immediately give the organization a true top prospect goaltender that they could build around in the next few seasons. As it stands, Askarov currently has a KHL deal with SKA St. Petersburg that runs through the 2021/22 season so it is doubtful he would come to North America before then. This, on the surface, seems like a negative but it actually isn’t. By the time he is ready to cross over to the NHL, as he previously stated that he wants to, he will have had two full seasons of professional hockey under his belt. After this Askarov would most likely be ready to assume an NHL backup job at the very least for the start of the 2022/23 season.

Conclusion:

Yaroslav Askarov is a fantastic prospect and could very well be among the very best goaltenders in the league this coming decade. He would immediately legitimize Edmonton’s goaltending pipeline and give the organization a potential franchise goalie.

When I first set out writing this article I was very skeptical at the Oilers taking a goalie in the first round. I just found the position to be too much a crap-shoot to use such a high pick on. I now find myself softening on that position the more I read about Askarov.

If the Oilers want to improve their goaltending in the long-term, Askarov is the obvious choice. However, you can’t discount the other players that could be available at this spot as well. you have to consider the fact that Askarov probably won’t impact the current roster until the 2022/23 season, whereas a forward could potentially step in next season.

Do you think the Oilers should roll the dice on Askarov?