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Yaroslav Askarov: 2020 NHL Draft Prospect Profile; The Top Goaltender With “Great Poise, Athleticism And A Quick Glove”

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This year’s draft features a talented goaltender from Russia that has been talked about as a potential franchise pick for a few seasons. Will Yaroslav Askarov be a top 10 pick? Could he be a fit for the Devils?

2020 World Junior Ice Hockey Championship, Semifinals: Sweden vs Russia
Yaroslav Askarov is one of the highest touted goaltending prospects in years and is expected to go in the 1st round of the 2020 NHL Draft.
Photo by Peter Kovalev\TASS via Getty Images

It’s not often that we hear about goaltending prospects that are potential 1st round picks, let alone top 10 in today’s NHL. Yaroslav Askarov is a talented goaltender with a lot of hype behind him that has been climbing up the prospect rankings over the past few seasons in Russia where he has excelled at both the junior and professional levels. He’s also been a big part of their junior teams in international competition. This profile will take a look at Askarov to see why so many in the scouting community think his name will be called early when the draft takes place. The Devils could have three 1st round picks depending on how things with the season shake out and I have to imagine he could be on their radar if they do have all of those picks. Let’s get to know more about Askarov and why some believe he could be a franchise goaltender.

I should also note that when it comes to talking about goaltenders there are a few additional metrics I like to look at for more context. These are Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA), GSAA per 60 minutes (GSAA/60) and Goals Allowed % Minus (GA%-).

Goals Saved Above Average = Saves-(League Average SV%*Shots Against)

Goals Allowed Percentage Minus = 100*((1-player save %)/(1-league average save %))

For GSAA, you obiously want to have a + value. For GA%- you want to be below 100 which is league average. For example a 92 GA%- would mean you were about 8% better than league average while a 108 GA%- would mean you were 8 percent below league average.

Who is Yaroslav Askarov?

Yaroslav Askarov is a promising Russian goaltender that spent most of last season playing for SKA-Neva St. Petersburg in the VHL, the second tier of hockey in Russia. According to his Elite Prospects page, he is a 6’3”, 176 lbs. goaltender that catches with his right hand. He was born on June 16, 2002, thus making him 17 years old this past season, and he comes from Omsk, Russia. He came up through the Avangard Omsk youth system but has been with the SKA St. Petersburg organization since 2017-18. Elite Prospects list him under contract with the organization through the 2021-22 season which is also confirmed on his KHL player page. The young netminder has been a much talked about prospect for a few years now and it’s easy to see why when going through his recent seasons.

In 2017-18, he spent his age 15 season with Buldogi St. Petersburg U16 of the Russia U16 league where he had a 1.96 GAA and .913 SV% across 16 games. By making 5 apperances in the Russia U16 Finals, it appears he wrestled the starting job away from his teammate Ivan Drynkin, who made 28 regular season appearances but just 2 in the U16 Finals. Askarov was also a part of Team Northwest U16 in the Districts Cup U16 where he played in 4 games as the team’s number 1. This would also be the season in which Askarov would start to make his mark on international competition. He played in 10 games for Russia’s U16 team and 1 game for Russia’s U17 team. His success in 2017-18 would lead him to making the jump to the MHL, Russia’s top junior league, for the following season.

Askarov would spend the 2018-19 season with SKA-Varyagi im. Morozova in the MHL where he went 15-12-4 with a 2.37 GAA and .921 SV%. He faced an average of 27.87 shots per game and had a 6.30 GSAA. That worked out to a 0.22 GSAA/60 and 92 GA%-. Out of the 45 goaltenders to appear in at least 25 games, Askarov ranked tied-20th in SV%, 16th in shots against per game, 23rd in GSAA, 21st in GSAA/60, and tied-21st in GA%-. Those numbers show that he was a bit better than the league average goaltender that season, but it’s worth noting that he was the only goaltender under the age of 17 to play in 25+ games. When accounting for his age, that shows a lot of maturity for goaltender in the midst of his development.

The 2018-19 season would also show Askarov compete in a very active interntional circuit. At the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup he helped Russia U18 to a Bronze Medal with a 2.26 GAA and .913 SV% over 4 games. Askarov led Russia’s U17 team to Gold at the U17 World Hockey Championship with a 1.40 GAA and .948 SV%. He led the tournament in both GAA, SV%, and was named to the All-Star Team. He helped the Russia U18 team to a Silver Medal with a 2.31 GAA and .916 SV% in 6 games at the U18 World Junior Championships. He was named as the Best Goaltender of the tournament and to the All-Star Team. At the U19 World Junior A Challange he had a 1.26 GAA and .954 SV%. Clearly, Askarov was able to show his abilities well enough at the domestic level, playing against older players in junior hockey, as well as at the international level. This would lead to another move up the hockey ladder for him.

This past year, his age 17 season, Askarov was tasked with playing against men in the VHL, Russia’s second tier of hockey, just below the KHL. He represented SKA-Neva St. Petersburg and in 18 games went 12-3-3 with a 2.45 GAA and .920 SV%. He faced an average of 29.78 shots per game and had a 0.19 GSAA. That worked out to a 0.01 GSAA/60 and 100 GA%-. Among the 72 goaltenders to play in 15 or more games, he ranked 43rd in SV%, faced the 6th most shots per game, ranked 44th in GSAA, tied-42nd in GSAA/60, and tied-43rd in GA%-. These numbers paint the picture of a league average goaltender, though like his 2018-19 season in the MHL, it’s important to account for his age. Askarov played in a man’s league at the age of 17 while the only other U18 goaltender to play in the VHL, Semyon Korshenboim, made just a single appearance. Once again, the ability to handle his own while playing against older, more experienced competition is a testament to Askarov’s talent. I should also note that Askarov made his KHL debut for SKA St. Petersburg on November 27, 2019, becoming the second youngest goalie to ever play in the league. He made 23 saves on 25 shots in a victory over HC Sochi. The KHL had this article on him after the game and noted:

He favors the butterfly style, and his rapid development has alerted NHL scouts: impressed by his 6’3” frame and impressive reflexes, he’s expected to be a 2020 draft pick and has been described to former Salavat Yulaev prospect Andrei Vasilevsky, now a star for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Right now, though, the youngster is firmly focussed on SKA. “Things are moving fast, but that’s good,” he told KHL.ru after the Sochi game. “The big thing right now is not to start believing I’m a star. I need to keep working, the best is yet to come.”

However, he added that he hadn’t really taken in the significance of making his KHL debut, especially not at such a young age. “I tried not to pay too much attention to it, I didn’t want to think about it so much,” he said. “Probably in a few days I will realize just what happened.

“I tried not to think about how this was my first game in the KHL, how much responsibility I had. I just wanted to go out and play. Hockey here is still the same hockey as everywhere else: the skaters have to score goals; the goalies have to stop them. But in the KHL the game is faster and the shots are harder.”

The 2019-20 season was also another busy one for Askarov in international action. He led Russia U18 to a Gold Medal at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup with a 1.25 GAA and .960 SV% across 4 games. His much anticipated U20 World Junior Championship debut was tumultuous with a 2.71 GAA and .877 SV% across 5 games as Russia U20 captured a Silver Medal. That negative WJC experience for Askarov came out a bad time since it was his biggest opportunity to impress the North American audience yet. As you’ll see below, it doesn’t seem to have hurt his draft rankings too much.

Where is Yaroslav Askarov Ranked?

As you will see in the rankings below, Askarov is one of the highest ranked goaltending prospects over the past few drafts:

Looking at these rankings, it’s clear that Askarov is the consensus best goaltending prospect available in this year’s draft. Some rankings view him in the latter half of the top 10 while others see him slipping into mid-1st round range. It will be interesting to see where he goes as this year’s draft seems like it could go a number of directions after the top 2 picks.

What Others Say About Yaroslav Askarov

A few weeks ago, Steve Kournianos of The Draft Analyst, published this list of Top 10 Russian Prospects for the 2020 Draft. He ranked Askarov 3rd and below is some of what he had to say:

The most heralded goaltending prospect since Carey Price some 15 years ago has had an up-and-down draft year, but the fact still remains — no netminder in this draft has shown the potential for stardom the way Askarov has.

Get used to reading Askarov’s name in the same sentence as Carey Price’s.

From a technical standpoint, Askarov’s style draws a lot of attention. Not only does he catch with his right hand, but he remains perfectly upright throughout his shuffling with his stick blade on the ice and his head totally locked into puck movement. To some, this may seem nonchalant or overconfident, but Askarov can snap into a textbook butterfly ready stance in an instant when facing a shooter. He will challenge shooters above the paint, but losing the net is something he’s shown to do from time to time. When he gets beat, however, it usually takes a labeled shot with a clear line of sight. If he can fine-tune his net awareness and be more consistent playing the appropriate depth in relation to shooting angles, then the cliche criticisms that focus on his glove-hand positioning would be rendered moot. Especially when his lower-half coverage, strong and controlled lateral pushes, and acute awareness make high-danger and second-chance opportunities almost impossible.

Reading this description certainly gives the impression that Askarov has very sound fundamentals. I’m encouraged by his puck tracking ability and athleticism that allows him to play a stand-up style and switch to a butterfly style without issue. As Steve Kournianos points out, his net awareness can be a liability, though that seems like something that experience and coaching can improve as he develops.

I mentioned above that TSN’s Craig Button ranked Askarov 7th in his latest ranking. Here is what he had to say about Askarov in that article:

Sandwiched between the Ottawa forwards at No. 7 is Russian goaltender Yaroslav Askarov, who Button considers the best goalie prospect he’s seen entering a draft since Carey Price in 2005.

“Yes, he had his struggles at the World Juniors, but what doesn’t change is his tremendous skill and ability,” Button said. “He has completely dominated his age level time and time again, and he’s been dominant in the age group immediately ahead.”

Being put in the same category as Carey Price when he was a prospect is high praise for Askarov. Button believes Askarov could be a franchise goaltender with his talent and the way he has rised to the occasion time after time in his short career.

Speaking of rankings, Mike. G. Morreale of NHL.com had this short description of Askarov in his latest ranking where he had the goaltender 10th:

The 17-year-old is already an intimidating presence in net with great poise, athleticism and a quick glove.

Bill Placzek of Draft Site had this to say about Askarov:

Rare right glove goalie with good size, economy of movements and good concentration. Is said to be the best Russian netminder since Andrei Vasilevski. Very cool an calm, and it sometimes seems as if he takes control on games and wins them with is high end abilities. Actually baits shooter with his positioning; gives them an opening he wants them to target and then takes it away as they fire. A reverse hand goalie, and although is a different look to shooters used to left gloves netminders and right handed paddles, it is not the reason for his high success level. Very economic in his movements, and with the play, and reacts with top reflexes when adjusting.

We’ve already seen Askarov’s prospect quality compared to Carey Price as a prospect and now here is a comparison to Andrei Vasilevski. That tells us a lot about how highly the scouting community thinks of Askarov’s potential. I like reading the part about how he baits shooters with his positioning, thus being able to use his skills to take over games. Once again we see praise for his movement and reflexes which seems to be key to his success.

David Ciss of The Puck Authority has this profile on Askarov from earlier this month. He views Askarov as a “Vezina Caliber” goaltender without any glaring weaknesses in his game. Here are some aspects of Askarov’s game that he praised:

For starters, Askarov excels at tracking the puck and anticipating passes...his lateral movement helps him get into a position to make saves and get to the other side of the net quickly...Askarov plays with a butterfly stance which perfectly complements his skills. It allows him to use his speed and superb athleticism to glide across the crease...His glove hand is another one of his top assets.

I trimmed Ciss’ comments down but they further back up what others had to say about Askarov. He’s an athletic goaltender whose butterfly style allows him to make stops. His glove is a plus aspect of his game and it being on his right hand can throw some shooters off. It seems right now he just needs to work on gaining more experience and being consistent as he grows and develops. The fundamental skills already seem there for Askarov to build off of.

A Little Video

The first video is a highlights package from a September 6 VHL game courtesy of Daniel Gee Scouting on YouTube. Askarov made 43 saves on 45 shots while also stopping all 3 shooters to lead his team to victory.

Overall, it was a strong performance with his athleticism and butterfly style on display. He did give up the 1st goal around the 0:59 mark when he got beat glove side against an undefended opponent. The 2nd goal against was a bit of a fluke around the 1:44 mark when the puck was thrown to the front and deflected off of his teammate’s skate and in. Still, for the most part it appeared he kept his concentration most of the game and was consistently squared to the shooters. The shootout portion starts around the 4:19 mark.

The next video is from Faceoff With Farenholtz on YouTube which was posted after the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. He notes Askarov’s composure, maturity, and his puck tracking and anticipation. He also notes that in the MHL clips, you can see that Askarov does get beat high a bit too much when he’s in his butterfly and that is something he will need to improve.

An Opinion of Sorts

I am farily high on Askarov’s potential after taking into account what the scouting community has said on him and what he has accomplished at his age at both the domestic and international levels. At 6’3”, 176 lbs. he has a solid frame and could still grow over the next few seasons. I like that he is a right handed catching goaltender which is a rarity and that he knows how to utilize it. I like that he has the athleticism to play his position whether he is standing up or going into a butterfly style. One of the things that I always remember reading about Mackenzie Blackwood in his prospect days is that he was a great athlete. That seems to have served him well so far in his career and I think the same will happen for Askarov. That athleticism paired with good instincts and sound fundamentals as a shot stopper provide Askarov with a base that could see him flourish into a world class goaltender in a few years. I find it encouraging that Askarov has routinely played above his age level whether that was as a 16 year old in the MHL or 17 year old in the VHL. In both of those instances his metrics where either slightly or solidly above league average which proved that he is up for the challenge. He’s even made his KHL debut at the age of 17 and came out victorious which is a notable feat. Sure his U20 WJC was a struggle but other than that he has shown up time and time again for Russia in international play against his peers or even some players older than him. His success suggests that he has the mentality to reach the top level and excel.

Askarov will turn 18 on June 16 and is signed with SKA St. Petersburg through the 2021-22 season. That brings him through his age 19 season where I would expect him to be playing serious minutes in the KHL. Even when that contract is up you could bring him to North America to continue his development or you could let him sign another short term deal in Russia. While he could be one of those goaltenders that transitions to the NHL at a young age, I don’t see any reason to rush him. Say if a team like the Devils drafted him, you could bring him along slowly should Blackwood continue to show that he’s a quality NHL goaltender. Blackwood would be coming off of his age 25 season after 2021-22 and it shouldn’t be a problem to come up with some sort of rotation that would keep both players happy with playing time and fresh so that no one is overworked. That’s all hypothetical and I realize I am getting ahead of myself. What it boils down to is that the Devils already having a solid NHL goaltender in Blackwood shouldn’t prevent them from perhaps taking a chance on Askarov. They could really form a dominant 1A/1B tandem and/or it could protect the Devils should Blackwood leave as a free agent when the time comes or if his play drops off.

With all that said, while I do think highly of Askarov as a prospect, he is someone I would be careful to draft. The Devils could have three 1st round picks this year or just one. It all depends on what happens with the NHL season which is a great unknown. It depends on if the Coyotes win the draft lottery or not as that pick is lottery protected. It depends on whether or not Vancouver makes the playoffs or not. Regardless, I think the Devils have to take the best skater available with their pick which is currently #6. How the picks unfold after Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield go first and second respectively is anyone’s guess. The Devils should be able to get a quality forward or defenseman at that spot and I think that’s where they have to go with that pick. Say the Devils somehow get 2 more first round selections, I have a hard time drafting a goaltender at #10 with Arizona’s pick (if that’s where it lands). I’d be tempted to take Askarov but ultimately think you have to take another high quality forward or defenseman there. If Askarov was still available and New Jersey had Vancouver’s pick in the mid to late 1st round, then I would be fine taking him there. He’s a great prospect but the Devils need a lot of help with their skaters right now, even though the goaltending after Blackwood is intriguing but far from solid.

Your Take

What are your thoughts on Yaroslav Askarov? Would you want the Devils to use a first round pick on him if they end up with multiple selections in that round? What part of the 1st round would you expect him to be drafted? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!