Yaroslav Askarov has emerged as top goaltender

Yaroslav Askarov used the Hlinka Gretzky Tournament to show off why he’s the consensus number one goaltender in the 2020 NHL Draft. 

The 2020 NHL Draft is almost a year away. Even before this summer, Russian goaltender Yaroslav Askarov was a name to know in next year’s draft, especially after his epic performance against the United States in the under-18 World Juniors. After a strong Hlinka Gretzky tournament, which included a 35 save masterpiece against Canada in the final, he’s solidified his status as the top goaltender.

In the past three months, Askarov has faced two of the best international teams – USA’s under 18 group and Canada’s under 19 group. He’s solved each one, which is something no other goaltender did.

Askarov’s best chance to impress scouts is to dominate in international tournaments. That’s all he has done so far in 2019. Askarov’s draft season hasn’t even started yet, but he’ll enter it as the consensus top goaltender.

Ever since Andrei Vasilevskiy was drafted in 2012, teams have been looking for the next Russian goaltending prodigy. It might well be Ilya Samsonov, who was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the first round of the 2015 draft. Askarov appears to be the real deal.

He’s already 6’3″ and he might grow another inch or two during his draft year. Even if Askarov doesn’t grow, his size is intoxicating. He has the length and size to make outstanding saves look routine. Askarov is very quick when going from side to side. Furthermore, he is very consistent with his movements and has terrific technique.

His athleticism and size aren’t even the most special thing about him. Askarov is also right-handed, which makes him the NHL goaltending equivalent of a unicorn. There have only been nine goaltenders in the salary cap era who caught right-handed. Mike McKenna, a long-time AHL veteran, was the only right-handed goalie to appear in an NHL game during the 2018-19 season.

Much like Vasilevskiy, there are very few, if any, glaring weaknesses in Askarov’s game. Last season, he had a .921% save percentage in 21 games in the MHL, which is Russia’s junior hockey league. Askarov could join the VHL, which is the second-highest professional league in Russia. Next season could see his KHL debut as well.

Askarov isn’t very aggressive when challenging shooters and he seems reluctant to play the puck. But these are very minor weaknesses. Askarov is well ahead of the curve for goaltenders his age. He won’t turn 18 until just before the draft.

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Most of the 2020 draft isn’t set in stone yet. Alexis Lafrenière is probably going to be the top pick. It’s likely Lucas Raymond will go next. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. But it’s hard to see a goaltender going before Askarov. As great as a prospect as Spencer Knight is, Askarov could be even better.

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