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Hurricanes well-positioned to take a risk (and a goalie) with 13th overall pick

Taking a goalie at 13 is a risk. But it’s one the Hurricanes can afford to take

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Kontinental Hockey League: Spartak Moscow vs SKA St Petersburg Photo by Mikhail Japaridze\TASS via Getty Images

Later tonight, barring a trade, the Hurricanes will pick at No. 13 in the first round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. You may or may not have heard about this, but there’s a goalie prospect available who may be on the board when the Canes pick. His name is Yaroslav Askarov, and by many accounts he’s one of the best goalie prospects in quite some time.

The Hurricanes could certainly use a goalie of the future. So, there’s a good chance they pick him if he’s there, right? Well, perhaps not so fast. When asked about the possibility of taking a goalie in the first round, specifically Askarov, last Thursday, Waddell cited the team’s need for a forward prospect after several trades involving them in the last year, and the inherent risk that comes with drafting a goalie in the first round.

“We’re looking at all positions, but right now I think obviously nobody knows how the draft’s going to go, but forward might be a little bit more of a need,” Waddell said. “We drafted a goalie last year in the second round [Pyotr Kochetkov] who’s having a good start to the season this year. But I always go back that goalies are a little bit more random. We’ve seen some goalies drafted high that worked out and some that don’t. I think you can say that about all the players. We’re open-minded, but as I look at our depth chart, up front certainly looks like a need.”

While that could be a smoke screen to shake the top 12 teams off the Hurricanes’ potential interest, it sounds from Waddell’s comments like the team might be hesitant to take a shot on their goalie of the future in this spot. I think that would be a mistake.

Waddell’s certainly right that taking a goalie that high is a risk. They can take a long time to develop, and tend to be harder to project than other players. But for a Canes team brimming with talent on both the NHL roster and in the prospect pool, a franchise goalie seems to be one of the missing pieces. Perhaps that’s Alex Nedeljkovic (though that’s looking less and less likely). Perhaps it’s Kochetkov. But, by all indications, Askarov’s ceiling seems significantly higher than either of theirs.

That’s not to say he’s a sure thing. As I said before, goalies are hard to project. It’s a risk, and not one a lot of teams with a top-13 pick might be able to take: usually those teams are looking for a building block for their future.

But here’s the thing — the Hurricanes can afford to take a risk here. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting doing something frivolous with the pick. Just because you weren’t expecting to have the 13th overall pick in the first place, that’s a gift of an asset and one you need to hit on, whether that’s a successful trade for NHL help or taking a prospect that can contribute down the line. And there’s something to be said for having a forward who could contribute on an entry-level contract in a couple years for a team who’s salary structure is likely to get more and more top heavy as the years go on.

But taking a player like Askarov, if he’s available, is the kind of high-risk, high-reward move that could pay massive dividends. And it’s a calculated gamble the Hurricanes have the unique ability to take.

The team isn’t in the aforementioned position of needing to find a future star skater to build around here. The Hurricanes, coming off back-to-back playoff appearances, appear well on their way to being a consistent postseason team. They weren’t expecting to have a top-13 pick. That was a gift that started with taking on Patrick Marleau’s contract last summer and became a bigger one when the Maple Leafs lost in the NHL’s qualifying round in this strange COVID-19 landscape.

So, more so than pretty much all of the other teams in the top 13, the Hurricanes have a young core locked in. Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce are all 26 or younger and locked in for at least four more seasons. Andrei Svechnikov (20) has one more year left on his ELC but Waddell has made it clear locking him up with an extension is a top priority. Martin Necas (21) has two years left before hitting RFA status.

Add the hope of locking in top defenseman Dougie Hamilton, and you should have a rock-solid core good to go for years to come. And while Waddell was right that the Hurricanes have traded several forward prospects in the past year, it’s not like the team is lacking in that area.

Corey Pronman of The Athletic ($) recently ranked the Canes’ 22-and-under talent, which includes the prospect pool, sixth in the league. Kevin recently did a full accounting of the Canes’ prospect pool, which includes high-end potential forwards such as Ryan Suzuki, Dominik Bokk, Patrik Puistola, Jamieson Rees and Jack Drury. So the Canes don’t exactly have a dearth of young, talented forwards in the organization.

And the depth on the blue line has been well-documented. What could really push that future core over the top is an elite goalie to go with all that skater talent. Now, granted, the Hurricanes could be a bona fide Stanley Cup contender right now with an upgrade in net. And they’d still have to go get veteran for the immediate future. Askarov would likely be, at the absolute bare minimum, three-four years away.

But, even though the Canes have a great opportunity to win now, it’s not like their chances of success are going anywhere anytime soon. With that aforementioned core and prospect pool, the Canes should still be well within their window of contention when Askarov might be ready.

And they’re likely going to need a homegrown starting goalie at some point. The last nine Stanley Cup champions, going back to the Boston Bruins in 2011 (Tim Thomas), were backstopped by a goalie they drafted. In fact, this year’s champion, the Tampa Bay Lightning, took their starting netminder, Andrei Vasilevskiy (who shares his Russian nationality with Askarov) in the first round of the 2012 NHL Draft. And the Hurricanes, of course, won their only Stanley Cup in 2006 with a goalie, Cam Ward, who they took in the first round of the 2002 draft.

So, could Askarov be that guy for the Canes? It certainly seems like it. Pronman called Askarov “one of the best goalie prospects I’ve seen as a first-year eligible.”

Kevin recently did a full breakdown of what Askarov brings to the table for Canes Country. As Kevin explains, it’s his combination of athleticism and sound technique, when most goalies have one but lack the other, that makes Askarov such a promising prospect.

So, while there’s no such thing as a “sure thing” in the NHL draft, especially for goalies, Askarov certainly has the potential to set the Hurricanes up for success between the pipes for years and years to come.

Again, it’s a risk. But it’s one with high reward, and one the Hurricanes can afford to take. Given the Canes’ wealth of young talent both on the NHL roster and in the prospect pool, taking Askarov and having him take longer than expected to be ready, or even not panning out, likely would not be catastrophic.

Given the Hurricanes’ unique position as a team picking in the top-13 with an elite young core already solidified, they can afford to gamble a bit with this pick. That’s why, if Askarov is available at 13 (again, no sure thing), the Canes should take the plunge and their best shot at landing their star netminder of the future.