Editor’s note: As part of the 2020 SB Nation NHL mock draft, we were unsure whether the goalie who is on everyone’s radar would fall to the 13th pick and be available for us to select. He might not make it that far in the real draft, but Yaroslav Askarov was indeed there for the taking in the mock draft, and we wasted no time calling his name. Below is our earlier profile of Askarov, Canes Country’s selection in the 2020 SBN NHL mock draft.
Selecting a goaltender in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft has not been commonplace for almost a decade now. In fact, only six goaltenders have been drafted in the first round in the last 10 entry drafts, with the highest being Jack Campbell who was taken 11th overall by Dallas in 2010. Carolina hasn’t drafted a goaltender in the first round since 2002, when Cam Ward was selected 25th overall. In recent years, organizations have felt more comfortable using second rounders on what does tend to be a high variance position.
Enter: Yaroslav Askarov, a Russian goaltender who very well may buck the trend on goaltenders going in the top 10, something that hasn’t been done since Carey Price was drafted fifth overall by Montreal in 2005.
Yaroslav Askarov - Goaltender - SKA St. Petersburg - 6/6/2020 - 6-foot-3, 180 pounds
Askarov is the best goaltending prospect in this draft, and one of the best prospects in his position since the aforementioned Price was selected 15 years ago. He has excelled in league competition in Russia in the VHL, and appears to be carrying that momentum over to the KHL in his limited opportunity thus far. The young netminder has been a stalwart in international competition as well, showcasing his talents both at the U18 and U20 levels, helping Russia bring home hardware at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup (Gold) and the 2020 World Juniors (Silver).
The most exciting combination that Askarov brings is his athleticism within his sound technique. He’s a powerful goaltender who uses elite quickness from his lower body to make tough saves look routine, without losing his technical ability. Many goaltenders trade one for the other, tending to overcompensate with athleticism, or being technically sound but lacking explosive movement. The combination of having both at such a high level is rare, and typically leads to a future star goaltending prospect in the making.
So, a franchise goaltender would be great, but will Carolina draft him?
This question is a moot point if Askarov doesn’t slip down the board a bit. Of the teams picking prior to Carolina in the 13th slot, the majority are fairly set with their goaltending structures or have more pressing needs to fill with a top-10 pick.
In my opinion, the seventh-ninth picks would be the picks to watch. New Jersey’s (7) organizational depth at the position is not great behind MacKenzie Blackwood, Buffalo (8) has Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen as its likely No. 1 in the future and a few more holes to fill that are likely higher on the pecking order in terms of making them a viable playoff team and Minnesota (9), who has never drafted a goaltender in the first round, would likely be looking at a difference-making forward in that spot.
Otherwise, all the teams in front of the Canes, either have the NHL answer in goal for the foreseeable future, a blue chip prospect in their system in Askarov’s position or are drafting high enough that an 18-year-old goaltender with a top-six pick might be a stretch when their rosters are far from complete (think Detroit and Ottawa).
Carolina, on the other hand, has a system stocked with high-level forward prospects, and its NHL/AHL rosters filled up to the brim with blueliners who are either in, or moving into the prime of their careers/development.
It would be much easier for an organization that has made the playoffs in the last two seasons with a very young core to spend a top-15 pick on a goaltender who could be penciled into their lineup for the next 10 years once he reached the NHL level. Sure, Carolina spent draft capital on Pyotr Kochetkov a year ago, but the team also had six picks in the top 90 of the draft, and was right to stock the organizational cupboard across multiple positions.
Askarov is a difference maker at a position where there is a lot of variance. There’s certainly no such thing as a sure thing, but he’s as close to it as there has been in years. Sign me up.