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2020 Flames First Round Targets: Yaroslav Askarov

The 2020 NHL Draft is scheduled for October 6 and 7, conducted remotely. The Calgary Flames have a first round selection and will pick 19th overall. In advance of the draft, we’ll be looking at some contenders to be selected at 19th.

Calgary hasn’t taken a goalie in the first round since Darryl Sutter selected Leland Irving with the 26th pick in 2006. This year, talented Russian netminder Yaroslav Askarov is the consensus #1 goaltender in the draft. Whether the Flames are interested or if he’s still available at 19th remains to be seen, but, just in case, let’s take a look at what Askarov brings to the table.

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Scouting Report

Askarov is a decent-sized goalie (6’3″, 176 lbs.) with tremendous agility and a butterfly style that makes it nearly impossible to beat him down low. He follows the action like he’s reading out of a playbook, seldom reacting late to players receiving dangerous passes in scoring areas. He had a couple of bad games at the World Juniors where opponents victimized his glove hand but neither his blocker nor his glove have proved to be liabilities during his distinguished career overseas thus far. (One note about his glove, however — unlike the vast majority of professional goalies, Askarov’s glove sits on his right hand).

In August of 2019, Askarov began his draft year with a superb performance at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, posting an absurd .959 save percentage in three games for the gold medal-winning Russian team. Later that year, in November, Askarov once again competed for Russia at the U20 Four Nations Cup in Helsinki, receiving rave reviews after posting a .948 save percentage in his two starts. Here’s what Dobber Prospects’ Jokke Nevalainen had to say about Askarov’s performance in Helsinki:

This tournament was another example why the “best goalie prospect since Carey Price in 2005” talk is justified in regards to Askarov. He’s just 17 years old but already taking over the number one job for the Russians at the U20 level. He started two of the three games and was even forced to play the final 10 minutes of the third game because their other goalie was chased out. […] He was especially impressive in the game against Finland where he stopped 34 out of 35 shots. His positioning was excellent and he did a great job at reading the plays. He stopped a lot of high-danger chances, and even when he was out of position for second and third chances, he somehow managed to get some part of his body in front of the puck.

[…]

Askarov clearly doesn’t lack confidence in his play but he also doesn’t lack confidence in the way he communicates with his teammates – despite being the youngest player on the team. The arena was very quiet with only a few hundred spectators watching the games, and you could hear Askarov shouting to his defensemen all the time. He was constantly instructing them to look out for players who were trying to sneak behind the defense or were otherwise too open for his liking. He was even shouting at them when they were playing on the power play at the other end of the ice.

Askarov’s showing at the World Juniors left a little to be desired. He started the tournament as Russia’s starter but was pulled in his team’s opening game against the Czechs, a 4-3 loss in which he made just 13 saves on 17 shots in his 40 minutes while his teammates vastly outshot their opponents. His backup, Amir Miftakhov, played the third period against the Czechs before starting Russia’s next game, against Canada, and recording a shutout in a 6-0 win. Askarov regained the net and posted decent, if unspectacular numbers, for the remainder of the tournament before being benched in favour of Miftakhov for the gold medal game against Canada, which Russia lost 4-3.

Here’s some analysis on Askarov’s fundamentals from Steve Kournianos over at The Draft Analyst:

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Askarov mostly uses a Reverse Vertical-Horizontal (RVH) with his skate blade on the post and stick blade perfectly horizontal to the ice. It’s possible he’s used an overlap or toe-lock when in the RVH, but the majority of his games reveal positioning with his skate perfectly wedged into that near post. Askarov uses the post to execute powerful lateral pushes and rarely gets beaten on wraparounds or short-side snipes. […] Askarov’s footwork and movements result in snap post-leans that come across as surgical the more you watch him. When it comes to sealing off as much of the post as he can, Askarov generally has the lower half covered like a blanket. He does leave room upstairs on occasion; possibly gambling on a shooter’s inability to elevate.

[…]

Possibly the most impressive aspect of Askarov’s skillset outside of his IQ is his cat-like quickness and the dynamism of his push. He also uses well-timed shuffles and can execute multiple iterations to adjust his angle before a shooter is at his release point. Askarov’s backside push into an RVH is textbook, even if he’s dealing with traffic or getting bumped out of his crease.

Askarov is the latest in a line of phenomenal goaltenders to have come out of Russia in the last decade. Along with Ilya Sorokin, he’ll likely soon join Igor Shesterkin, Ilya Samsonov, Semyon Varlamov, Alexandar Georgiev, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Sergei Bobrosvky as goalies who have made the transition overseas. There are always questions about how netminders will translate their play from lower leagues into the NHL, but Askarov looks to be close to a sure thing; many scouts, including Nevalainen, have dubbed him as “the best goalie prospect since Carey Price in 2005.”

The numbers

Aside from international competition, Askarov competed in the Russian VHL (their second-tier pro league) with SKA St. Petersburg, becoming the youngest goaltender to ever start at least 10 games in the league. He played well against men, putting up a .920 save percentage and going 12-3-3 in 18 games.

Per Kournianos, Askarov currently sits at a ridiculous 30-6-1 record in international play to go along with a .932 save percentage.

Availability and fit

The Flames are pretty happy with how CHL Goalie of the Year Dustin Wolf has progressed for them after they selected him 214th overall in 2019, but they have also been let down before by highly-touted junior goalies. Most recently, Tyler Parsons and Mason McDonald disappointed after being picked in the second round by Calgary, although Parsons still has room to grow and will likely spend 2020–21 competing with Artyom Zagidulin in Stockton (with the possibility for a call-up if he plays well).

With Jon Gillies on his way out as a UFA and Nick Schneider likely 50/50 to receive a qualifying offer by October 7, the Flames really only have three viable goaltending prospects in Wolf, Zagidulin, and Parsons. Wolf is the most promising but also the only one without pro experience as of yet. Parsons has struggled with injury issues and consistency as a pro; Zagidulin has proven he can make some big saves in key moments to win AHL games, but he also hasn’t displayed anything resembling dominance over lower-level competition like some of his counterparts. In short, the Flames have plenty of question marks in net (that sounds familiar!) and they could very well be tempted by the consensus top goalie prospect in the draft.

But will he be available to them? Most projections have Askarov going a few picks before Calgary is slated at 19th, with Craig Button ranking him all the way up at 7th. The Athletic’s Corey Pronman has him going 8th; FC Hockey has him at 10th; Bob McKenzie, McKeen’s, and Dobber Prospects all have him going 11th; finally, Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino has him going 12th.

It would be exceedingly strange to see a goalie picked in the top-10. Carey Price was the last one to go higher than 11th; he was selected 5th overall by Montreal in 2005. Askarov comparables Ilya Samsonov and Andrei Vasilevskiy went 24th and 19th in their respective drafts. It all boils down to individual team fits and, while there are a few teams ahead of Calgary in the draft who could use a goaltender, it’s also hard to identify teams that are only looking for goaltending help. In such a deep draft, it’s not hard to envision a goalie like Askarov slipping further than expected on October 6.

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2020 First Round Targets

Braden Schneider | Kaiden Guhle | Seth Jarvis | Connor Zary | Jacob Perreault | Noel Gunler | Lukas Reichel | Dylan Holloway | Hendrix Lapierre | Jan Myšák | Jake Neighbours | Mavrik Bourque | Ozzy Wiesblatt | John-Jason Peterka