Should the Senators Take Goaltending Phenom Yaroslav Askarov at Number 5?

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 20: Pierre Dorion of the Ottawa Senators is interviewed during media availability for the 2017 NHL Awards at Encore Las Vegas on June 20, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 20: Pierre Dorion of the Ottawa Senators is interviewed during media availability for the 2017 NHL Awards at Encore Las Vegas on June 20, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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With two picks in the top 5 of this year’s NHL Entry Draft, the Ottawa Senators have a unique opportunity

With the draft capital, they have the chance to select talented players who can add an abundance of skill and much-needed stability for the franchise’s future.  As Alexis Lafreniere is expected to be picked first overall by the New York Rangers and forwards Quinton Byfield and Tim Stützle going next (in whichever order),  Senators General Manager Pierre Dorion and his scouting staff may seriously ponder going the unorthodox path of selecting potential franchise goaltender Yaroslav Askarov with their fifth overall pick.

Who is Yaroslav Askarov?

Yaroslav Askarov is this year’s most highly touted goaltending prospect and appears to be the most prominent net-minder available in a draft class since fellow Russian countryman Andrei Vasilevskiy was taken by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2012. While only 20 goalies have been picked in the first round since Marc-Andre Fleury was selected first overall in 2003, Askarov is poised to join this exclusive group, and potentially elevate into the top 5, based off of the maturity of his play, his unique butterfly style, and his ability to perform at a high level on the big stage.

For an 18-year-old goaltender, Askarov has a long list of accolades that far exceeds what many goaltenders his age have achieved historically, mostly because he has played above his age level for his entire career. For starters, he already possesses a decorated international playing resume which includes a U-20 World Junior Championship silver medal, both gold and bronze medals from two Hlinka-Gretzky tournaments, silver at the U18 WJC, and a gold medal at the U-17 WJC. To many, the highlight of his five international medals in 12 months was his performance at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup where he was virtually unstoppable, posting an astounding .960 save percentage in four games played, leading Russia to an upset over the heavily favoured Canadians in the gold medal game. Askarov’s assertion of his pure dominance in this tournament certainly put him on the map and caught the attention of many around the hockey world, including TSN’s own Craig Button.

https://twitter.com/CraigJButton/status/1274042560130908160?s=20

Askarov also played exceptionally well at both the junior and pro levels in three of Russia’s biggest hockey leagues. The 18-year-old native of Omsk dominated the MHL (Russia’s junior league) in 2018/19, putting up a .921 save percentage in 31 games played. Askarov then replicated the exact same statistic and a 2.45 GAA a year later in Russia’s Supreme Hockey League against much older and developed players.

With an entire season of pro hockey already under his belt playing against men, Askarov has had a unique opportunity to further develop his agility, quickness, and rebound control amongst tougher competition, including a one-game stint for KHL powerhouse SKA St. Petersburg, where he became one of the youngest goalies ever to start in a KHL game. Because of this experience playing at a higher level throughout his career, many scouts believe that Askarov may take less time than the average goaltender to develop into an NHL starter, in time for him to take hold of the reigns of Ottawa’s crease when the team is ready to exit its rebuild phase.

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Could the Red Wings Nab Askarov or Perfetti?

The Sens should seriously consider taking Askarov at pick number 5, that is if he is available at that spot. As I mentioned above, the top three picks most likely will see Lafreniere, Byfield, and Stützle be taken off the board, but Detroit’s fourth overall selection may make the draft a lot more interesting.

HAMILTON, ON – JANUARY 16: Cole Perfetti #91 of Team White skates during the 2020 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game against Team Red at FirstOntario Centre on January 16, 2020 in Hamilton, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
HAMILTON, ON – JANUARY 16: Cole Perfetti #91 of Team White skates during the 2020 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game against Team Red at FirstOntario Centre on January 16, 2020 in Hamilton, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

Small and shifty Cole Perfetti has been connected to the Red Wings for the majority of this past year, most likely because he played right in their own backyard for the Michigan based OHL team the Saginaw Spirit. Being quite familiar with the state, the organization, and Detroit NHL alumni (including Kris Draper and Chris Osgood), Perfetti and the Red Wings seem to be a perfect match on paper and on the ice, given the organization’s desperate need for high flying offence in their top-six forward group.

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However, I believe that it is possible that Detroit GM Steve Yzerman could once again shock the hockey world just like he did last year with Moritz Seider by prying Yaroslav Askarov off of the draft board at number four. Although the Red Wings have promising goalie prospects in Calvin Pickard and Filip Larsson percolating in the pipeline to eventually replace the ageing Jimmy Howard, Yzerman could potentially scoop up Askarov to make goaltending a position of strength for the struggling organization and increase internal competition.

A Surplus in Goaltending Prospects Can Reap Rewards Via Trade

Yzerman and Dorion are in similar situations. Both are looking to inject more talented forwards to provide their lowly clubs with more skill and offence, but they also have an abundance of goaltending prospects that could be used as trade chips to bring in more proven scoring. Many may argue that the Senators already have enough talented goaltending prospects such as Marcus Höberg, Kevin Mandolese, and Filip Gustavson, but the recent transformation of the NHL into a platoon goaltending system with 1A and 1B net-minders makes it more beneficial to have a surplus of goalies in an organization. Askarov and whichever of the current Sens goaltending prospects pans out the best may make for a solid duo for years to come and could also make other prospects expendable as trade assets to address roster weaknesses in the future. Personally, I could see the Senators using Mandolese or Gustavson as trade chips to bring in depth scoring or defence down the road, similar to the imminent solution the New York Rangers will soon have to execute to fix their current goaltending log jam.

DALLAS, TX – JUNE 23: Kevin Mandolese poses after being selected 157th overall by the Ottawa Senators during the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on June 23, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX – JUNE 23: Kevin Mandolese poses after being selected 157th overall by the Ottawa Senators during the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on June 23, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

Should the Senators Pick Askarov?

With two top-five picks in this year’s draft, the Senators should look at addressing their need for a quality centreman (such as Byfield or Stützle) with the number three selection, and consider using the other to invest in Askarov; a goaltender who’s potential has no limits and could possibly be the next Carey Price. A goaltender of Askarov’s calibre does not often present themselves as evidently and as early as the Russian has done so far in his development. His special skillset and maturity make it quite difficult for a team to pass up on him in a draft where most young players lack experience against fully developed men. Askarov has proven he can be successful at high levels of hockey already in his career and has the ability to be a game-breaker on the big stage, thus making him a safer pick as opposed to the less proven players like Jamie Drysdale or Marco Rossi.

UNIONDALE, NY – NOVEMBER 25: Goaltender Dominik Hasek #39 of the Ottawa Senators looks to play the puck against the New York Islanders during their game on November 25, 2005 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. The Sens defeated the Isles 6-2. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
UNIONDALE, NY – NOVEMBER 25: Goaltender Dominik Hasek #39 of the Ottawa Senators looks to play the puck against the New York Islanders during their game on November 25, 2005 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. The Sens defeated the Isles 6-2. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

Not only would Ottawa solidify their future in net with a prospect of his calibre, but Askarov could also be one of the best goalies the club has ever had since Dominik Hasek. Since Hasek, the Senators have never had or retained Vezina calibre goalies (such as Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner), which could arguably be the reason why they are in the position that they are in today. Poor team defence and inconsistent goaltending has plagued this club for years (aside from the recent trip to the Eastern Conference Finals), and committing to an ageing goaltender in Craig Anderson has prevented them from properly developing their other young prospects. However, by picking Askarov, the club could right some of the wrongs they have made in the past with previous goalies and finally reap the benefits of having a star goaltender who can steal games and grow alongside the rest of the young Senators core. Good goaltending is key to success in the NHL, and I believe the Senators have a shot at securing one of this generation’s most unique goalies who can help a team win a Stanley Cup at some point in his career.

Askarov will certainly make a huge impact on whichever team selects him at this year’s draft, but I think the Russian goalie would be a great addition to a young, developing Senators team that needs a generational goaltending talent to steer the club clear of another rebuild further down the road.