The narrative for a few seasons now has been that Juuse Saros is the future franchise goaltender for the Nashville Predators. Has that ship already sailed?
But to the dismay of some, the Predators decided to draft the undisputed best goaltender in the draft class in Yaroslav Askarov. You can’t knock them for taking the best player available on the board, even if it didn’t address the most pressing need at the time.
Saros is coming off an up-and-down 2019-20 campaign (2.70 GAA, .914 Save %). He had flashes of brilliance down the stretch that pushed the Predators into a playoff spot, but the season pause happened.
We’ll never know if the Predators were poised to keep surging up the standings if a full 82 games were played. Saros had some unlucky bounces in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers as the Predators were eliminated in four games.
With that said, Saros did enough to put him ahead of Rinne to start next season. You have to put all your confidence behind him and see what you have, while Rinne looks to be riding off into the sunset.
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What this means for Saros’ future
You can’t help but wonder what this means for Saros’ future with the Predators. A lot of that will hinge on this upcoming season. If he shows out and puts together an incredible season that propels the Predators back to the playoffs, then we’ll have our answer.
If Saros seizes control of the top spot for the Predators in net and restores confidence, then Askarov could perhaps become a trade piece in the coming years. Goaltenders are always a hot commodity on the trade market, much like quarterbacks in the NFL.
Askarov is signed until after the 2021-22 season in the KHL, so the Predators have some time to figure things out and assess Saros even more. However, Saros is entering the final year of his current contract, so the plot thickens even more.
Saros has the chance to win himself quite the payday if he has a stellar season for the Predators next season. Either in Nashville, or elsewhere.
And how can we forget that Rinne is still here for one more season and will likely get around one-third of the starts, or more if Saros struggles. It’s a good problem to have for the Predators, but they have to get better defensively playing in front of whoever is in net.
Who’s next in line?
The Predators also went out and signed goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, who has a moderate amount of AHL experience and started one NHL game last season for the Toronto Maple Leafs:
Kaskisuo will fit into the Milwaukee Admirals lineup to play alongside the up-and-coming Connor Ingram. A nice tandem in net for Milwaukee. The Predators have some intriguing options for the future in net if Saros doesn’t pan out.
Saros should get extra motivation with the Predators drafting Askarov. He knows this isn’t an immediate replacement by any means, and that he can cement himself as the future franchise goaltender for the Nashville Predators.
With Saros and Rinne in net next season, and the Predators addressing some of their defensive weaknesses through free agency, I expect this team to bounce back in a strong way in terms of defense.
Their offensive limitations is another story altogether, but I do like the direction this team is heading in terms of playing a more physical brand of hockey that will benefit their goaltenders.
If the team’s confidence in Saros dwindles after this next season, then it could be time for Ingram to get the call up for 2021-22 as we wait for Askarov to make his NHL debut.
There’s a lot of goaltenders to shuffle through right now for the Predators, but Saros has the ability to take charge as the future even after drafting Askarov.