It came a little out of nowhere that Yaroslav Askarov got his first NHL start for the Nashville Predators in 2022-23 on Thursday in Montreal.
With Juuse Saros having such a quality backup in Kevin Lankinen, Askarov wasn’t really on the radar until next season in terms of cracking the NHL. However, Lankinen’s undisclosed illness put Askarov into the starter’s crease for the Predators in their road trip finale against the Montreal Canadiens.
Askarov made his AHL debut in North America just this season, and has definitely shown promising early results. He has posted a 13-6-2 record, two shutouts and a 2.66 GAA. He was also named as an AHL All Star along with Tommy Novak, who has found a regular role in the NHL lineup.
The Nashville Predators organization, with their lack of forward development aside, has always been fortunate to effectively develop goaltending talent.
Here are my three key takeaways from Askarov’s NHL debut.
1. This Guy is Overflowing with Confidence
To see the high level of confidence Askarov opened the game up with was extremely impressive. The Canadiens, like many NHL teams when they face the Nashville Predators this season, pounced on the offensive zone right out of the gate.
Askarov had no time to settle in and take in the moment of his first NHL game. He was being peppered left and right, and needed some challenging saves to keep the Canadiens off the board early on.
Most goaltender prospects, regardless of talent level, would’ve probably been roasted for a couple goals in the opening minutes if they went up against the barrage that Askarov had to deal with.
Askarov settled into the game as it rolled on. According to MoneyPuck, Askarov didn’t give up any soft goals. The Canadiens finished with the amount of goals they were expected to get based on shot quality.
For an NHL debut from a 20-year-old goaltender that doesn’t even have a full year of playing time in North America, you’ll take that. This was a major stepping stone in development for Askarov.
2. Misplaying the Puck
This is correctable and shouldn’t alarm you in the slightest. The NHL game is so much more difficult than anything Askarov has ever seen on the AHL level or overseas.
Askarov, which goes back to his high confidence level, likes to play the puck aggressively. He cleared a puck on a penalty killing scenario that looked like something Pekka Rinne in his prime would’ve done.
On the flip side, Askarov had a classic rookie mistake giveaway that led to a
goal. He turned the puck over on the boards trying to play it to a teammate, and has trouble recovering before Dach gets the open net:
A learning moment for Askarov. He can go back to film and learn from that mistake. It also comes down to not having much chemistry with his Predators teammates yet.
Saros, for example, also likes to play the puck aggressively at times. Usually he knows when the right moments are to do that and when not to chance it. Askarov will learn that with more playing time both in the AHL and certainly once he gets more starts in the NHL.
3. Askarov will Keep Improving with More Starts
We have to remember how new Askarov still is to the North American game, and how much he wasn’t used before coming from overseas.
When Askarov was in the KHL and VHL for SKA St. Petersburg, he was used sparingly. He was the backup and didn’t get the in-game development he needed. That was why it was so important to get him to the Milwaukee Admirals for 2022-23.
Askarov had just 15 games combined between the KHL and VHL in 2021-22.
This NHL debut from Askarov should leave you feeling overall pretty content with where he’s trending. He finishes with 31 saves and a .886 save percentage. Not great from a seasoned NHL starter, but certainly nothing to hang your head on from an NHL debut.
Two of the four goals surrendered by Askarov were on the power play, and we already mentioned the mishandling of the puck on the Dach goal. He just needs to clean some stuff up, and it’s all coachable stuff.
Here’s my final thought from Askarov’s NHL debut; if the Nashville Predators fall far out of the postseason picture going into March, I’m considering giving Askarov a handful of starts down the stretch. He is your future and he has the confidence to handle NHL pressure and highly benefit from the playing time.