It's always been said that you can't rush goalie prospects to the NHL, and the Nashville Predators are walking that fine line of trying not to rush Yaroslav Askarov when they don't necessarily have to.
With that said, the clock it ticking on the 2024 NHL trade deadline, and the Predators really don't have a need to keep backup Kevin Lankinen into the offseason with him becoming a UFA and likely looking elsewhere for a starter's role.
This leaves General Mananger Barry Trotz with quite the conundrum. This goes without even mentioning that Juuse Saros remains in trade rumor circles, and the market always seems starved for goalies. The Predators have three of them that are tradeable. A nice, but complicated problem to have.
The Clock is Ticking on Making a Goalie Decision with Lankinen & Askarov
I've been speculating on this for over a year now. You've seen it coming with Saros being due for a big pay raise in 2025, and Askarov being one of the world's best goalie prospects.
Askarov just got his first NHL win on Saturday in dramatic fashion over the Capitals. He showed poise, confidence and raw talent in making 27 saves for a .931 save percentage in relief of an sidelined Lankinen who has an illness.
So just in case people are late on this due to the holidays, this has nothing to do with Lankinen's performance and Askarov being called up for that reason. As far as we know, the front office has no intentions of trading Lankinen and calling up Askarov to finish out 2023-24.
Due to the free agency status of Lankinen, Trotz strongly has to consider moving the backup at the deadline and giving Askarov a chance to backup Saros down the stretch. It will give you plenty of NHL game film to review this coming offseason, and then make a decision on Saros.
The last thing you want is keeping Lankinen to the offseason, losing him for literally nothing, and then also being left with limited NHL game film from Askarov going into 2024-25. You need a larger sample size from Askarov on the NHL level before deciding on Saros' future with the organization, and how much you're willing to pay Saros for that matter.
I would be much more hesitant to rush Askarov into the NHL fold if this guy didn't display the confidence and raw abilities he already has. The fine-tuning of his game, like rebound control and making wiser decision in managing the puck, can be taught and developed as a NHL backup.
Yaroslav Askarov's Last 5 Seasons
As you can you see looking over the past five seasons for Askarov, the guy has a large body of work to prepare for the NHL jump. The most encouraging of all of this is consistently allowing below three goals per game over a large sample size of experience in both Russia and in North America.
Find a Trade Partner for Lankinen, ASAP
I'm in no way worried about Askarov's confidence being shattered or stunted if he has a couple starts where he gets blasted. He came up through the KHL and VHL before moving over to the Milwaukee Admirals. He doesn't need to be cautiously brought along like the majority of other goalie prospects.
lt's very unlikely that Saros is going to be traded this season, so the last scenario is 2024-25 being the year of Askarov backing up Saros. When the 2025 deadline approaches, the Predators will really have a tricky decision to make, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. A lot has to be sorted out before then, most notably more NHL action for Askarov to get a more clear picture of his readiness to make the jump.
If I'm Trotz, I'm already establishing connections and interest on Lankinen. At the very least, seeing if there's even any interest at all. There might not be much of anything, and that could mean just keeping Lankinen and living with losing him in free agency as is. I just don't like that route at all because you're blocking Askarov from getting valuable NHL experience that a goalie prospect of his caliber needs.
Askarov is just too talented of a goalie prospect, and different than most goalie prospects, to just keep him in Milwaukee past this season. He needs to be in the NHL starting in 2024-25, but first you need to see him in a few more NHL starts to close out this current season.
It makes zero sense to go into the negotiating room with Saros without a decent NHL sample size from Askarov. You have two goalies that are both capable of being your long-term goalie for the franchise, and Lankinen isn't one of them.