Out of all of the recent Nashville Predators prospects, no one sparks quite as much interest and excitement as young goaltender Yaroslav Askarov.
Askarov's number was called against the Washington Capitals, marking his second NHL start of his career. Throughout the game, Askarov looked poised and comfortable and made many key saves early on, allowing for the Predators to get out to quick 2-0 lead on goals from Luke Evangelista and Roman Josi.
The game ended up going to a shootout, and Askarov was able to lead the team to a victory by stopping both Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin one on one. This was a big moment for the Russian goaltender, and further proved that he has the confidence to go up against some of the league’s best shooters and goal scorers.
Askarov Shows Off his Confidence and Playmaking Ability in Preds Win
During regulation Askarov was able to spring a 90-foot stretch pass to Forsberg for a two-on-one rush, but Tommy Novak was unable to bury the puck due to a fantastic save by the Capitals goaltender.
Even though this chance didn’t lead to a goal, it shows just how beneficial Askarov could be to the playmaking and style of the team.
Head Coach Andrew Brunette has been emphasizing sharp puck movement and quick stretch passes up the ice to his team, and this system has become rather successful for the team in the long run. Askarov would be a great addition to this system due to his ability to move the puck for his team.
Askarov has always been great in one on one situations throughout his career, and this could be really beneficial to a team that has had trouble one on one recently with Saros and Lankinen giving up several breakaway goals.
Although there are a lot of positives to his game, it is important to note that there is definitely still some development needed. He gives up very large rebounds that can turn into detrimental goals. As of right now, he usually ends up making the second saves in a very dramatic fashion that is sure to raise the heart rate of every Predators and Admirals fan, but in the NHL, those second shots are going to be much harder for him to save.
Askarov needs to work on his rebound control and start putting the puck into safer parts of the ice when saving shots in order to further his development and settle into NHL play.
Although it is very likely that Askarov gets sent back down to the AHL as soon as Lankinen gets over his illness, Askarov has possibly proved to Brunette and General Manager Barry Trotz that he is ready for NHL play as a fulltime backup to Saros.
If Trotz feels comfortable with him, he could possibly trade Lankinen to one of the many teams that are in need of solid goaltending before the March trade deadline, as Lankinen is strong enough to be a consistent starter.
We will know more about what Trotz will do with young Askarov closer to the trade deadline, but this week has been a huge positive for the 2020 first round draft pick, and all Predators fans should be excited for his future.
Askarov's Path to the NHL with the Nashville Predators Organization
After receiving great interest from several teams before the 2020 draft, the Nashville Predators ended up drafting Askarov 11th overall. Since his draft year, Askarov has been a great addition to the organization and viewed as one of the top goalie prospects in the world, if not the best.
In his first season with the Milwaukee Admirals, Askarov pitched a .911 save percentage and led the team to a central division championship during the 2022-23 Calder Cup Playoffs. This season, Askarov is holding a .908 save percentage, and is 8th in the American Hockey League with this stat.
Askarov quickly became a fan favorite player in Milwaukee with his unique and exciting playing style. He is great with playing the puck for a goaltender, with sharp puck management and stick handling when playing the puck behind the net.
Askarov is not afraid to go out and make plays to spring his teammates, and even led all goaltenders in the AHL last season with four assists with long stretch passes. His confidence in moving the puck not only leads to offensive chances, but also makes the opposing team have to find new ways to enter the zone other than “dumping and chasing” due to Askarov cutting them off behind the net.
Another unique attribute of the 21-year-old goaltender is that he catches with his right hand. The vast majority of goaltenders wear the catching glove on their left hand and the blocker on the right, but Askarov does the opposite. This causes players to have to find new holes in their shooting and change the way they approach taking a shot on goal, and ultimately leads to a lot of players overthinking when trying to beat Askarov.
Askarov recently made his 2023-24 season debut with the Predators after being called up from Milwaukee due to backup goaltender Kevin Lankinen being out with illness. After a rough game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Saros was pulled during the 3rd period and Askarov was put in. He ended up stopping all eight shots he faced in the final 20 minutes, but the game had already gotten away from the Predators, and the team faced another heartbreaking loss.
Even though the game was already lost, Askarov looked very comfortable in net and didn’t look panicked in the slightest throughout his time on the ice.
When the team traveled for their back to back against the Detroit Red Wings and the Washington Capitals, all three goalies made the trip due to uncertainty about Lankinen’s return. Saros led the team to overtime against the Red Wings, but the team ultimately came up short in overtime.