Yes, the Toronto Maple Leafs do have a goaltending option in the draft that could be readily available to them for the start of the 2020-21 NHL season. He’s from Russia and his name is Yaroslav Askarov.
We have all heard the rumblings over the past month or so regarding what the Toronto Maple Leafs plan on doing for the future of their goaltending. With only one year left on Frederik Andersen’s contract at a $5 million cap hit, the Leafs are exploring the options of moving Andersen.
There have been talks of the possibility that Andersen could be dealt to a number of NHL teams – the likes of the Carolina Hurricanes, the Calgary Flames, or the Minnesota Wild.
If the Leafs decide to move Andersen, they will obviously be looking for a new starting goalie. If the Leafs choose not to go down the path of free agency or trades, then they could look to the draft. It’s not that often that there’s a goalie in the draft who has the potential to make an impact in the NHL that following year. Goalies are usually the hardest players to predict how they will pan out as well as they take the longest to develop and make the NHL. Yaroslav Askarov of SKA in the KHL may be the exception.
Yaroslav Askarov: Russian Juggernaut
H/W: 6’3″ – 176 lbs
Askarov is a top prospect eligible for the 2020 NHL entry draft. He is a consistent top-11 pick across draft expert’s rankings. Craig Button has the Russian goaltender ranked at #7, Bob Mckenzie had him ranked at #11, and Mckeens Hockey has him ranked at #11 (all via eliteprospects.com).
In his 2019-20 campaign, Askarov dominated. In 18 games with SKA-Neva St. Petersburg of the VHL, he posted a .920 SV% paired along with a GAA of 2.45. He also represented Russia at the 2020 WJC where he secured a silver medal as well as the Hlinka Gretzky Cup where his team captured gold.
For this year, Askarov has started the season playing with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL. In only his first 3 games with the club, he’s posted an almost flawless .974 SV% along with a 0.74 GAA, complemented with a handful of highlights already.
His positioning is superb and his reflexes cat-like – what more can you ask of an 18-year-old kid? Not much. Something he takes to his advantage is his size. Standing at a sturdy 6’3″, Askarov can sprawl out to cover a large portion of the net, and then with such a strong vision of the ice, at will he can cut down on the remaining real estate that’s left. His size, reflexes, positioning and rebound control all serve as positives to his game. Now, can the Toronto Maple Leafs snag this Russian machine at 15? Realistically, probably not. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t play out the possibilities at hand.
Yaroslav Becomes a Leaf on Draft Day
On August 25, 2020, the Toronto Maple Leafs made a package deal with the Penguins which saw Toronto sending Kasperi Kapanen along with Pontus Aberg and Jesper Lindgren to Pittsburgh in return for a 2020 first-rounder (15th overall), centre Nick Rodrigues, prospect Filip Hollander, and AHL veteran David Warsofsky. Prior to the deal, the Leafs did not own a first-round pick. Acquiring one opens the doors to endless possibilities. A couple of which could lead to Askarov becoming a Toronto Maple Leafs player on draft day.
Option #1: Move Up
Askarov is ranked as a consistent top-11 pick in his draft. He could move up as well as down from that spot. In the case that the Askarov is still available at 10, the Leafs should attempt to make a deal for that #10 or #11 spot. Moving up four or five spots in the draft would not cost the Leafs all that much, perhaps an additional pick and/or a B level prospect would be sufficient. If so, then the Leafs select Askarov at 10 and they live happily ever after.
Option #2: Paitence
As stated before, Askarov could move down from that spot at 11. It happens all the time for a multitude of reasons across all sports. Teams may have their eyes set on specific players, positions, or skillsets. In the case that the Leafs proceed with the option not to move up and then all teams prior to the Leafs selection pass on the Russian goaltender, then there he is waiting for them at #15.
In both Craig Button’s and the mynhldraft.com mock drafts, Askarov is slated to go at 13 to the Carolina Hurricanes. While yes, the Hurricanes are actively in pursuit of a goaltender, they may pass on the option to go down the drafting route and pursue one in the form of a trade or free agency. We all know the loaded group of goalies set to hit free agency on October 9th, and perhaps Carolina could land one of them – or if the Leafs want to look to put Carolina’s goaltending concerns to bed, they could just trade Andersen right to them and that would solve that. After all Carolina was one of the teams that were generating interest in the Danish netminder.
Askarov does provide an interesting option for the Toronto Maple Leafs however as Elliotte Friedman articulates in point 19 of his 31 Thoughts column, the Leafs have no “desire to make a move just for the sake of change”:
19. The Carolina Hurricanes have interest in Frederik Andersen, but Toronto’s made it clear it has no desire to make a move just for the sake of change. If it happens, it’s for an upgrade, which means the Maple Leafs could wait to see how a loaded group of goaltending free agents shakes out.
This doesn’t mean as Leaf fans we can’t dream for the Leafs to pick up a Russian netminder who has the ability to surprise and make memorable saves.
It’s needless to say that regardless of where the Omsk native ends up at the end of draft day, October 6, that it’ll be interesting. He is the top goalie prospect available for selection and if he is selected in the top 11, he will be the first goalie since Jack Campbell in 2010 to go that high.
If he goes top 10, he will be the first since Carey Price in 2005 (5th overall) to go that high. The Leafs are one team that is questioning the future of their goaltending and only time will tell if perhaps a Russian could answer the call. His name? Yaroslav Askarov.