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Is Yaroslav Askarov the only goalie in the world?

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Or are there others in the draft?

Kontinental Hockey League: Spartak Moscow 0 - 2 SKA St Petersburg
I swear SKA put him in games just so we could have these pictures.
Photo by Mikhail Japaridze\TASS via Getty Images

Marc-Andre Fleury was the last goalie taken first overall. And it seems so unlikely to imagine that ever happening again. Even a top-15 pick is now rare, but NHL memories can be short, and people will forget why that became rare.

Other than Fleury, recent high goalie picks include: Rick DiPietro at 1st (2000), Kari Lehtonen at second overall (2002), Cary Price at fifth (2005), Al Montoya at sixth (2006), Pascal Leclaire at eighth (2001), Brent Krahn at ninth (2000), Dan Blackburn at 10th (2001), Jack Campbell at 11th (2010), Jonathan Bernier at 11th (2006), Devan Dubnyk at 14th (2004), Spencer Knight at 14th (2019) and Riku Helenius at 15th (2006).

Out of that group taken in what is now the top half of the first round, and not counting Knight, Krahn and Helenius had no NHL career, but most of them aren’t stars. A lot of them were never even starters. Last year’s draft of Knight broke what many had thought was a rule that goalies were never going to be taken in the top half of round one ever again. But the hype on Askarov has eclipsed Knight’s buzz, and it’s possible it happens again.

The truth is that for all Yaroslav Askarov sure looks exciting and he might one day best everyone on that list, chances for a bright future are almost as good for the goalie taken in the later rounds as those taken this high. Frederik Andersen was pick number 87 (the second time he was drafted), Jordan Binnington was 88th and Braden Holtby was 93rd. That’s why it’s always worth a look at the rest of the goalie prospects in the draft, much more so than the late-round skaters.

I like to turn to NHL Central Scouting to begin, because for goalies, the fact they keep them on two separate lists makes more sense than trying to rate them against the masses of skaters that make up the bulk of players drafted.

The top five North American goalies are (remember this isn’t nationality, it’s about where the person plays, and teams listed are last season, not the one already started for some prospects):

  1. Nico Daws - Guelph, OHL
  2. Drew Commesso - USNTDP, USHL
  3. Samuel Hlavaj - Sherbrooke, QMJHL
  4. Will Cranley - Ottawa, OHL
  5. Garin Bjorklund - Medicine Hat, WHL

The top five European goalies are:

  1. Yaroslav Askarov - SKA-Neva, VHL
  2. Jan Bednar - Sokolov, Czech 2
  3. Joel Blomqvist - Karpat, Liiga
  4. Calle Clang, Rogle - J20 SuperElit
  5. Amir Miftakhov - Bars Kazan, VHL

Yaroslav Askarov

Ranked somewhere in the first round by everyone, and just barely 18-years-old, Askarov has the benefit of already playing some of what would normally be his post-draft season. At time of writing he has played two games in the VHL, where he spent most of last year, and three in the KHL with a dramatically impressive save percentage. He is now listed both as injured and sent down to the VHL, and has not played since September 20.

His KHL season began when he came in in relief against the top team in the East, and then he got two wins against mediocre teams. He’s allowed two goals in the three and two-thirds games, and that is only fuelling the hype.

Still junior eligible and with a resume already far superior to the other goalies in the draft, it’s not a surprise he’s become “the” goalie in most minds, but last year 21 goalies were selected and 29 were taken the year before.

Nico Daws

Rankings:

Elite Prospects - 56
Future Considerations - 78
Craig Button - 54
McKeen’s Hockey - 88
Bob McKenzie’s Consolidated Ranking - 64

Undrafted in his first year of eligibility, Daws has rocketed up to top of the not-Askarov list in his second year. Originally ranked by central scouting last year at 16th for N.A. goalies, only one North American goalie prospect ranked lower than him was taken.

Because he turns 20 in December, he would be AHL eligible this year. The OHL has not yet resumed play, so he’s not currently on the roster of any team, but he can also play another season in the OHL.

Last year at this time, with the usual hype and intrigue that surrounds the goalie choice for the World Juniors, Daws took a spot along with Joel Hofer and Olivier Rodrigue, both 2018 draft selections. Daws wasn’t on Hockey Canada’s radar before that, but his performance in Guelph in his post-un-drafted year was eye-popping. In late December, 2019, he had a .939 save percentage and ended up playing as the number two goalie to Hofer at the WJC.

It didn’t really go that well. Although he faced off against Knight in the Canada - USA game and got the win, he was pulled in the game against Russia. He got a gold medal, but his .840 save percentage in two games didn’t live up to the hype machine that had rapidly built up around him. He’s definitely considered a tier or two below Askarov in potential.

Daws, a big guy at 6’4” and over 200 lbs at times, turned to conditioning improvements in the 2019 offseason after going undrafted last year:

“I knew coming into this season I wanted to be a starting goalie, whether that was with Guelph or wherever I was going to end up,” Daws said. “I kind of dialed in all the way. I was a little bit overweight at the time, was around 225 pounds the end of last season. I knew that I had to change if I wanted to last and be able to have a chance to get drafted and be a pro.”

Daws’ hard work last summer has him feeling faster, more athletic and better able to showcase his skill set.

“His confidence and approach to the game has been very noticeable,” Central Scouting’s Al Jensen said. “His coaches have done a great job in his development. He has a lot of pro skills already that are very necessary to be successful at the pro level. He’s got a great chance to make his mark at the NHL level someday. He is technically very sound in all aspects of his game.”

Daws said the first proof that his hard work was worth it was in the season opener, when he made 40 saves in a 3-2 shootout loss to Ottawa.

“I think that was the defining moment for me,” he said. “That was, ‘OK, you put all the work in and now it’s starting to pay off.’ And that gave me a lot of confidence and it was really important for me going forward. Confidence is really big for goalies, so to be able to have that good game in my first game, I think that really helped me take off.”

He’s now listed at 199 lbs.

After the WJC, Daws kept up the good OHL performance, finishing with a .924, first in the OHL, but he’s never been a starter in the playoffs in the OHL — through no fault of his own, as they were cancelled. That’s left everyone to rely on scouting and not results in a short series. Credit for his ranking has to go to his OHL season more than the WJC, his only international tournament of his career. Even so, it seems inevitable someone will take him in the second round.

Jan Bednar

Elite Prospects - 93
Future Considerations - 155
McKeen’s Hockey - 135
Bob McKenzie’s Consolidated Ranking - 71

Bednar, also just 18 last month like Askarov, is a Czech goalie who has played in the first and second level Czech leagues up until now. There’s nothing about his save percentages there that is going to impress, but his work against his peers in national team tournaments shows a lot more promise. At 6’4” and 196 lbs, he’s very much in the modern, big-framed goalie that some GMs exclusively believe in.

He is set to play for the Acadie-Bathurst Titan in the QMJHL, likely a good move for him. The Q has begun play on October 2, but they have had troubles getting some foreign players into the country. The Titan do expect Bednar to play at some point, however.

One of three goalies who participated in a junior tournament for the Czechs, Bednar is one of the few with some summer results. Ultimately, all the usual pre-WJC European events have been cancelled amid rising Coronavirus cases in many parts of Europe. The European teams will fly into Edmonton sometime in December for the WJC, which is expected to wrap up by the usual January 5, 2021 date. Bednar, and other players like him who may already be in Canada, will need to follow strict travel rules to be allowed into the bubble. Details are scarce so far, but he should be expected to play in the event. There will be no pre-tournament friendlies outside the bubble.

Like everyone else whose playoffs were cancelled, and whose summer was empty of hockey, Bednar will be judged on scouting reports from last spring.

Unlike the higher-ranked Daws, the consensus on Bednar is less cohesive. Ranked as high as 71st on McKenzie’s list, he’s deep in the third and fourth round territory on most other lists. McKenzie’s ranking is a good indication of what actually happens with goalies at the draft however. A team that wants to draft a goalie prospect and won’t or can’t get near Askarov and who misses on Daws, could very likely take Bednar early just to get him before someone else does. It’s not like there’s a goalie available who “should” go at each draft slot.

Bednar is a long-term project for whoever takes him. He needs years in junior and the AHL or a European league to develop into someone who might make the NHL. He’s at a much more normal place in his career for a teenager than Askarov is, in other words.

Drew Commesso

Future Considerations - 101
Craig Button - 75
McKeen’s Hockey - 67
Bob McKenzie’s Consolidated Ranking - 87

Commesso is American, also just 18, and hoping to have an NCAA season with Boston University. He’s come out of the USNTDP as an excellent prospect, and spent his USHL years on their junior team and the National Teams at the U17 and U18 level. He was the best goalie by save percentage on the U18 National Team by a very big margin last year with .920, and in the top three in his USHL play with .917.

For some context we’ll understand, his age-18, pre-NCAA numbers are similar on the USNTDP team but dramatically better in the USHL than Joseph Woll’s on those same teams at the same age (.918 and .898 respectively). He has been invited to the USA WJC camp, and may win a spot on that team for this winter.

Commesso is 6’2” and listed at 180lbs, so he’s smaller than the usual run of hot prospects these days.

Commesso is ranked over a wide range, with some putting him in the early third round and well ahead of Bednar (McKeen’s and Craig Button) and some having him more in the fourth round. The overall impression I’m getting is that scouts rate him vs Bednar vs Daws depending on who they’ve seen more. The thing that might decide who goes where is that Commesso can go play NCAA hockey for four years, Bednar is only a loaner to the QMJHL, so he can go to the AHL whenever he’s ready, but he can also go back to the Czech league, while Daws can go to the AHL right now or stay in the OHL and theoretically should develop sooner than the 18-year-olds. Choices might be made with timelines in mind.

Samuel Hlavaj

Future Considerations - 96
Craig Button - 70
McKeen’s Hockey - 71
Bob McKenzie’s Consolidated Ranking - N/A

Overlooked as Daws was last year, Hlavaj is now 19, and hopes to play again in Sherbrooke in the QMJHL. Like with Bednar, there’s been delays allowing foreign players not signed to NHL deals into Canada, but he is expected to join the team.

In the 2019 draft, Hlavaj was ranked fifth for N.A goalies after moving to the USHL from Slovakia. His tepid .862 save percentage may have torpedoed his chances and left him undrafted. This year, after a good performance in the Q, where he was third in save percentage among starting goalies with .915 and had a fantastic win/loss record, he is almost guaranteed to be taken.

He is missing entirely from McKenzie’s list, which represents well what GMs might think, but he has some third-round rankings by several list-makers. He’s right in there with the top three who aren’t Askarov as a potential third-round pick. Like Bednar, he’s on a faster track to either pro hockey in Europe or the AHL.

At 6’4” and 218 lbs, he fits the modern mold of goalie. Because he’s Slovak, where the depth isn’t as great as in some other countries, he’s played in the U18 championships twice and the WJC twice, and could be making it a third trip to the Edmonton bubble in a few weeks.

Other choices

Calle Clang and Joel Blomqvist made McKenzie’s honourable mentions and both are only 6’2”, which might explain their divergent rankings. Clang has mostly very low rankings into the sixth round by some, so that’s a surprise that he’d was on the radar of the scouts McKenzie surveys.

Blomqvist has several rankings in the low second round, so some really like him and others don’t. He’s much more popular on the public lists than he is on the more establishment rankings. Blomqvist plays for goalie factory Kärpät in Finland, which carries weight with some people. It will be very interesting to see who drafts him and when considering the wide divergence of opinion on him. He got the start and the win in Kärpät’s season opener.

Amir Miftakov has some fans among those who aren’t concerned by his 6’0”, 172 lbs size. At age 20, he’s been passed over twice now. He was ranked eighth last year for European goalies, and not at all the year before. He played well in the VHL last year, and for Team Russia at the WJC, but he’s injured this year, and is missing out on a chance to put up some good results ahead of the draft to boost his ranking. If he gets drafted this year, he might have the under six-foot Anton Khudobin to thank.

Will Cranley is an OHL goalie who didn’t set the world on fire with a .894 save percentage in Ottawa. He might be someone who goes deep in the draft the way the Leafs took Zach Bouthillier in 2018.

Garin Bjorklund is the WHL’s version of Cranley, and he also was not that exciting with .897 in his first full season in Medicine Hat.

One of the interesting things to watch for in drafted goalies is that, unlike skaters, their draft position isn’t heavily linked to them getting an ELC. Most drafted goalies get signed, often almost immediately, even seventh rounders. Most drafted goalies never make it to the NHL, though. It’s also likely that several goalies beyond these top-ranked prospects will be selected as well. Askarov will get drafted on Tuesday, but Wednesday is goalie day at the draft this year.