The Nashville Predators announced today they officially signed their 2020 top draft pick Iaroslav Askarov to a three-year, entry-level contract to start the 2022-23 season.
This was an expected move. The Preds had been in talks to bring their top prospect over from the KHL’s SKA Saint Petersburg for a while now. Despite the NHL and KHL terminating all communication following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Preds’ front office was able to get Askarov over to North America earlier this month. He signed a PTO (professional tryout) contract with Milwaukee, which was just a placeholder until he could get his standard entry-level contract worked out with Nashville.
That finally happened today. And it could not come at a more appropriate time for the Preds, considering all the issues they’ve had with goaltending recently.
In case you forgot, last week the Preds were swept for the first time in franchise history. They were outscored 21 to 9 in four games against Colorado and did not come close to competing with the Avs.
By far, the Preds’ most glaring issue in the series was in their own net. With Vezina finalist Juuse Saros out with a high ankle sprain, David Rittich and Connor Ingram did what they could to keep the high powered Colorado offense off the board. They didn’t succeed, ending the Preds’ playoff run just as soon as it started.
Could goaltending have changed the outcome of the series? Not likely. Could the Preds have made it a more competitive matchup with Saros in net? Definitely.
Askarov addresses short and long term needs in net
By signing Iaroslav Askarov, the Preds have shored up their goaltending depth, both in the short term and long term.
Entering the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, Askarov was the best goaltending prospect hockey had seen in years, being compared favorably to other top rated European goalies like Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. Nashville taking Askarov with their 11th selection was a surprise to many, considering they still had Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros was just 24 years old at the time.
But given how things have played out, the Preds are looking mighty smart going with Askarov two years ago.
Rinne, as we all know, has retired. And while Saros is clearly one of the best goalies in the NHL (and is signed through 2025) we just saw what a Preds’ playoff run looks like without a top goaltender.
Entering the 2022-23 season, the Nashville Predators, and their AHL affiliate Milwaukee Admirals, will boast a healthy goaltending depth chart. Juuse Saros will be the ace goaltender in Nashville. Connor Ingram will be his backup. In Milwaukee, Devan Cooley and Askarov will battle for the top goaltending spot. It’s probably safe to assume that once Askarov gets adjusted to the North American game, he will be the top goaltender for the Admirals before season’s end.
In the long term, signing Askarov gives the Preds a healthy number of years of quality goaltending. Saros is only 26 years old and still has three full years left on his contract. By the time his contract expires, the Preds should know what they have in Askarov. Assuming the scouting on Askarov is accurate, he should be able to take over the Nashville net by 2025.
And Askarov will barely be 23 years old by then, so he will have plenty of tread left on the tires.
While we really don’t know what Askarov will become at the NHL level, his talent in net is undeniable. Here’s one scouting report on Askarov from Dobber Prospects that should give Preds fans hope:
“Exceptionally gifted, right-catching netminder. Fierce lateral movement and lightning-quick reaction time. Owns the size and composure needed to be a potential Vezina-level talent.”
So that’s not one, but two Vezina-level talents in the Nashville net for something like ten years. And, like I said, news that could not have come at a better time for Preds fans.
— Featured image via Maksim Konstantinov/SOPA Images —