When Predators General Manager David Poile signed former Blackhawks goaltender Kevin Lankinen to a 1-year, 1.5 million dollar contract, speculation began about who would fill the backup role vacated by David Rittich. Some felt Connor Ingram deserved the spot, while others felt like Kevin Lankinen, with more NHL experience, was the obvious choice for the job. It was assumed that Yaroslav Askarov would start the season in Milwaukee at the AHL level. However, when Hynes commented that it was an open competition to backup Juuse Saros, suddenly, everyone was in the mix for the spot.

Going into the preseason games on Monday, I polled fans on twitter to see who they thought had the edge:

Monday’s preseason double-header against the Florida Panthers was the first opportunity fans and media alike had to see Lankinen and Askarov in Preds gold. At the end of the night, John Hynes didn’t feel like the situation was resolved and, if anything, thought the competition was only just beginning.

Let’s take a look at the backup goaltender candidates.

Goaltender A – Connor Ingram

Connor Ingram had a great debut with the Predators last season. He came in to play during a very special “COVID” game against the Colorado Avalanche, which featured coaching by Karl Taylor and the rest of the Admirals staff and many of their players. He saw action again in the playoffs, which I think we’d all like to forget. In his defense, he was up against a very dominant Avalanche team that would go on to win the Stanley Cup in a commanding fashion. He also didn’t have a ton of NHL experience to lean back on when starting in a high-pressure situation. That lack of NHL experience may be the biggest cause for concern when looking at him as a backup to start the season.

Ingram played the first half of the first game of the Preds doubleheader. He allowed two goals. One of those goals was a shot he got a piece of, but it managed to dribble over the goal line behind him. It was not his crispest performance, and certainly not all he will be judged on before final decisions are made.

Goaltender B – Kevin Lankinen

Kevin Lankinen played for the Blackhawks last season. The Blackhawks were a bad team. They also happened to be a bad team with bad defense. That doesn’t mean Lankinen is a bad goalie. That also doesn’t mean last season’s numbers with the Blackhawks (3.50 GAA .891 SV%) are a reflection on his ability to stop pucks with the Predators.

Based on getting a close look at him last season, his numbers were greatly impacted by a defense that didn’t do a very good job of keeping the puck away. He should be better with Roman Josi and company in front of him in Nashville. He played the first half of the second game on Monday and played shutout hockey the entire time.

Goaltender C – Yaroslav Askarov

Askarov is intriguing. Askarov was developing nicely in the KHL until his playing time dropped off dramatically after it became known that he was going to sign a contract with his NHL team. Once he arrived in America, he put on a show at Prospect Development Camp and again at Predators Rookie Camp. The first-round draft pick impressed crowds for a variety of reasons:

He played the back-half of the second game Monday night against a Panthers squad that included Matthew Tkachuk. Not only did he manage to finish off the shutout Kevin Lankinen started, he did so while facing a barrage of shots in front of the net that thrilled everyone at Bridgestone Arena.

Current Analysis

As Hynes said, the competition is ongoing. With two preseason games remaining before the team heads off to Europe for the Global Series Challenge, this isn’t the last chance the goalies will have to prove themselves. However, the teams participating in the Global Series can carry 27 players on their roster. I imagine a third goaltender will take one of those spots. That would allow the competition to continue through two more preseason games, an exhibition in Switzerland, and the first two games of the season against San Jose in Prague.

My guess is that the three goaltenders heading to Europe will be Juuse Saros, Kevin Lankinen, and Connor Ingram. Even with Askarov receiving a very warm welcome at Bridgestone Arena and playing a great game, I expect him to head to Milwaukee to begin the season. What happens when the team returns from Europe largely depends on how the goalies play in these upcoming games. The biggest indicator will probably come when we see who starts the second game in the season-opening back-to-back against the Sharks. Until then, keep a close eye on Lankinen and Ingram as I believe the battle is really between these two.

-Featured image via Chris Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports-