The opening night of the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championships, the premier youth hockey tournament in the world, that is a pick and choose ’em of the sports brightest young stars showcased two of the games best goalkeeping prospects when the United States faced Russia.
Spencer Knight, the American goalie and the 13th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and a prospect for the Florida Panthers faced off against Russian sensation Yaroslav Askarov, the 11th overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and the future franchise goalie for the Nashville Predators.
The two netminders may have many more battles in the future, but it was Askarov’s show in Russia’s 5-3 defeat of the Americans, as he showed why he’s one of the league’s most exciting prospects.
The 18-year-old Askarov was not perfect, he let in a bad first goal, but he reminded evaluators and fans alike why he is a unique commodity for the position.
Askarov plays a risky brand of hockey, but he does it with a rare talent and swagger for his position and age.
The Russian routinely comes way out of his net to play the puck, something the sport doesn’t see too often and many coaches advise their goalies against. But Askarov is a renegade at the position, he is extremely confident with the puck, and can distribute at a higher level than most his age level and above.
Askarov’s style of play is unique, risky, youthful, and outside of the usual mold, nonetheless it’s entertaining and something Predators fans are going to fall in love with very fast.
Askarov is much more than just a goalie who skates out and slaps the puck, the reason he is considered by many to be the best goalkeeping product the sport has is because he’s an elite shot stopper.
Askarov allowed three goals on 26 shots in his Christmas night matchup with the Americans. Even if the numbers don’t wow you, some of the saves he made, his pure athleticism and presence in net, showed he was something special.
Askarov’s international exploits are well known at this point, he’s been performing at a sensational level in Russia’s youth teams since his early teens, but his performances in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) are the latest sign of how amazing he is.
The KHL is the second best hockey league in the world, plenty of NHL level talents play there and many older NHL players have left the league for the KHL as they climbed up in age or wanted to leave the strain of an NHL season. Not too many 18-year-olds find success in this league, but Askarov has.
The youngster has a 4-3 record in his seven games for SKA Saint Petersburg, but the record is as misleading as can be, because Askarov’s youth has led to outright dominance in the net.
Askarov’s limited sample size suggests greatness on the horizon, he leads the entire KHL in save percentage and goals against. The six-foot-three goaltender has only given up six goals in almost 380 minutes of ice time, that is by far the best rate in the league.
The hype around Askarov is obviously warranted. He’s got every tool you want in franchise goaltender.
The Russian shot stopper has a big frame, great athleticism, international pedigree and is the only goaltender in the KHL giving up less than a goal per game. He’s as good as it will get for his age group, and in five years or so, do not be shocked if he’s starring for the Predators and one of the best netminders in the NHL.
If you want proof that everything I’ve written is valid, all you have to do is watch Russia in the World Junior Championships or just type his name into YouTube, I promise it doesn’t take more than five minutes to see his raw talent.
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