The Nashville Predators made a headline move on Tuesday night at the NHL Draft by taking top goalie Yaroslav Askarov with their 11th overall selection.

Many people predicted this move, but probably not many thought the Preds would actually do it. Fan reactions were mixed, though most seem ok with the idea. Draft experts across the league are adamant that Askarov is as good a goalie prosect as there ever has been.

Yaroslav Askarov’s draft profile is impressive, having been a stud in Russia with Saint Petersburg since debuting as a 17-year-old. From the Preds’ draft day release on Askarov:

Askarov has appeared in three games for the KHL’s SKA Saint Petersburg this season, going 2-1-0 with a 0.74 goals-against average, .974 save percentage and one shutout. He’s also seen action for Saint Peterburg’s team in the Russian second league, appearing in two games this season after spending the entire 2019-20 campaign with the club, where he went 12-3-3 and posted a .920 save percentage in 18 contests. 

Note that while Askarov is a right-catching goalie, something the Preds have not had since Tomas Vokoun, he still has some height and size to his game like Pekka Rinne. At 6’4″ and 176 pounds, Askarov’s length and athletic ability will remind people of Rinne, even if his style is a bit more traditional than Rinne’s.

But, speaking of Rinne, what does drafting Askarov do for the immediate future of the Nashville Predators’ goaltending situation?

Here’s where things get interesting.

Askarov will be here sooner than you think

It takes 3-4 years before most goalies see regular playing time with the team that drafted them. For example, Rinne was drafted in 2004, saw his debut in 2006, and then wasn’t a regular starter until 2008. Saros was drafted in 2013, saw his debut in 2016, then wasn’t a regular backup until 2017.

But Askarov could break that mold. He currently has two years remaining on his deal with the KHL’s Saint Petersburg. That would mean he couldn’t appear in Nashville until at least 2022, though I will point out that players break KHL contracts regularly to jet for the NHL (and vice versa) as there is no formal agreement between KHL and NHL.

If Askarov progresses well in Russia and he seems ready for the NHL in two years, he could very well step into an immediate starting situation in Nashville. The timing of the current goaltending contracts dictates this as a possibility.

This is because neither Rinne nor Saros are signed beyond next season. Pekka Rinne is in the final year of his two-year contract extension. Juuse Saros is in the final year of his three-year bridge contract signed in 2018. Here’s a look at the year-by-year contract status of the Preds’ goaltenders via Cap Friendly:

Nashville Predators Pekka Rinne Juuse Saros

It seems likely that next year could be Rinne’s final season in the league, or at least his final season with the Nashville Predators. And Saros has been inconsistent enough to make the front office hesitate about signing him to a long term contract.

Askarov could lead to early exit for Rinne or Saros

By drafting Askarov, the front office could have just forced both Rinne and Saros to reroute their future plans. Rinne’s future is a bit more defined for him, as he’s 37 years old and at the end of a great career. Retirement seems all but certain.

But Saros is likely reconsidering his options now. Much like when an NFL team drafts a QB in the first round,  Saros is probably seeing the writing on the wall. Could he be rethinking his career in Nashville? He’s a restricted free agent next season, so he doesn’t have negotiating leverage, but he probably isn’t looking for anything long term anymore like he might have been at one point.

Then there’s the possibility of a trade. Could the Preds be gearing up to deal Juuse Saros to another team?

Saros’ value is no doubt as high as it’s ever been and the Preds could use some trade capital right now. They aren’t in a great position with their salary cap, to say the least, and they are bleeding free agents every day. What if they tried to package Saros and his friendly $1.5 million cap hit along with Kyle Turris’ $6 million? Maybe teams are more willing to bite on Turris if he comes with a franchise goaltender.

Of course, that would open up a whole world of possibilities. Maybe if Saros is traded, Pekka Rinne signs another one-year deal to bridge the gap to Askarov. Or maybe Connor Ingram, a solid goalie prospect in Milwaukee, takes over in net for a year until Askarov leaves the KHL. Or maybe the Preds go off the board and sign a free agent goaltender for a couple seasons.

One thing seems certain. A tandem of two goaltenders in the system makes all the sense in the world. But a threesome? That’s far-fetched.

Whether it’s Rinne/Askarov/Ingram or Saros/Askarov/Ingram or some other combo, carrying three potential starting goaltenders is asking for trouble, especially with an expansion draft on the horizon. The Nashville Predators won’t do that. One of Rinne, Saros, or Ingram will be gone by this time next year, you can bet your mortgage on that.

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —


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