Don’t look now, but the NHL Draft is upon us, and soon the Predators will make their pick at #11.

While October normally means the Nashville Predators are gearing up for the new NHL season, because of coronavirus, the new season doesn’t actually start until December. The NHL Draft kicks off the new NHL offseason this Tuesday, followed up by free agency starting this Friday, October 9th.

The Predators have the highest selection in the draft they’ve had in a while, selecting 11th overall for the first time since 2014.

There are plenty of needs on this team: scoring winger, shutdown defenseman… perhaps even goalie? The question of who the Predators will select has never been more mysterious.

When asked about what positions they might target in the draft, the Preds’ front office gave a typically broad non-answer, saying they just want to get the best player possible. So instead we’ve had to rely on some NHL draft experts to get an idea.

Here’s a roundup of the top choices by the Predators according to various mock drafts.

USA TODAY – Vincent Mercogliano

Yaroslav Askarov – G

A number of national draft experts have the Preds taking the best goalie in the draft Yaroslav Askarov at #11. While goalies are incredibly hard to come by in the NHL, you rarely see them drafted this high, so it seems like a stretch to me. Especially considering the Predators already have a solid goalie in Juuse Saros and another dark horse in Connor Ingram.

But you can’t deny the results, as “the red-hot Russian is currently dominating the second-best league in the world (KHL) with a .974 save percentage through his first three starts.”

The Athletic – Corey Pronman

Yaroslav Askarov – G

The Athletic’s Corey Pronman is my usual go-to when it comes to draft rankings and he’s had a number of different selections for the Predators in the last couple months. The latest is the Russian goalie Askarov. From Pronman:

“I slotted him at No. 11 because I think it makes sense talent-wise. I’ve heard sources mention him to Nashville as a possibility and Pekka Rinne is nearing the end of his deal. I’ve also heard Nashville is high on Seth Jarvis.”

ESPN – Chris Peters

Alexander Holtz – RW

The Predators definitely need some scoring depth, especially at the wing position, in their system. Currently their two best forward prospects are center Philip Tomasino and center Igor Afanasayev. Technically winger Eeli Tolvanen is a prospect, but it looks like he is going to have a legitimate shot at the roster next season.

Holtz is exactly what they would need in a scoring winger. From Elite Prospects’ draft guide: “Holtz is a pure sniper as currently constructed, and he has the potential to be a first-line finisher with triggerman utility on the power play. He’s a special, special talent, and if he can refine that talent, then there’s no telling where it might take him.”

NHL.com – Adam Kimelman

Jack Quinn – RW

More scoring winger help from NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman (and others) who feel that the Predators “need to get younger and more skilled at forward, and Quinn (6-0, 176) certainly has the necessary skills.”

I also found this analysis interesting from Elite Prospects about Quinn: “Quinn can get a ten-bell shot off on either foot, and he deploys a wide array of release points to ensure that the puck gets through any manner of situations.” One of the Predators’ biggest issues in the offensive zone was getting their shots blocked, in addition to not attacking the front of the net with consistency. It sounds like Quinn could help out with that.

Bleacher Report – Lyle Richardson (Spector’s Hockey)

Lucas Raymond – RW/LW

Raymond is a highly ranked international prospect from Sweden. The thinking here is that the last time the Predators had a pick at #11 they went with high ranking scoring winger Kevin Fiala and they might do the same thing.

Considering there are likely so many options at #11 to take a player already accustomed to the North American game, I don’t see them going with an international player, unless it’s Askarov or potential superstar Anton Lundell. Still, Raymond has some pop, putting up 48 points in 37 games two years ago with Frolunda.

TSN – Craig Button

Yaroslav Askarov – G

No joke, there are at least 4-5 major hockey publications that have the Predators going with the Russian goalie. This is interesting on so many levels, most notably for what it says about Juuse Saros.

It’s obvious that Pekka Rinne is at the end. He has one year left on his contract. He will either retire a Nashville Predator at the end of this year or sign a brief contract somewhere else. The reins have been all but officially handed to Juuse Saros.

Saros has been solid for the Predators over the last couple seasons and played as well as he could have in the series against Arizona. But is he the answer moving forward? Some people have doubts.

Saros isn’t Rinne, and he won’t likely ever be. Rinne had another level to his game that I’m not sure we’ve seen from Saros yet. But that doesn’t mean Saros can’t be a #1 for the next 4-5 years… which is, incidentally, the amount of time it takes for a prospect goalie to finally break through in the NHL.

All of that is to say: I could see the Predators drafting Askarov. He is, by all accounts, a franchise altering goaltender. From Elite Prospects:

“What really makes him stand out is the way he utilizes a range of depth management to effectively make the most of his wide stance and fluid movements. He has incredible reaction speed and does a good job of controlling himself within the blue paint when he needs to. He’s difficult to pull out of position by holding sustained pressure on his team’s end of the ice.”

The Predators have always had great goaltenders. Pekka Rinne, Tomas Vokoun, Chris Mason, and now Juuse Saros. Could they add Askarov to that list on Tuesday? A lot of experts seem to think so.

— Featured image via Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY Sports —


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