New Jersey Devils Must Take Goalie Yaroslav Askarov In NHL Draft

New Jersey Devils NHL Draft (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
New Jersey Devils NHL Draft (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

In 1990, the New Jersey Devils selected an 18-year-old French-Canadian goaltender named Martin Brodeur with the 20th-overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft. That pick would forever alter the trajectory of the franchise. Fast forward 30 years and New Jersey once again has a chance to select a generational goaltender that could be the catalyst for the next great Devils team.

Thanks in part to a slew of shrewd trades and poor play, the Devils find themselves locked and loaded for October’s NHL draft. As you probably already know, New Jersey currently holds three 1st-round draft picks – the 7th, 18th, and 20th overall in a talent-laden and deep draft class. It’s an embarrassment of riches that sets the Devils up perfectly for a rapid return to relevance.

While the 7th pick is not one the Devils can afford to gamble with, the 18th and 20th picks are very much in play. Tom Fitzgerald and his staff must do everything in their power to move up in this draft to make the biggest and sexiest splash. If the opportunity presents itself, they could dangle the 18th pick as part of a package to move up in the draft and into position to shake up the hockey world by selecting this draft’s (or any recent draft’s) top goaltending prospect, Yaroslav Askarov.

Even as a teenager, Askarov is rapidly becoming a household name in hockey circles because of his outstanding international play. He made an appearance in the KHL at just 17-years-old last season. At 18, he’s dominating grown men in the world’s second-best professional hockey league.

In three starts this season for SKA St. Petersburg, Askarov is 2-1 with a .974 save percentage, 0.74 goals against, a shutout, and goalie of the week honors as a cherry on top. The kid is a dynamic talent – a once in a generation talent. In fact, he might just be the best since, well, Marty Brodeur. He could be the ultimate game-changer for New Jersey.

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At 6’ 3” and 176 pounds, Askarov is another in a long line of exceptional Russian goaltenders. Take a look at this season’s Stanley Cup Final. Both starting goalies, Anton Khudobin and Andrei Vasilevskiy, are Russian standouts. Division and interstate rivals the New York Rangers and New York Islanders could each sport an all Russian goalie tandem next season. The NHL is riding a Russian wave between the pipes and the Devils can’t be left alone watching from the shore.

Askarov has been described as “potential Vezina-level talent” by Dobber Prospects. Sports Illustrated described the Omsk native as “the real deal goalie prospect.”  Even TSN prospect guru Craig Button called the young Russian a “goalie that possesses every single attribute to be a star.”  Russia is rich in goaltending history (see Vladislav Tretiak) and Askarov is not only next in a long line of great ones – he could be the best one of them all.

What makes Askarov so good? Well for one, the kid has insane reflexes that allow him to make unreal saves look routine while making impossible stops possible. He tracks the puck as well as any netminder playing right now. If he can see it, he can stop it – with ease. Askarov really is a special, special goalie prospect. Mackenzie Blackwood has been great for the Devils, but is he truly a franchise talent? Not in my opinion, but he would be an excellent piece to a future Devils championship tandem.

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Stanley Cup caliber teams are built from the net out and this IS the Devils best chance to put the first championship pillar in place now. It’s now up to general manager Tom Fitzgerald. Follow the framework that led Lou Lamoriello all the way to the top of the all-time general manager list. Make it happen, Fitzy, build your legacy, and draft Askarov