July 30, 2020

After Askarov, plenty of debate among top tenders

There’s the best – and then there’s the rest.

When looking at the goaltending class for the 2020 NHL Draft, there’s no question that Russian netminder Iaroslav Askarov will be the first to hear his name.

But after that, there are many uncertainties surrounding the 2020 goaltending class.

“For the overall class, I think it’s pretty obvious it lacks depth,” FC Hockey goaltending guru Simon Roulliard said. “You have Askarov as your stud in the class and then, there’s the rest of the bunch.”

Askarov has long been the goaltending highlight of this class, drawing comparisons to Carey Price and Andrei Vasilevskiy as the next, great goaltending prospect. Askarov was, after all No. 10 in FCHockey’s Final ranking for the 2020 draft.

“Askarov has an elite understanding of the game,” Roulliard started. “He can anticipate plays before they actually happen. It gives him an edge where can always get into the right spot. When he’s off his mark, this is where his great athleticism kicks in. He can make saves even pros would struggle to make. He is both flexible and extremely agile, plus you add his heart of lion to compete and, well, you have a pretty tough goaltender to beat.”

When discussing Askarov, Roulliard added one important note.

“I’ll be the one to pump up the breaks a little bit when it comes to projecting goaltenders in the NHL,” he said. “They tend to take more time to develop than a player and there a so much to factor in. While it’s tempting to project Askarov as a future Price, I will remind some that Rick DiPietro was a first overall pick that never really found his game.

“You just can’t be sure of anything with a goaltender.”

Looking past the No. 1 ranked goalie, the field starts to open up a bit.

“It seems to me there’s a layer of about four goaltenders who could push for the second-best goalie prospect in the class,” Roulliard commented. “Those goalies are Joel Blomqvist, Nico Daws, Samuel Hlavaj and Drew Commesso.”

Blomqvist, ranked No. 62 and as the second-best netminder in the 2020 class, played 34 games in the U20 SM-sarja this season for Kärpät, winning the Jorma Valtonen Award as the best goalie, and was named to the First All-Star Team. He also backstopped Finland for three games in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.

“His overall game just looks sharp,” Roulliard commented. “There’s nothing you can really criticize here. He could grow an inch or two but after that he just has to keep improving and maybe he will get a shot at a starting role in five years or so.”

Daws, coming in at No. 78 after being passed over in the 2019 draft, looks to be one of the first few goalies off the board this time around. The German-born netminder had a remarkable season with the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League this season and was one of Canada’s backstops at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.

“Daws’ improvement over a year is rocket-like,” Roulliard said. “From almost a nobody to Canada’s go-to man to start the World Juniors. He’s a goaltender who displays tremendous reading of plays and puck tracking. He’s light on his feet and has strong reflexes. I think glove side, and his catching technique, is an underrated skill he possesses. He’s a very mature goaltender, always on his game.”

Another overage goaltender that was passed over in 2019, Hlavaj spent the season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Sherbrooke Phoenix, while playing with Slovakia at the World Juniors.

“The same as Daws, Hlavaj went from undrafted to almost the best CHL goalie in the span of a year,” said Roulliard of the No. 96-ranked prospect. “He uses his size well to stop pucks, even though on front, center shots, he tends to stay more on the line rather than challenging shots. He’s something of a hybrid goaltender, combining the best attributes of both a butterfly and stand-up goalie. His movements are fluid and he really fights in the crease. His main weakness is the mental side of his game. He can really lose his focus and confidence if he gives up a bad goal.”

American goalie Commesso is ranked No. 101 in FC Hockey’s rankings.

Playing with the United States Under-18 Team in the National Team Development Program, Commesso will be heading to the NCAA next season with Boston University.

“The best that NTDP has to offer this year,” Roulliard started. “Commesso is a pretty level goaltender. The goalie you see is the one you will probably see eight out 10 times. Consistency is a huge factor for a goalie and he has that. I’m not sure his ceiling is sky high so maybe he will become a reliable back-up goaltender.”

Looking to the goaltending options after this top-five, Roulliard continues, “After that it gets a little bit messy. There are a lot of possibilities.”

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