Unlike any other position in the NHL Draft, goaltenders are the least predictable when it comes to when they will be picked over draft weekend. In fact, it's common for the first goaltender off the board to be picked in the second round.
However, this year's top European goalie will most likely be picked in the first round, and potentially in the top-10. Iaroslav Askarov, a goaltender from Omsk Russia, is considered the top goaltending prospect in this year's draft. If he is picked in the first round, he will be the 66th goaltender ever selected in the first round. When you look at the last five years, there have been three goaltenders to break into the first round. Spencer Knight was picked 13th overall in 2019, Jake Oettinger went 26th overall in 2017, and in 2015 Ilya Samsonov went 22nd overall.
Askarov spent this past season playing for Neva St. Petersburg in Russia's Second Division where he had a 2.45 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage. However, in November 2019 he had his Kontinental Hockey League debute when he suited up for SKA Saint Petersburg. Askarov made 23 saves in the 4-2 win, and became the second-youngest starting goaltender in KHL history.
The top-European goaltending prospect also has extensive International playing experience. He won a Silver medal at both the 2020 World Junior Championship and the 2019 Under-18 World Championship. Askarov's strong performance in the semifinals of the U18 World Championship helped Russia defeat a red-hot American team led by Devils 2019 First Overall Pick, Jack Hughes.
"Askarov is one of the most athletic goaltenders available in this draft. He's got a proven track record," said NHL Central Scouting Director Dan Marr during a media call earlier this year. "He brings the size, the compete level, and he has all the goaltending tools that he needs to be a number-one goaltender in the National Hockey League."
Depending on where the Devils first round picks land, if Askarov is still available he would be a player Devils fans should look out for. The opportunity to bring in another young goaltender with high potential would help the Devils in building their team to have sustained success in the not too distant future. Askarov could learn from Blackwood and could split time with the Devils current starting goalie in the future.
On the North American side, Nicolas Daws is the top-prospect coming from Guelph in the Ontario Hockey League. Daws led the OHL in save percentage (.924) and shutouts (5) with a 23-8-6 record. He also received the first ever Jim Rutherford Trophy which is given to the OHL's Goaltender of the Year.
Daws also competed in the 2020 World Junior Championship, representing Canada and bringing home Gold. In fact, his team faced Russia in the Gold Medal Game of the tournament, beating Askarov and Team Russia.
According to his NHL Scouting Report, Daws is "very calm, relaxed and composed. Solid positionally and technically sound. Smart at reading and reacting to situations with efficient and controlled body movements."
For the European goaltender prospect rankings Jan Bednar holds the number 2 spot. Bednar spent this season primarily playing in the Czech Republic's Second Division for Sokolov. He played 24 games and averaged a 3.26 goals-against average and a .873 save percentage. He also appeared in the top league with Karlovy Vary for 13 games. Through those games he had a 4.39 goals-against average and a 0.883 save percentage.
Bednar represented the Czech Republic internationally at the 2019 Under-18 World Championship and 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup. He also received Czech Extraliga Rookie of the Year honors in 2018-19 while he was playing for Karlovy Vary in the top Czech professional league. Through ten games he had a 2.73 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage.
USA National Team Development Goaltender Drew Commesso is the second-ranked North American goalie in this year's draft. Commesso went 18-7-1 and had three shutouts in 30 games this season for the Under-18 team. He had a goals-against average of 2.05 and a .920 save percentage. According to one of the Assistant Coaches at the NTDP, Commesso's attention to detail and preparation helped him succeed this past year.
"The biggest thing we saw with Drew was his attention to detail in everything he did," said USNTDP Assistant Coach Brent Darnell. "Knowing that his preparation has allowed him to have quite a bit of success this year, I think that's something that a 17-year-old goalie or just a 17-year-old kid in general, that they can build that confidence through preparation."
Samuel Hlavaj who played for Sherbrooke in the QMJHL and Joel Blomqvist of Karpat Jr in the Finish Junior League round out the top-three for North American and European goaltenders respectively.
Hlavaj played 39 games for Sherbrooke this year posting a 2.25 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage. He was in the top-5 of all QMJHL goalies for wins, goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts. He had an impressive eleven consecutive wins from the start of December through the end of January this season as well. Hlavaj, like many of the other top goaltending prospects, competed in the 2020 World Junior Championship. He has represented Slovakia in the 2019 & 2020 World Junior Championships and Under-18 World Championships. If he does appear in an NHL game in the near future, he could be the fifth Slovakian born goaltender to play in the National Hockey League.
Blomqvist spent his season in the Finish Junior League with Karpat Jr where through 34 games he had a 1.66 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. He led the league in save percentage due to his strong performance this season. The previous year, Blomqvist captured a League championship where he was named First All-Star team and was given Best Goalkeeper honors. Blomqvist has also represented Finland internationally at the 2018 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
Will Askarov crack the top-10? Where will other goaltenders land in this year's draft? Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #DevilsDraft and visit NewJerseyDevils.com/draft for more prospect profiles, draft articles and videos.