Future Phenoms: Yaroslav Askarov and Jesper Wallstedt

Alexis Lafreniére and Jack Hughes are the phenoms of the future everybody has heard of. While flashy, high scoring forwards are often heavily covered and well known. The goaltenders of the future tend to fly under the radar.

Two goaltenders have risen to a status that hasn’t been seen since Carey Price and Marc-Andre Fleury. Jesper Wallstedt and Yaroslav Askarov have each become phenoms in their respective countries of Sweden and Russia. Soon, the two of them will become phenoms here in North America too.

Yaroslav Askarov is poised to join other Russian goaltenders taken in the first round like Ilya Samsonov and Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy serves as a pretty good comparison to Askarov as they’ve so far taken the path towards the NHL. Vasilevskiy is a great example of what it will take to become a goaltender drafted in the first round.

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Vasilevskiy was selected with the 19th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning. After being drafted, he went on to become one of the most highly touted prospects to come through Tampa Bay since Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman. Now, Vasilevskiy is an NHL All-Star and Vezina Trophy finalist.

Prior to the 2012 NHL draft, Vasilevskiy played in the MHL (Russian 20 and under junior league). He spent his draft year and draft minus one year playing in that league. In both years, Vasilevskiy had a lot of success in the MHL.

He put himself on the radar in his draft -1 year as he posted a .937 Sv% over 14 games while also playing in the U17 league where stats weren’t available at the time. Internationally, Vasilevskiy has been a star for Russia since he was 15. He was the starter for the U18 team for three years.

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In his draft -1 year, he registered a .936 Sv% as a 16-year-old at the U18 World Juniors. Ultimately, in an era where teams are reluctant to select goaltenders in the first round, this is what it takes to achieve just that. If we are considering Yaroslav Askarov as a future phenomenon, these are the requirements and standards that he must be able to meet. From the outside looking in, so far Askarov has done just that.

He is currently in his draft -1 year as he is eligible to be selected in 2020. He now has a .948 Sv% over 10 games in the MHL and is on pace to shatter the stats put up by Vasilevskiy. Usually, 16-year-old’s wouldn’t be able to play in the MHL as most are put into the Russian U17 league.

Not only has Askarov made the MHL, but he is a starter and second statistical league leading goaltender as well. Askarov also performed well in international play. At the U18 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, Askarov was Russia’s starter as a 16-year-old at the tournament, a year younger than most.

Despite this, Askarov was the top performer of all goaltenders at the tournament. He had a .913 Sv% at the tournament and it would’ve been much higher if it wasn’t for a one tough game against the Americans. Yaroslav Askarov is now poised to be the starting goaltender for Russia at the coming U18 World Juniors and the staple of the Russian net in international competition for years to come ahead.

In terms of his actual play in net, there isn’t a lot to pick apart about his game. He’s got solid size at about 6’3” (190cm), but at 16 it’s likely he’s still growing and developing. Askarov is also one of very few right catching goaltenders out there.

One of the easily noticeable aspects of his game is his activeness in the net. He’s constantly making adjustments to make sure his depth and angles are always just right. Askarov uses a lot of small and concise shuffles along with short t-pushes.

He often stands up tall when the puck is in his zone and then gets really low when there is a shot is coming his way. This sometimes comes off as lazy, but also is a little risky if he doesn’t anticipate a shot.

Overall, Askarov is a butterfly goaltender. He prefers to make saves on his knees and stays down if the puck stays close to the net. This usually works for him as he’s good at sealing the ice and also has a powerful toe push.

Another important quality for Askarov is his great puck tracking. He follows the puck really well, especially in tight. Even in a scramble, he can cut down the angle and nullify any change. His puck tracking plus his agility and flexibility makes it hard to get a puck past him on a backdoor passing play in front.

Askarov plays a very strong mental game on top of everything else. He’s always focused and tough to get off his game. He’s consistent and can easily bounce back after a rough game.

Above all, Askarov is very smart and has a high hockey IQ. He can read the play and make just the right move every time. He has the mental maturity and intelligence of a veteran goaltender at 16.

There is very little to criticize Askarov about. He’s all around a very solid goaltender. His unbreakable game and staggering accomplishments compared to his predecessors puts him in elite company. On this trajectory, Askarov could end up in the KHL full time as soon as next year and possibly get a shot this year. All signs point to a future phenom coming out of Omsk, Russia.

While Askarov projects out as an amazing player, Jesper Wallstedt is something else. Wallstedt was born in November of 2002, making him ineligible until the 2021 NHL Draft. The 15-year-old has accomplished amazing things at an unbelievably young age. His success as a goaltender is unprecedented in the history of the game.

At 15, Wallstedt was named as the third string goaltender at the U18 World Juniors back in April of 2018. In that tournament, players eligible for the draft as early as 2018 were both playing and competing. The oldest players were nearly three years older than him.

While as the third string Wallstedt didn’t get any games, even being named to the roster and practicing with the Swedish team is just ridiculous on its own.

As the 2018 draft class moved out of eligibility for the U18 tournaments, Wallstedt was handed the backup spot behind 2019 prospect Hugo Alnefelt. In the first U18 tournament of the 2018-19 season, the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, Wallstedt played in two of the tournament’s five games. In his two appearances, he registered a .893 Sv%.

In one of those games, Wallstedt faced off against the stacked Canadian team. As a 15-year-old, this slightly below average performance is rather impressive to say the least. In his game against Canada, Wallstedt shutdown deadly players like Alexis Lafreniére, Dylan Cozens as well as Ryan Suzuki.

But Wallstedt has been setting records and dropping jaws long before the Hlinka or U18s. At 14-years-old, Wallstedt debuted in the SuperElit league (Swedish 20 and under). This made him the youngest player ever to play in the SuperElit league. The previous record holder was 2009 2nd overall pick Victor Hedman.

Not only did Wallstedt play in that league, but he dominated. The 14, turning 15-year-old finished the season with a .921 Sv% over 21 games for VIK Västerås HK. This was good enough for 4th best in the league of 1998 birth years.

That wasn’t good enough for Jesper Wallstedt though. This is because Wallstedt broke an even greater and more interesting record. On October 7th, 2006 at 15 years, 9 months and 19 days old, Victor Hedman became the youngest goal scorer in SuperElit history.

For Wallstedt just breaking one of Hedman’s records wasn’t nearly good enough. This is because on October 25th, 2017 at 14 years, 11 months and 11 days old, Jesper Wallstedt scored a goal in a game against Brynäs IF, the same team Hedman scored on 11 years prior. The goaltender not only scored the empty net goal, but also assisted on VIK Västerås’ first goal of the game.

With such stellar accomplishments, Wallstedt plays a great game enriched with plenty of skill. His most noticeable quality is his size. At 14, he was measured in at 6’3” (190cm) and 204lbs (93kg) and growing.

The big bodied goaltender utilizes his size very well. Although some have criticized Wallstedt for relying on his size a bit too much and using it to made up for other inefficiencies, generally he just needs to get a little more comfortable with his size and learn to rely on it less.

Outside of his size, Wallstedt shows amazing poise when in between the pipes. His save selection and form is stellar for such a young goaltender and very well displays his maturity. The way he executes each stop efficiently keeps the puck out of the net, shuts down rebound  and prevents future scoring opportunities.

Every save Wallstedt makes is perfectly executed and well thought out. In the clip below, Wallstedt uses perfect form to make a great save on Ryan Suzuki. He first adjusts his angle and depth, then goes down while keeping his chest high, widens his butterfly and extends his blocker to put the puck in the corner. Everything about this save is perfect.

Other smaller aspects of his game are his use of the RVH and vision. Wallstedt is a big fan of using the RVH. The RVH is a controversial topic in the goaltending world.

It’s a way of covering the post in which you put the pad close to the post on the ice and the far pad up in the air. You can see him using it at the end of the clip we saw earlier. The effectiveness of this strategy is debatable so it won’t be something I say it is good or bad, but it is an important part of his game.

Wallstedt’s vision of the ice is another positive quality for the youngster. He reads plays very well and know what’s coming before his teammates. It’s another example of his outstanding maturity in the net.

Putting together Wallstedt’s game and accomplishments paints a picture of a future superstar. With Askarov, we can compare him to an amazing and established goaltender like Andrei Vasilevskiy, but with Wallstedt there is no comparison. With this, there is a very good chance that Wallstedt could be the first goaltender since Marc-Andre Fleury to be taken first overall at the NHL Draft in 2021.

His early competition lies in Daniil Chayka of the Guelph Storm, Dylan Guenther, Carson Lambos and Aatu Räty. While Daniil Chayka and Aatu Räty have done amazing things and may warrant themselves an article, there is no player quite like Jesper Wallstedt. We may just be looking at the rise of the greatest goaltender of our generation. There is little to no doubt that Jesper Wallstedt is in-fact a future phenom.

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