So, you want to keep tabs on your favourite Russian prospects but don’t speak Russian or enjoy watching hockey at six in the morning? You’re in the right place! Welcome to my monthly series where I break down the recent performance and track the development of top prospects playing in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), Russia’s top men’s league. New updates will be posted on the third Wednesday of each month. Hit me up on Twitter at @beegare if you have a burning question or particular player you want me to focus on. I’d love to hear from you!
This month, we’re looking at three of the KHL’s top goaltending prospects: Pyotr Kochetkov, Ivan Fedotov, and Yaroslav Askarov.
Pyotr Kochetkov – Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod (Carolina Hurricanes, 22 yrs)
Kochetkov, ranked 17th on DobberProspects’ Top 50 Prospect Goalies list, first showed up on the fantasy radar starring for Team Russia at the 2019 World Juniors where he went toe-to-toe with other top goaltending prospects registering five wins, a 1.45 G.A.A., and a 0.953 SV%—an outstanding performance. Carolina was impressed enough to grab the 6-foot-3 netminder in the second round that year, with the pick they got from trading Jeff Skinner, and he immediately became their top goaltending prospect.
He currently has 16 wins and sparkling percentages with Torpedo in his first taste of sustained KHL action. Torpedo is a lower-mid pack team this year with only eight more goals for than against, so the fact that Kochetkov has a 2.12 G.A.A. and 0.929 SV% as their starter speaks to his ability to keep them competitive. As the chart below from Hockey Prospecting shows, his career progression so far looks a lot like a later-blooming Ilya Sorokin, who’s now starring for the Islanders.
What do those equivalency bars at the top signify? Here’s Hockey Prospecting’s explanation: “Save percentage standardized by average save percentage by era multiplied by the league translation. Used as a gauge of how significant the goalie’s current season is towards making the NHL.”
So for Kochetkov, the model would era-adjust his 0.929 SV%—the percentage of shots he saves—then multiply the result by a number representing the competitive gap between the KHL and the NHL. In his case, that equation spits out an equivalency score of 4.97 that allows comparisons between Kochetkov and goalies playing in the SHL and AHL, for instance. For reference, Sorokin’s D3 Equiv of 6.29 seems to be just about the highest achievable score possible; that year, he posted 40 KHL wins (in a 60-game season) with 1.16 G.A.A. and 0.940 SV%.
All that to say that Kochetkov is progressing extremely well. It’s tricky showing representative video of a goaltender’s play because highlights tend to be Hasek-like diving plays and whatnot instead of the sound fundamentals that signal NHL potential. That said, here are a few clips to give you a snapshot of Kochetkov’s confident play between the pipes.
Here he faces down a speedy breakaway by staying square to the shooter and taking away the bottom of the net:
He makes a diving glove save, exploding to his left while maintaining the presence of mind to snare the puck:
One of the most alluring things about Kochetkov as a fantasy asset is that he’s at the top of Carolina’s system. Currently tending their net is Frederik Andersen, 32, who is signed only until the end of 2022-23, the same year that Kochetkov’s KHL rights expire. It’s difficult to speculate how things might shake out in net for the Hurricanes, but Kochetkov should be firmly in the mix by 2023-24.
Ivan Fedotov – CSKA Moscova (Philadelphia Flyers, 25 yrs)
Keep a close eye on Fedotov over the next couple years; he’s one of the top prospects at the position but still flying (get it) much more under the radar than many of his peers.
As a Flyers prospect, he is coming into an interesting situation. Carter Hart has been rebounding well for the Flyers this year despite their struggles as a team, but Martin Jones isn’t exactly running away with the backup position and Fedotov is far more NHL-ready than other goalies in the Flyers’ system like Samuel Ersson. It’s easy to sketch a scenario in which Fedotov is picking up NHL starts by next year—his contract with CSKA expires at the conclusion of the current campaign.
Fedotov is a 6-8 giant who has been absolutely stonewalling KHL shooters for the past few years. He doesn’t appear to have Kochetkov’s explosive lateral movement, even looking a tad ponderous on the ice at times, but he uses his incredible size to his advantage by playing angles well and staying tight to his net so he can more easily react to plays like this one:
His Draft +5 Equivalency from last year (5.17) is exactly the same as Sorokin’s last season in the KHL before coming over to North America. That’s impressive enough on its own, but this season he’s improved both his G.A.A. and SV%. The Hockey Prospecting model only shows a prospect’s first five years after being drafted, so we can’t see his equivalency for this year, but we can assume it’s very high. One thing to note is that, unlike Kochetkov, Fedotov’s CSKA Moscova is one of the strongest teams in the KHL this year. Take his numbers with a grain of salt, but still take (note of) them.
On top of his impressive size and resume, another mark in Fedotov’s favour is that at 25 years old, he’s much older than many other top goalie prospects. In theory, that means he’s had more time to grow into his large frame and improve the technical aspects of his game. How does age affect goalie performance? For a Cage Match article back in 2017, Dobber writer Rick Roos found that the average age of the top 15 goalies by SV% each year between 1996 and 2016 was 29. Since then, there has been a wave of elite young goaltenders entering the league and slowly taking over starting positions, so it would be interesting to revisit that experiment to see if the age of top G is decreasing.
Regardless, in fantasy, age needs to be taken into account when deciding whether to invest in a goalie prospect. Do you sit on an 18-year old goalie for 4-6 years until he finally plays an NHL game? Or do you sign an underhyped 25 year old like Fedotov who may see meaningful minutes next year? There are different philosophies at play but Fedotov’s age, size, situation, and prior performance all look extremely promising. Grab him if you can!
Yaroslav Askarov – SKA St. Petersburg (Nashville Predators, 19 yrs)
Askarov has often been labelled a generational talent, a title that is not bestowed lightly. The 6-foot-3 netminder has an upside of 9.5 on DobberProspects and was ranked 4th overall among goalie prospects heading into this season. He’ll no doubt ascend to first on that list as his timeline to reach the NHL shortens.
Askarov is one of those goaltenders who just feel unbeatable. He squares up on shooters and cuts down angles well, making it difficult to beat him cleanly with a shot one-on-one. But he also moves extremely well side-to-side, keeping his body upright as he slides across the crease so that it rarely feels like he’s scrambling:
He played the first two months of the KHL season, splitting starts with veteran Lars Johansson, before being sent down to the VHL, presumably to get more consistent playing time. At 19, he’s performed well in both leagues and continues to cement his status as the best goalie prospect to not yet play an NHL game. Although his 0.904 SV% at the KHL level looks underwhelming, it’s a tiny five game sample, and he averaged only two goals against during that stint.
His contract with SKA is done at the end of this year; most observers seem to think he’ll be coming to North America at that point. The first step will be dominating the AHL, and then he can begin pushing Juuse Saros for time with the big club, likely by 2023-24. For now, get ready to watch Askarov shine at the World Junior Championship for Team Russia later this month. His first two appearances led to disappointing finishes, and this is his last chance to compete in this particular tournament, so all eyes will be on him to carry his team to gold.
Thanks for reading! You can follow me on Twitter for more KHL updates, as well as info on Panthers and Lightning prospects, at @beegare.