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JONES: First-round goalie a no-go for Edmonton Oilers in NHL virtual draft

The Nashville Predators took away what would have been the most compelling piece of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft for the Edmonton Oilers when they selected Russian goaltender Yaroslav Askarov, seen here in a 2020-21 Kontinental Hockey League game with SKA St. Petersburg, two spots ahead at 12th overall.
The Nashville Predators took away what would have been the most compelling piece of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft for the Edmonton Oilers when they selected Russian goaltender Yaroslav Askarov, seen here in a 2020-21 Kontinental Hockey League game with SKA St. Petersburg, two spots ahead at 12th overall.

When the Nashville Predators selected Russian goaltender Yaroslav Askarov 11th overall in the NHL Entry Draft on Tuesday, there wasn’t going to be a compelling story involved for the Edmonton Oilers.

When it came to the hometown hockey club, Askarov was the one selection that could have made this draft interesting.

The goaltender with major international tournament save percentages of .948, .954 and .960, numbers that Sportsnet’s Brian Burke had clearly memorized, was the highest pick to go in the draft since Carey Price went fifth overall to the Montreal Canadiens.

The 18-year-old already playing for St. Petersburg in the Kontinental Hockey League is projected to be a 12-year starter in the NHL.

When Askarov was selected, that meant Edmonton was going to be picking a player 14th overall who would likely be three-plus years away developing until “over-ripe” in the tried and tested formula employed by general manager Ken Holland.

That player turned out to be Dylan Holloway, a six-foot, 207-pound power forward from Bragg Creek, a former Alberta Junior Hockey League Okotoks player now entering his sophomore season with Wisconsin in NCAA college hockey.

The Oilers were in an awkward draft position being one or two spots out of the can’t-miss spots of this year’s ridiculously deep draft. He’s a prime example of a Holland development project. Properly developed, and Holland’s history is that Holloway will be, most expect this guy will play plenty of NHL games in his career, a statement that not many might make with the Toronto Maple Leafs pick one selection later with Russian Rodion Amirov 15th overall.

To many hockey fans that dialed in to a June draft in October, there was as much interest in how the virtual drafting would go than which player might be selected by  their hometown hockey teams.

And, as was the case with the NHL’s return-to-play 24-team bubble hockey Stanley Cup playoffs in Edmonton and Toronto, the league pulled it off.

It was an interesting evening for Hub City organizer Steve Mayer’s team, which resided in Edmonton’s Ice District bubble for 79 days and designed the production while completing their assignment of having commissioner Gary Bettman present the Stanley Cup to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Obviously, sitting on your couch at home with your mom, dad and sister watching your name called on delayed TV and finding out you’d been chosen by Edmonton by text message while you waited isn’t the same thrill as sitting in the stands in the Bell Centre in Montreal, where it was supposed to be held.

It was a challenge.

“We’d been building this for months because there were so many moving parts,” said Mayer in a one-on-one interview three hours before show time. “We had close to 100 feeds all over the world involving the players, the teams and the NHL people.”

There was a worry that this production might be a long, involved process with more than a few delays. But Mayer called it.

“I think it’ll take less time,” he had predicted. “With a normal draft in an NHL arena, you have the player hugging everybody in his family and then walking to the stage and posing for the pictures. Just getting the player to the stage often took two minutes.”

There were some nice touches involved with Ottawa having local college grad Alex Trebek make their first pick and Winnipeg having the wife of the late Jets superstar Dale Hawerchuk, No. 10, announce the team’s 10th-overall pick for their 10th season since returning to the league.

Yes, like all those empty seats in Toronto and Edmonton for the Stanley Cup playoffs, it wasn’t the same. But the NHL, which sent about 50 prospects a box of 31 NHL team hats to take the appropriate one for the occasion, Mayer and his group went out of their way to make it as special as the league could possibly make it

You have to take your hat (hats?) off to them.

E-mail: [email protected]

On Twitter: @byterryjones

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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