Amir Miftakhov opens a new week of our annual Top 25 Under 25 list. He’s also the first goaltender on our list. This is the second time he’s made the list as he placed 21st in last seasons. The writers and readers agreed about his ranking with both putting him at the #18 spot in our poll.
Miftakhov was drafted in the sixth round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft as the 186th selection. He was drafted as an overager, earning this privilege after his performance at the 2020 World Junior Championship, where he outplayed his more talented fellow countryman Yaroslav Askarov and earned a silver medal with Team Russia.
Connor McMichael is all alone on the breakaway but Amir Miftakhov makes the save! pic.twitter.com/HN45lRB2di— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 5, 2020
In terms of his size, Miftakhov is not a very big goaltender — eliteprospects.com lists him as a 6’0”, 165 lbs player, which is vaguely smaller comparing to most goaltenders. He does compensate for his smaller size with mobility. He plays smart in the net, covering all the space with good speed and reaction. He doesn’t mind playing with the puck behind the net or challenging forwards from the opposite teams by coming out of the crease, cutting off the space for them.
Miftakhov’s main vulnerability is his composure as he sometimes lets his mistakes grow to uncertainty in his head, which eventually led to even more mistakes. One of the brightest examples of this was his performance during the gold medal game at the World Juniors in 2020, when he allowed three goals by Team Canada during the final ten minutes of the third period and Team Russia lost after having a 3-1 lead.
Miftakhov spent his entire career in Russia in the Ak Bars system, going through all levels of the organization. Last year he earned a chance to become a starter for Ak Bars in the KHL, when both of their main goaltenders were out due to COVID-19. His first game of the season was more than successful as he recorded a shutout against HC Amur. Over the first three games in the KHL he allowed just two goals, which brought him a “Rookie of the Week“ award. But then the problems started. In the next game against HC Amur he allowed 6 goals on 26 shots. He returned with two solid games in the next week, but got pulled after allowing 3 goals on 10 shots in the game against HC Sibir. Since that game he didn’t appear in the KHL.
He spent the rest of the season in the VHL (Russian equivalent of the AHL), posting pretty mediocre stats with just .907 SV% in 17 games. At some point of the season he ended up being a third goaltender for the VHL team and hadn’t played the entire month prior to the postseason. In the playoffs, however, he looked much better, posting a 1.50 GAA and .934 SV% in three games, including two shutouts, but his team was still eliminated in the first round.
What a save by Amir Miftakhov on a one-time shot from Alexey Lipanov. pic.twitter.com/ztLBEeMsqf— Future Bolts (@LightningProsp1) January 23, 2021
Last spring Miftakhov signed an entry-level contract with the Lightning. Knowing that he won’t get a larger role than just a third goaltender in the KHL, he decided to go overseas. Reportedly he didn’t want to play for any other team than Ak Bars in the KHL, which also played a part in his decision.
According to the Lightning’s general manager Julien BriseBois, Miftakhov will most likely start the new season with the Orlando Solar Bears in the ECHL, but over the course of the season might get an opportunity to play for the Syracuse Crunch. At this moment Miftakhov is the second-best goalie prospect, behind Swedish youngster Hugo Alnefelt, who’s expected to show up at our list later. Despite being a year younger than Miftakhov, Alnefelt has more experience of playing at the professional level and looks like a more preferable choice for a Syracuse goaltender. [NHL.com]
“I would expect that Vasy and Brian Elliott will be sharing the load in Tampa, Maxime Lagace and Hugo Alnefelt are going to be sharing the load in Syracuse and we will be looking for playing opportunities for Amir Miftakhov and Spencer Martin. Amir will probably end up playing in Orlando, and we’ll figure out a plan for Spencer Martin in the coming days here.”
In my opinion, there’s a very small chance that Miftakhov will ever become a starter for an NHL team. We’ve seen some smaller goalies, making a splash in the NHL, most recently Anton Khudobin, who opposed the Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final one year ago, but that doesn’t happen very often (last year, Hardev already compared both goalies, pointing out similarities in their style of play). Miftakhov, however, could become a solid backup goaltender, and honestly the Tampa Bay Lightning don’t need more than that at this moment. With Andrei Vasilevskiy being locked as their starting goaltender for the next seven seasons, the Lightning need someone who could play around 15-20 games during the season and replace Vasilevskiy in case of injury.