Blog: Believe In The Potential, Not The Hype

For years during the rebuild, the New York Islanders have struggled to find goaltending and depth. Three summers ago they signed Jaroslav Halak to a four-year deal and he became the undisputed number one goalie. Last year, the Islanders signed Thomas Greiss to a two-year deal and he not only filled in admirably, he helped John Tavares and the Islanders advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 23 years. Before last season began, Halak was injured to start the season and the Islanders claimed J.F Berube, Calder Cup winner and former Los Angeles Kings prospect to fill in when necessary and winning half of his games last year. All three goalies are on the roster to start this season and it appears it will continue until it is necessary to make a change.

While the Islanders goaltending looks to be stable, there is another goaltender making noise in the KHL by the name of Ilya Sorokin, drafted 78th overall by the Islanders in 2014. He’s posted some amazing numbers in the last two years. Last season, he played in 28 games going 17-7-4 with a GAA of 1.06 and a save percentage of .953. In the playoffs he went 15-5 with a 1.32 GAA and a save percentage of .943. Too good to be true right? Well this year he’s posted some of the same numbers: 12-3-3, 1.23 GAA and a save percentage of .943. So with numbers like these, why am I not proclaiming him to be the next number one goalie to take over Halak or Greiss like everyone else? Because of the League he is playing in.

If we look at the goalies who have played at least 15 games and a GAA under 2, yes Sorokin is there but so are a few others:

1. Sorokin 1.23
2. Proskuryakov 1.45
3. Furch 1.90
4. Metsola 1.94
5. Koshechkin 1.79
6. Emil 1.90
7. Garipov 1.90
8. Shestyorkin 1.56
9. Salak 1.96

To save myself from adding another list of roughly 15 players with at least a .910 save percentage, take my word for it, Sorokin is tops on the list as well (.943), but he’s in competition with a few of them. So it’s not uncommon to see good numbers from goalies in the KHL. Another reason why his numbers are impressive is because of his team, CSKA.

The KHL has a different standings format then the NHL where overtime and shootout wins/losses are separated. CSKA (Moscow) has 60 points in 27 games as of this writing. If we were to go to an NHL standings, it would be 19-4-4. Quite dominating and good for 2nd place in the League. They are currently 4 points behind Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk’s SKA (Moscow) team. With the season almost half completed, you can expect CSKA to once again go for the Continental Cup (regular season) for a third consecutive time and take another run at the Gagarin Cup (KHL version to Stanley).

>sorokin2Having watched over 200 games, I can tell you the KHL is a different league from the NHL. I consider the KHL to be the NBA of hockey, lot’s of flair and individuality instead of a team dynamic and nothing like the 80’s or 90’s aggressive NBA style. You’ll notice in the pictures there’s no trapezoid behind Sorokin, so he becomes a third defenseman and he can play the puck effectively. If the opposition has 20 shots on goal, for example, maybe 5 or 6 are quality scoring chances, in which he makes the easy save and he just stands there most of the time while his team in is the offensive zone.

Instead of a poor-mans version of a Frans Nielsen backhand (which would drive up the GAA by at least 1), many elect to do the off-wing Alex Ovechkin slap shot, which is considered a slam dunk in the League. It’s just a shame it doesn’t work because they just can’t do it. In the KHL, you have 33-year-old Kovalchuk leading the League in scoring where in the NHL you have a younger 27-year-old Patrick Kane winning last year. This is a league where Nigel Dawes and Nikita Filatov (you know you drafted him in 08) are in the top 20 in scoring; where Sorokin’s teammate, Kirill Petrov, who did not make the cut on the Islanders a few years back, is the top producing forward on the team. It’s a league that I would consider the players to be pacifists compared to the NHL players in that they don’t crash the net, create scoring opportunities and the hitting is just not as prevalent in the KHL. It’s a League that, if he really wanted to, Alexei Yashin could come out of retirement and still be able to produce at a higher level in the KHL then he would in the NHL.

This is a typical night for Sorokin, opponents going 1 on 4. This is a typical night for Sorokin, opponents going 1 on 4.[/caption]

So is Sorokin nothing but hype, based on his numbers and the League that he’s in? Absolutely not. Having seen enough of his potential, he’s a mix of Halak’s aggressiveness in coming out of his crease and good glove while he has Thomas Greiss’ rebound control and just ruins the opposition of any kind momentum. Sorokin has the ability to make the game boring for fans to watch just by his calm demeanor and composure will just suck the life out of opponents. My concern is this: How will he be able to adapt to the NHL style of hockey over a full season? It’s this concern alone that I put him under Berube in the depth chart. Berube has more experience winning the Calder cup in the AHL and I believe he could be a bridge between Halak and Sorokin. What Sorokin needs to do in order for him to improve is to come to North America and learn the game here and not wait like Petrov did. Had Petrov come earlier in his career, he may just be on the Islanders now.

Sorokin has another year on his KHL contract and the prospect camps are not good enough to get him ready. If he decides to resign in the KHL, then he’ll only be stunting his potential. The quicker he comes to North America, the bigger the potential he has to become a number one goalie. So when you see his KHL numbers being posted on twitter or on other sites, take it with a grain of salt. He’s like a junior player who has nothing left to prove in that league. Been there, done that. It’s what he does with the Islanders that will determine how big of a boom or bust he’ll become. Just ask Petrov.


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