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Rosner: Sorokin’s Development Following Shesterkin’s Path

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New York Islanders Ilya Sorokin

As long as they play in the National Hockey League, New York Islanders netminder Ilya Sorokin and New York Rangers netminder Igor Shesterkin will draw comparisons. Two best friends, both coming over from the KHL and both dominating on the NHL stage.

If you had to choose which netminder is having a better season, the stats speak for themselves.

Igor Shesterkin ranks second in the NHL with a 2.11 GAA and first with a .936 SV%. If not for the play of Shesterkin this season, the New York Rangers would more than likely be a bubble playoff team which is why he is my favorite for the Hart Trophy.

For Ilya Sorokin, his statistics aren’t as good as Shesterkin’s, but he still sits top-5 with a 2.30 GAA, and right behind Shesterkin with a 2.37 SV%.

As for which netminder is more talented, that question is up for debate. As a fan of goaltending, watching these two netminders work is like art, with both showcasing reflexes that only a select few NHL goaltenders have in their arsenal.

While both are not done growing at the NHL level, with Shesterkin playing in his third NHL season, Sorokin just in his second, there are many similarities in their growth.

When Igor Shesterkin first came over in 2019-20, he spent 25 games in the AHL. His numbers were elite, with a 1.70 GAA and a .934 SV%. In his 12 games with the Rangers that season, he posted a 2.52 GAA with a .932 SV%.

When Ilya Sorokin came over during the 2020 bubble postseason, he did not get into any game action as he was not allowed under the NHL rulebook. However, he worked with Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss during practices as he got accustomed to North American hockey, the rink size & many other differences between the game over here and the game that’s played in his home country of Russia.

In his rookie season, the 56-game 2020-21 campaign, Sorokin showed exponential growth from start to finish as the backup to Semyon Varlamov. Igor Shesterkin, in his second season with the Rangers, had already been named the starting netminder on Broadway.

Shesterkin appeared in 35 games in the shortened 68-game season, with a 2.62 GAA and a .916 SV%. His biggest issue was the weaker goals, as he showed explosive movement to stop shots that he had no business stopping but a lack of attention to some of the softer shots, the ones that were back-breakers, hurt his overall standing.

In 2020-21, Sorokin’s rookie season, he appeared in 22 games, with a 2.17 GAA and a .917 SV%. Sorokin clearly had a lot of work to do early on but had the building blocks to be a fantastic NHL netminder once he got more accustomed to the NHL game.

What we have seen in year two from Sorokin is exactly what we saw in Shesterkin’s second year in the NHL.

Throughout the season, Ilya Sorokin made some ridiculous saves, but weaker goals were often entering the back of the net.

And for a New York Islanders team whose offense had been non-existent and continues to be a glaring weakness, those softer goals against were critical. Now, if not for Sorokin’s play this season, the New York Islanders are in the basement of the NHL. But the weaker goals against needed to be corrected.

And over the last month, Sorokin has been much better.

When you watch him play, you can see that he’s focused more on the sharp-angle shots. He’s hugging the post, and rather than anticipating every shot, every play, Sorokin is reacting more. And that has allowed him to slow the game down even more and make the first save without focusing on the potential for a second or third attempt against.

Let’s look at Sorokin’s 2021-22 season thus far.

In seven October starts, Sorokin owned a 2.26 GAA and a .931 SV%. In 12 starts before the calendar switched over to 2022, Sorokin owned a .922 SV% and a 2.63 GAA.

In the second half of the season, we have seen his save percentage rise in each month from January to March, from .910 to .944 respectively. The GAA was elevated from 2.00 GAA in January, to 2.38 GAA in February, but in eight games in March, Sorokin owns a 1.98 GAA.

Now, of course, certain things impact the stat sheet, whether it’s strength of opponents or the play of his team in front of him. The Islanders have played much better in March than any other month this season, but both netminders, not just Sorokin, have had to be on top of their game.

Ilya Sorokin has played in 65 career games, but it’s clear that he has the potential not just to be a clear-cut number one at the NHL level but an elite netminder in the league. It’s just about experience and repetition.

It’s a whole new ball game for Ilya Sorokin and the New York Islanders if Sorokin continues on the trajectory he currently is on in terms of his growth. Now it’s up to the New York Islanders, after this season, to give him the reigns.