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Sorokin Ranked 5th Best Netminder, Top Spot Potential in 2022-23



Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders
Ilya Sorokin (Photo- New York Islanders via Twitter)

On Monday, NHL Network host Tony Luftman and former NHLers Devan Dubnyk and Ken Daneyko broke down their top-10 netminders right now. At number five was New York Islanders netminder Ilya Sorokin.

The list is up for debate. I would have put Jacob Markstrom at the three spot, followed by Ilya Sorokin at no. four, then Jusse Saros at five.

Following the 2022-23 season, this list will change. Could we see Ilya Sorokin in the top two?

There was so much hype around Ilya Sorokin in the months and weeks before he joined the Islanders in the 2020 bubble. Once he arrived and started practicing with the team, the question was how long would it take him to get comfortable with North American ice?

When he got his chance to play NHL minutes as the no. 2 to Semyon Varlamov during the shortened 56-game campaign of 2020-21 and that postseason, it was evident that Sorokin was a special player.

Then in his first full NHL season, more so the no. 1 guy out of necessity with Varlamov’s injury, Sorokin proved to be one of the more skilled netminders in the NHL.

“He came into a perfect situation where Varlamov was there. So he was able to come over to North America onto the big stage where Varlamov was starting more. And you know he got comfortable,” Dubnyk said.

“And I mean, the way that he played last year was was insane.”

In 52 games played in a chaotic 2021-22 season for the New York Islanders, Ilya Sorokin posted a record of 26-18-8, with a 2.40 GAA with a .925 SV%. His seven shutouts were second in the NHL behind Calgary Flames netminder Jacob Markstrom.

Of 35 goaltenders to have played in 1,980 minutes (33 starts or more), Ilya Sorokin ranked second in SV% and fourth in GAA per our friends over at Natural Stat Trick. He faced the 13th most shots and had eighth-most rush attempts against.

His statistics are more remarkable given what transpired in front of him on the ice.

“We know all the troubles the Islanders had last season, but it would have been a lot worse without Sorokin,” Daneyko said. “He is a remarkable goaltender, and they’re [Islanders] in good hands for many, many years.”

The basic goaltender statistics give fans a gist of how strong a goaltender was, but the advanced statistics paint more of a picture of just how vital that netminder was to his team.

In terms of advanced statistics, Sorokin’s Goals Saved Above Average of 29.78, and his High Danger Save Percentage of .861 ranked second in the NHL, as he went above and beyond to help give the New York Islanders a fighting chance when he was between the pipes.

But the Ilya Sorokin we saw in 2021-22 was not a finished product.

On the surface, the statistics say a lot about how elite Sorokin is. But if you watched last season, you will remember there was a stretch of games in which Sorokin did, in fact, struggle. Shots from weak angles were squeaking in, his rebound control was a bit all over the place, and it’s one of those things, stretches, that happens in a season that a player just has to work through.

We released a story right after the season ended, comparing Ilya Sorokin to New York Rangers netminder Igor Shesterkin. Both play a very similar game, relying on their anticipation and reflexes to make saves that other netminders can only dream of making.

When Shesterkin first took the reigns after Henrik Lundqvist left the organization, there were growing pains. Yes, the talented Russian netminder made his highlight-reel saves, but the “easier” shots were finding their way into the back of his net at inopportune times.

Once Shesterkin figured out how to clean up those kinds of goals, you go the netminder you saw in 2021-22.

The 2021-22 season for Ilya Sorokin saw him make jaw-dropping saves left and right, but at times, he needed to tighten up and focus on eliminating the weaker goals. Especially on a team like the New York Islanders, with a bottom-tier offense, goals per game-wise (2.79), allowing goals that should not go in are incredibly costly.

Although there is no game plan as to how head coach Lane Lambert will use Ilya Sorokin and a healthy Semyon Varlamov, it’s the belief that Sorokin will be the clear-cut no. 1 netminder in his third NHL season with the club.

Sorokin’s career since coming over from the KHL has been interesting. His development, although impressive and not shocking in the slightest, has had a few obstacles.

One obstacle that very little have brought up in conversation is that his rookie season was a shortened season with extenuating circumstances.

During that regular season, all NHL teams played their division because of COVID-19, as Sorokin faced just seven teams that season (Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey, Washington, Buffalo).

When the schedule and divisions went back to normal, Sorokin had a new challenge, as he faced shooters he had never seen before, often. As mentioned, he faced seven teams in his rookie season, but in 2021-22, Sorokin faced 29 teams, 21 new teams.

It’s safe to say that while that was an adjustment, Sorokin handled it pretty well.

Towards the end of the 2021-22 season, teammate Zach Parise and head coach Barry Trotz were asked who Ilya Sorokin reminded them of. Not only was he compared to former top-tier NHL netminders but the reasons for their choices spoke volumes to Sorokin and his compete level.

“Honestly, he reminds me a lot of Marty, with his competitiveness,” Zach Parise said, referring to his former New Jersey Devils teammate and Hockey Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur. “And you know, Marty was like that where first shot, initial shot, rebound, like, he did not want you to score regardless in practice, and Sorokin’s a lot like that.”

As for Barry Trotz, he compared Sorokin to his longtime netminder during his time in Nashville, the only player to have his number retired by the Predators.

“Yeah, Pekka Rinne. Very similar. They’re extremely athletic,” Trotz said. “They feel that every game they can save every puck. Every game, they feel that they can win. Even when they have no chance to make a save, they still try to make that save, and they sometimes come up with those saves, and they put the weight of the team, they feel they could be a difference-maker every night.”

Through two NHL seasons, 74 appearances, Ilya Sorokin owns a career 2.33 GAA, a .923 SV%, and has 10 shutouts. Given the Islanders’ upgrades on the backend, Sorokin should have a much stronger defense in front of him which will allow for more support.

The New York Islanders will go as far as Ilya Sorokin can take them, and if he continues to grow at an exponential rate, as we saw from year one to year two, the sky is truly the limit in year three.