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Need For Speed: Nikita Soshnikov Brings Missing Element to Islanders

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New York Islanders, Nikita Soshnikov

Speed kills, and the NHL game has developed into a speed and skill league, more so in the regular season than in the playoffs. For the New York Islanders, who have an aging core, their strength is not in that category. But their new addition, forward Nikita Soshnikov, brings that element, which is a major reason why he has survived the first two rounds of training camp cuts.

“I like his speed. You know, he sees the game well,” New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert shared back on Wednesday following the trimming of his roster. “He looks to be a pretty good penalty killer. He had some penalty kill time last night [Tuesday], so the speed is really effective for me.”

On Sept. 23, the day before training camp began, the 28-year-old Nikita Soshnikov signed a one-year, league-minimum deal with the Islanders ($750 K) after spending the last five seasons in the KHL. His latest go around was with Omsk Avangard, where Soshnikov notched four goals and 11 assists in 22 games before five goals and three assists in 13 playoff games.

Soshnikov does have NHL experience, as he played 70 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs over three years (2015-2018) under current New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello, with seven goals and seven assists. From 2017-2019, Soshnikov was a member of the St. Louis Blues organization, garnering just a goal and an assist in 17 games.

But after five years away, Soshnikov wanted to come back to the NHL, and given his relationship with Lamoriello, he signed with the Islanders.

“I wanted to come back to play in the NHL, so me and my agent kinda spoke with Lou [Lamoriello]. I knew him from before. He knew me from before, so we spoke about if there was any opportunities, so it came down to a deal,” Soshnikov shared following his first skate with the Islanders. “[I knew] It’s going to be fair judgment for me, so that’s all I needed, and happy to join the team.”

“I know what it takes to play in the NHL.”

Following his first skate with the club, Soshnikov spoke on the adjustments he had to make.

“It’s been a bagger for me a couple of days, to be honest, just to get up to the speed again, and the pace, like just the quickness and the speed overall,” Soshnikov said following his first skate. “So I just have to make a quick transition and keep working.”

Lambert shared, following Soshnikov’s first skate with the club, what he had known about him previously and what he wanted to see. 

“Well, what I knew about him was he had speed,” Lambert said. “And for him, use that speed and create opportunities with that speed, through forechecking and by pushing up the ice, so, we’re looking forward to seeing more.”

What looked on the surface to be a depth forward signing, a means to add another player to push players like Kieffer Bellows, Oliver Wahlstrom, Simon Holmstrom, and Co during training camp, may turn into much more.

Despite his skating ability being his major standout, Soshnikov showed off early during the preseason that he had a shot when he roofed one past New Jersey Devils netminder Vitek Vanecek in the Islanders’ second preseason game.

 Then for the third preseason game, Lane Lambert elevated him to the third line, alongside NHLers in Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Josh Bailey.

The fourth preseason game saw Soshnikov back with fringe NHLers, but the fifth game, he was put on a line with two youngsters, top prospect Aatu Räty and Simon Holmstrom.

Soshnikov has proven to be versatile, adapting to whatever game his line needs him to play.

In the KHL, Soshnikov played more of a top-six role, but he was a bottom-six player during his time in the NHL. A majority of his minutes with Toronto came alongside current teammate Matt Martin.

Soshnikov told NYI Hockey Now back on Wednesday that he has not yet spoken with management about the style they want from him.

“I haven’t talked [with them] yet and also hasn’t been like clear yet, you know, what exactly, but I have to use that speed for sure, that tenacity,” Soshnikov shared.

Although his role may be uncertain, it appears it will be a bottom-six role, given how the lineup is currently constructed.

Regardless, Soshnikov understands how he has to play.

“You have to play hockey. You can’t just be running around,” Soshnikov told NYI Hockey Now. “You have to make plays and play smarter.”

New York Islanders captain Anders Lee weighed in on Soshnikov’s play so far at camp following Thursday’s optional morning skate.

“I think he’s had a nice camp and coming over here and showing up and playing the way he has…it’s not that easy,” Lee said Thursday morning. “I know there’s some adjustments there, but I think he’s shown his skill level for sure.”

“And the way he sees the ice is really strong. So looking forward to seeing more from him.”

So far, Soshnikov has played in four of the five Islanders preseason games, as Lambert has given him every opportunity to showcase his skillsets. Here’s his current preseason stat line:

Soshnikov: 1G, 1A, 5 SOG, 9 H, 2 BS, 46:20 TOI, 2:43 PK TOI

In Thursday’s 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils at UBS Arena, Soshnikov was a man on a mission in regards to forechecking. He used his skating ability to pressure the Devils in the own zone, forcing them to get rid of the puck numerous times, while also limiting their ability to break out.

Lambert commented on that aspect of his game.

“That’s part of his speed. He’s allowed to get on pucks and take away time and space from the defenseman,” Lambert said. “And what he does too, is he’s finishing you know. He had three hits tonight, and that’s what he needs to do.”

“He wants to use my speed on the penalty kill, on the forecheck, but I feel really comfortable doing that too. I think it creates a lot of loose pucks for our team. So I think it’s, you know, it’s useful,” Soshnikov told NYI Hockey Now following Thursday’s win.

UPDATE:

Nikita Soshnikov did make the Islanders roster and general manager Lou Lamoriello shared why:

“Well, I had not seen Soshnikov play for a period of time. He was with me in Toronto. He had a lot of injuries but when he was healthy, exactly what you see is what I saw there as far as exceptional speed, exceptional shot,” Lamoriello said Monday night. “Plays good defense, a penalty killer. And then he left Toronto and went over to KHL and actually his first year in the KHL, led them in scoring. And then last year was not a good year for him.”

“I knew he wanted to come over and try the NHL again. He called me through his agent because of the past relationship. I knew enough of him so twe gave him an entry-level contract with no promises whatsoever and he’s done extremely well in training camp, and we’ll see where it takes us. He brings speed. Number one. And he’s not afraid. He competes.”

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