The Vancouver Canucks have signed goaltender Nikita Tolopilo to a two-year entry-level deal, according to a team announcement. According to CapFriendly, the contract carries a $950k average annual value and begins in the 2023-24 season.
Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin issued the following statement on the signing:
We are excited to have agreed to terms with Nikita as we continue to build out our prospect pool and add to our organization’s depth in goal. He provides a combination of tremendous size and skill and has developed well at the professional level the past two seasons in Sweden, serving as one of the more accomplished goaltenders in his league this year.
Tolopilo, 22, is an undrafted netminder who has spent the last two seasons manning the crease for Sodertalje SK, a club in HockeyAllsvenskan, the second tier of Swedish pro hockey. Before Sodertalje, Tolopilo played in his native Belarus, where he worked his way up the development ladder all the way to the KHL with Dynamo Minsk.
Last season, Tolopilo split the crease with 2013 San Jose Sharks draft pick Fredrik Bergvik, posting an .899 save percentage and 3.27 goals-against-average in 34 games played.
Tolopilo seemed to struggle behind a poor Sodertalje squad, but when the games counted most he shined. He posted a .951 save percentage and 1.57 goals-against-average in Sodertalje’s postseason, saving the club from relegation to third-tier HockeyEttan.
Tolopilo carried on that impressive postseason performance to this year, his first as Sodertalje’s undisputed number-one goalie. His share of starts grew from 34 to 45, while Bergvik’s dropped to just 10, and with that increased workload came significant improvements in Tolopilo’s numbers.
This season he posted a .924 save percentage and 2.17 goals-against-average, leading Sodertalje to HockeyAllsvenskan’s promotion play-offs just a year after nearly getting relegated.
While more credit towards fueling Sodertalje’s improvement may belong to offseason additions such as former Colorado Avalanche draft pick Linus Videll (57 points in 42 games) and Daniel Norbe (38 points in 49 games from the blueline) it’s also true that Tolopilo’s game took a leap.
With promising numbers in a professional league and the type of size NHL teams covet (he’s listed as six-foot-six by his club) it’s easy to see why the Canucks have made this signing.
While the Canucks no longer have an ECHL affiliate to work with, Tolopilo could potentially work in a tandem with Latvian Arturs Silovs next season in AHL Abbotsford, although that hinges on Spencer Martin either returning to NHL backup duty or leaving the organization, as he’s under contract through next year.
Regardless of the Canucks’ development plan for Tolopilo, it’s hard to complain about the organization’s choice to sign him. His play over the past year-plus has been impressive, and he offers the physical traits NHL teams love to see in goalie prospects. Although he still has a lot to prove before he’s an NHL consideration in Vancouver, this entry-level deal gives him the opportunity to climb the North American professional hockey ladder.