KHL star netminder Ilya Sorokin has made his much-anticipated leap to the NHL, albeit with a twist. Per agent Dan Milstein, Sorokin has signed a one-year entry-level contract with the New York Islanders, effective for the 2019-20 season. However, Sorokin is only eligible to join the team for training camp and cannot play in the upcoming postseason; yet, his contract will still be burned. This means that while the Islanders have finally signed Sorokin, he will need another contract this fall as a restricted free agent before he can ever suit up for the team.
Sorokin, 24, should be able to negotiate a pretty considerable deal for himself without any NHL experience, too. Like Igor Shesterkin of the rival New York Rangers, Sorokin has established himself as one the very best goalies outside of the NHL at a very young age. Stunningly, Sorokin made his KHL debut at just 17 years old, an unheard-of accomplishment for a goalie that young in any major pro league. His five games in 2012-13 jumpstarted his success in Russia, where he has a career .930 save percentage and 1.70 GAA in nearly 250 games. This included an unthinkable .953 save percentage and 1.06 GAA in 28 games in 2015-16 and a current streak of three straight seasons with a .930+ save percentage.
Sorokin will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Shesterkin in his rookie season in 2020-21, as the two bring their KHL duel to the Big Apple. While Shersterkin’s career KHL numbers are a tad better than Sorokin’s, they came in less than half as many games despite the two being the same age. Sorokin has a major experience advantage, so he should fair even better than Shesterkin with adjusting to the NHL. His Rangers counterpart recorded a .932 save percentage and 2.52 GAA in 12 games this season and seems to have won the starting role for his team. Expect Sorokin to aim for the same result and likely with more starts and better stats. Especially in an Islanders system that has elevated the play of keepers like Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss – who is now also likely to depart as a UFA – in recent years, it would not be shocking to see Sorokin with numbers among the league’s best next season as he splits time with Semyon Varlamov. In fact, Sorokin could have a strong case for the Calder Trophy in 2019-20.
So, while Islanders fans may be disappointed that they cannot see Sorokin sooner and that he cannot help out with a hopeful playoff run, they should still be excited for what is to come from the young Russian goaltender. With a deep, defensive-minded roster in front of him, Sorokin has the makings of a long-term, cornerstone keeper.