When the Islanders were in the bubble and making run to the Eastern Conference Final, Russian goalie Ilya Sorokin was with them even though he was not eligible to play. It had been a long wait for the Islanders to get Sorokin, a 2014 third round pick, to leave the KHL and sign his first NHL contract, but that finally happened on July 14th when Sorokin signed a deal for the remainder of the 2019-20 season and a one-year extension for the 2020-21 campaign.
The signing of Sorokin was also exciting news for the fans who will no doubt be itching to get their hands on Sorokin merchandise including jerseys, t-shirts, sticks, helmets, hockey cards and pucks. Sorokin enjoyed a stellar career in Russia and now he is going to be sharing the duties between the pipes on Long Island with Semyon Varlamov as Thomas Greiss left the team to sign with Detroit as a free agent.
Sorokin spent the summer and part of the fall in the bubble getting to know his new coaches and teammates, while also getting acclimated to life in North America.
“It was a tremendous opportunity for him to integrate with the players also he was taking English lessons daily and we were pleased with what we saw,” said Islanders President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello during his end of season press conference last month.
“He’s excited to be an Islander from every indication I’ve gotten from him, the coaching staff and the players. He was impressive, not only as a player, but as a human being.”
Sorokin Brings A Big-Time Resume To The Islanders:
Sorokin is 25 years old and compiled a regular season record in Russia of 134-64-22 to go along with a goals against average of 1.70 and a sparkling save percentage of .930. He was even better in the playoffs with a record of 50-17, a 1.37 goals against average, and an amazing .940 save percentage. As the Islanders continue to build towards winning a Stanley Cup, Sorokin already has a championship on his resume leading CSKA Moskow to a KHL Gagarin Cup in 2019.
Sorokin, of course, was the Most Valuable Player of the playoffs.
“Ilya Sorokin is easily the best if not one of the best goaltenders outside of the NHL so in a nutshell (Islanders fans) should be very excited,” said KHL reporter Gillian Kemmerer when she joined me on my “Schwartz On Sports” podcast back on April 13th. “Where he was drafted, he’s a steal. He’s absolutely incredible both in regular season and in post-season play.”
A Glimpse Of Sorokin In The Bubble:
During the course of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the NHL would release video clips to the media from the various teams’ morning skates and practices. When Islanders video clips were available, there were times when you were able to see Sorokin in action, generally with the second practice group that included reserve players and all indications were that he fit in just great with his new team.
“He’s awesome,” said Islanders forward Michael Dal Colle during the playoffs. “He’s a really hard-working guy. When he got here, obviously he didn’t really know anyone. He’s worked a lot off-ice (and) on his English. He’s adjusted really well and he works hard in practice.”
Sorokin not only impressed his new teammates during the playoffs, but also the coaching staff.
“Especially for a guy like Sorokin coming in, he’s been diligent,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz prior to game six of the Eastern Conference Final. “From an organizational standpoint, he’s working with our goaltending coaches all the days, he’s taking English lessons daily, with a tutor and learning that, and he’s getting English all day and hanging out and getting the personalities. From a standpoint of integration, if you’re a player coming in, there couldn’t be a better situation.”
The fact that the Islanders used one of their roster spots for the bubble on a player that was not even eligible to play in a game speaks volumes on what the organization thinks of Sorokin and how much he is going to mean to the franchise going forward. That, of course, will start whenever the 2020-21 season gets underway as the world continues to navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic. At some point, Sorokin will arrive on Long Island from Russia and join the Islanders for workouts and training camp. With the NHL targeting a January 1st start to the season, the Islanders and their fans are not that far away from finally seeing Ilya Sorokin play for the orange and blue in the National Hockey League.
It won’t be long before the “White Whale” finally makes his way to Long Island, not in the waters at Jones Beach but rather the rinks at the Northwell Health Ice Center and then the Nassau Coliseum.