When Ilya Sorokin signed his entry-level deal with the New York Islanders on July 14, 2020, expectations were high. The 25-year-old goaltender had just completed a season that saw him go 26-10-3 with a .935 save percentage and a goals-against-average of 1.50 at Russia’s highest level, the KHL, on arguably the most iconic team in the league, CSKA Moscow.
In total, Sorokin wrapped up his CSKA Moscow career with a 134-64-22 record, a .930 save percentage and a 1.70 goals-against-average in 244 regular-season games. He turned up his production in the postseason as well, boasting a 50-17 record with a .940 save percentage and a 1.37 goals-against-average.
The list of accolades at the KHL level was endless. He was an All-Star in all five years of his career, he led CSKA Moscow to a Gargarin Cup championship and won KHL Playoffs MVP, and now, he’s translating that success at the NHL level.
Sorokin’s Road to the NHL
Sorokin first joined the Islanders during their Stanley Cup Playoff run, as they made it to the Eastern Conference Final. His time in the bubble was extremely beneficial in helping him learn the NHL game behind goaltenders Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss.
“Especially for a guy like Sorokin coming in he’s been diligent,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz told reporters prior to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. “From an organizational standpoint, he’s working with our goaltending coaches on all the days. He’s taking English lessons daily with a tutor and learning that. And he’s getting English all day with our guys and hanging out. Getting the personalities and the organizational stuff.”
He took that time to get acclimated to his new teammates, and it has paid dividends for him. His relationship with Varlamov has been especially beneficial for him.
“I worked with the team for plenty of time, for three-and-a-half months, starting in the bubble,” Sorokin told NHL.com. “I didn’t have any problem with the guys because they’re all very friendly guys, all my teammates. We have Semyon Varlamov, he’s like a big brother, a big help to me with any questions in the process.”
Varlamov led by example as well, posting an 11-7-0 record with a .917 save percentage and a 2.38 goals-against-average while leading the Islanders to within one game of the Stanley Cup Final. With that example set for him, Sorokin was more than ready to get his NHL career started.
Ilya Sorokin’s Scorching Hot Start to His NHL Career
Sorokin’s first career NHL start wasn’t the flashiest of starts. He was unexpectedly thrown into the fire in game two of the Islanders’ season when Varlamov left warmups with an injury after Cal Clutterbuck hit him with a shot up high, and he was tested.
He faced 32 shots – and gave up five of them. Not the best start ever, but it was an experience he learned from going forward, and it paid off, but not immediately. He lost his next two games, finishing the month of January with a 0-2-1 record, a .871 save percentage, and a 3.65 goals-against-average, but then he flipped the switch in February.
In his first two starts in the month of February, Sorokin posted two straight shutouts. He stopped all 20 of the shots he faced in both his Feb. 16 start against the Buffalo Sabres and his Feb. 28 start against the Pittsburgh Penguins, not allowing a single goal in his two starts that month.
From that point onward, Sorokin had gained the trust of Trotz and has been rewarded with more starts. That decision has paid off for the Islanders.
Since Feb. 16, he has posted a record of 8-0-0 with a .944 save percentage, a 1.35 goals-against-average, and two shutouts. That’s right, he hasn’t lost a single game since that iffy three-game stretch that started his career.
During that stretch, Sorokin has gained the confidence to play at the NHL level and has been dominant. This now gives the Islanders one of the best luxuries you can have: a top goaltending tandem in the league.
Sorkin’s ‘big brother’ hasn’t been doing that bad himself. Varlamov has a 13-6-3 record with a .923 save percentage and a 2.17 goals-against-average, adding in three shutouts of his own.
“Beyond as a duo, individually each goalie is thriving. Varlamov is in the midst of one of the best seasons as a pro and has been playing at a Vezina-worthy level. Varly is our number one, no question,” Trotz said earlier this season. “To me when you’ve got a guy like Varly who has been in the league as long as him, people tend to say you’ve got Ilya here, to me you need to have about 100 NHL games. It has to be a bigger sample size before you can say you have a goalie controversy.”
Colby Guy is a writer for the Florida Panthers department here at THW. He’s a junior at Florida Atlantic University and currently serves as the Editor In Chief for the school’s newspaper, the University Press. Previously, Colby has written for FanSided as a New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, and Nashville Predators writer.
Colby grew up an Islanders fan and had season tickets before moving to Florida.