Ilya Sorokin started the 2021-22 season that the New York Islanders starting goaltender by default. With Semyon Varlamov out with an injury, head coach Barry Trotz was forced to turn to Sorokin for the first nine games of the season.
With the season in the final few games, it’s clear that Sorokin has emerged as the Islanders starting goaltender, starting 44 of the 71 games. Moreover, he emerged as an elite goaltender that the Islanders not only can build their team around for the future. The 26-year-old goaltender established himself this season as one of the best young goaltenders in the NHL and gives the team plenty of optimism heading into the offseason.
While Sorokin likely won’t be a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, the young goaltender put together a remarkable season that put him among the league’s elite goaltenders. Sorokin has a .927 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.27 goals-against average (GAA) on 1,347 shots. For context, Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who regularly finishes as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy has a .917 SV% and a 2.45 GAA. Only two goaltenders have better stats with the same or greater number of shots against in New York Rangers Igor Shesterkin and Carolina Hurricanes Frederik Andersen.
Moreover, Sorokin also has put together six shutouts with the most recent being a 25-save shutout against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 26-year-old goaltender is one shutout away from tying the franchise record set by Glenn “Chico” Resch in the 1975-76 season. Sorokin has proven this season that when he’s dialed in, he can singlehandedly win a game for the Islanders and eliminate the opponents from finding the back of the net.
Sorokin isn’t a big goaltender weighing only 190 pounds, a contrast to the bigger goaltenders that have influenced the game in recent years. However, he is one of the more athletic goaltenders in the game with great flexibility and a proven ability to make big saves on tough angle shots. The athleticism and flexibility are often seen in highlight-reel saves made by the 26-year-old goaltender, which has been common throughout this season and the young goaltender’s career, but the great play exceeds the big saves.
Throughout this season, the Islanders’ defense has struggled and allowed opponents to find open shots and easy scoring chances. The defensive unit is slower, most notably in the later pairings, and opposing forwards can find quick shots on the rush or with speed near the net. However, Sorokin has bailed the defense out with big saves to keep the team in games. Additionally, the 26-year-old goaltender has settled into the NHL this season and plays every game with focus and greater knowledge of the league and speed that can often overwhelm young goaltenders.
Outdueling Andersen & Shesterkin
Arguably the highlight of the season for Sorokin was the Mar. 17 game against the Rangers. The Islanders were facing their New York rival, the Rangers, led by their elite young goaltender and Vezina Trophy favorite Shesterkin. While Shesterkin saved 26 of the Islanders’ 28 shots, Sorokin took over the game with 29 saves including one of the best saves of the season against Artemi Panarin, who looked poised to score but was denied by the stick of the 26-year-old goaltender.
The game against the Rangers put Sorokin on the map. Not only did the NHL see a remarkable save from the young goaltender but they saw how he was able to outduel Shesterkin in the Islanders’ 2-1 victory. In addition, the game showed how Sorokin has carried the Islanders throughout the season and he emerged as one of the top goaltenders in the game.
Recently, Sorokin faced the Hurricanes and their Vezina caliber goaltender Andersen. The Hurricanes found open ice in the offensive zone and hoped to overwhelm the young goaltender but were met with a calm and athletic goaltender. Sorokin was only seconds away from a shutout but carried the team to a 2-1 win with a 20 save performance. The Islanders’ young goaltender has six shutouts this season but the games that have highlighted Sorokin’s magnificent play have been against some of the best goaltenders in the game.
How Sorokin Helps the Islanders’ Future
Sorokin has proven this season that he is an essential building block for the Islanders. The young goaltender is going to help provide stability in the net and help Lou Lamoriello and the Islanders front office build a competitive roster as a reliable starting goaltender.
Moreover, Sorokin emerging as one of the league’s best young goaltenders makes 33-year-old Varlamov expendable. The Islanders will likely keep their veteran goaltender to maintain one of the best goaltending duos in the NHL but if the front office wants to acquire more assets or make a big move, they can trade Varlamov and not have to worry about the goaltending position. Sorokin is the goaltender of the future for the team and this season removed that doubt.