Senators’ Sokolov Needs More Time in the AHL

Ottawa Senators prospect Egor Sokolov impressed at this season’s rookie camp with a pair of goals against the Montreal Canadiens on Monday. As many begin to wonder whether he will be able to carve out a spot for himself on the opening night lineup, Troy Mann, the team’s American Hockey League (AHL) head coach, says he believes the player needs more time to develop his game with their affiliate in Belleville. 

Senators fans may remember Martin Havlat, Marian Hossa, Mike Fisher and Anton Volchenkov, who all dominated in rookie games before making their way into the lineup. There have also been many instances in the NHL where a player impresses and gets the fan base and management excited to a point where he cracks the opening night roster, only to fall off around the 10 or 15-game mark. Names like Drake Batherson and Andre Burakovsky come to mind. 

Egor Sokolov Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Senators prospect Egor Sokolov with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. (Shawn Davidson/QMJHL)

Although the league is getting younger, many teams are taking the Lou Lamoriello approach to development and preaching patience with their prospects. 

Sokolov Shines 

The Senators released their training camp roster Tuesday, and of course, Sokolov’s name was on the list. He is among the 30 other forwards, 18 defensemen and six goaltenders to join the team at the Canadian Tire Centre this week. It’s no secret the Sens are planning big things for the youngster. 

Notably not on the camp roster is contract-holdout Brady Tkachuk, whose absence might stretch into the regular season, meaning more open spots on the roster until his return. But nothing is guaranteed for Sokolov, even after a strong showing with the rookies. Mann hinted at this in an interview with Ian Mendes of The Athletic earlier this month. 

We’re expecting a huge camp from Egor and I think he’s going to make a really good impression on everybody. But I think that for his own development in the long term, he should be back in Belleville. But the goal would be to see him play some NHL games as the season progresses. We all know that injuries and recalls are a part of the business. And hopefully by then if he gets called up, he can make a better impression, versus if he makes the team right out of the gate, but then by November, he’s sent back down. And I’m not saying that’s going to happen, but if you look over the past couple of years with every organization, it seems to happen quite often.

‘Senators’ AHL coach Troy Mann on Erik Brannstrom, Egor Sokolov, goaltending situation and more: Q&A’ Ian Mendes, The Athletic Sept. 16, 2021.

Senators Prospect Shows Two Sides at Rookie Camp

I mentioned Sokolov had two goals against the Canadiens on Monday, but in the earlier exhibition match on Saturday, the 21-year-old Russian was hard to spot on the ice if you weren’t looking for him. He made a point of going over video with AHL assistant coach Ben Sexton after that game on Sunday to prepare for the next match, and it paid off. He showed up in the second game as an entirely different version of himself. 

On the first power play, he had two chances to score and, after not putting the puck in the net, showed his frustration by slamming his stick. Then, he opened the scoring for the Senators by depositing Shane Pinto’s rebound behind Canadiens netminder Alexis Gravel.

Shortly after that, he received a pinball pass from Pinto and beat Gravel on the far side from a very sharp angle. Before he could make it to the bench for fist bumps, he ended up fighting with Canadiens defenseman Arber Xhekaj after taking exception to the late hit he received after the puck went in the net. This kind of in-game engagement is more of what the Senators are looking for from Sokolov.

Overall, there are some good things here that Sens fans can look forward to seeing in the future, but the best spot for Sokolov right now is in the AHL, where he can refine his defensive game and become more of a three-zone player. That’s likely where he’ll end up even if he does play some NHL minutes due to the potential for a Tkachuk deal not being finalized to start the season.

Sign up for our regular 'Senators Newsletter' for all the latest.