The New Favourite Russian In Washington

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If you followed the NHL last season you got a lot of bang for your buck. There was the Cinderella story in Vegas, and finally Ovi' got his chance to lift the cup, and boy did he know how to "celly". 

While the Stanley Cup hangover will probably cause Washington to be slow out of the gate in 2018-2019 one thing fans should be excited for is the fact that they have the best goaltending prospect in the NHL, Russian born goaltender Ilya Samsonov.

Nobody here at has talked about a goaltending prospect yet on this site. That ends today. Today we talk about the Washington Capitals and their future number one goaltender, Ilya Samsonov; who was drafted 22nd overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

Ilya has spent the past three seasons in in the KHL playing for his hometown Magnitogorsk Metallurg. He's been nothing short of phenomenal playing against men in one of, if not the most competitive league other then the NHL. 
Samsonov is coming to the NHL and North America this season, and while he may serve as a backup to Brayden Holtby the more likely scenario is he plays for the Caps' AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears in order to adjust to the smaller ice surface and get significant playing time.

The Washington Capitals made the right choice by sending Samsonov back to the KHL after he was drafted. He played in 73 total games and ended with a remarkable save percentage of .929. He also played in 14 playoff games and his final career playoff save percentage was .920. It is also important to note that Samsonov primarily served as a backup to KHL All-Star goalie, Vasily Koshechkin.

Any time you can have an elite goaltending prospect be mentored by an all-star it will benefit the players development, even if Ilya didn't get as much ice time as some scouts would have liked to see.

Samsonov was arugably the best player on the ice for Russia in the 2016 and 2017 WJC helping Russia earn a Silver Medal in 2016 and a Bronze Medal in 2017. While both teams had offensive flair, they both relied heavily on Ilya to be a brick wall.

When the Caps sent their 18 year old goaltending prospect to the KHL there was really only three possibilities of what could happen. He's great, average or terrible. If he was terrible, well they would have been mocked for missing on a first round pick. If he was average, probably the same outcome. 

However, the greatest possible outcome happened. He excelled, against men no less. 

What's crazy about NHL goaltending and goaltending prospects, is there have been so many busts that they no longer warrant a first round pick. Goaltenders in general are inconsistent and most don't stand out as an exceptional talent at 18 years old. In fact most teams wait until the later rounds to gamble on arguably the most important position in the sport. 

Fun fact: No goaltender has been taken in the top ten since Carey Price went fifth to Montreal in 2005.

So anytime a goaltender goes in the first round they will immediately be under a microscope. Goaltenders in the NHL cant break through at 18-19 years old, in fact most dont make it until somewhere around 25 years old. That's a difference of 7 years approximately and a lot can happen in that time. 

Now it makes sense why goaltenders are no longer worth a 1st round pick. Why go for a goalie who could take 7 years to develop, when you as a GM might not even have a job by then. Instead you could take a 18 year old scoring sensation who you can plug into your lineup immediately. 

John Chayka, GM of the Coyotes said it best, “People are understanding that the timeline of a goalie’s development path is longer and as the development path gets longer, I think inherently there’s more risk. I think teams are managing risk and they’re understanding that because of the length of that timeline that goalies move and sometimes are on their second or third team before they ultimately become the goalie that he probably expected when you drafted him that high.”

What is interesting about Samsonov is the fact that despite him being the top goaltending prospect in the game, there is still no guarantee he will succeed.

Samsonov takes up a lot of the net but is still very athletic despite his size. However he has been criticized for staying too low and "flopping". While I think he will have a long career in the NHL I am a bit concerned about his ability to play a full season especially because he's primarily been the backup in the KHL. 

While his career numbers say he will be just fine, he hasn't been a full time goaltender yet and the North American game is different. He will need to make adjustments. For these reasons I don't think he will be a super impactful player next season. However, if he can prove his skills in the AHL, the Caps may have no choice in bringing him up this year anyways. 

Samsonov could easily steal Holtby's job in 2019, but for now, Holtby's job is safe.


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