Ilya Sorokin was rooting for Jon Snow to bite the dust in the final episode of Game of Thrones. But, just like Islanders fans who want the electrifying young goalie on Long Island right now, he was disappointed. “He is the one I’d feel pity for the least,” said Sorokin to Match TV when the reporter got to the Really Important Questions part of the interview. “Besides, he has already been killed once, so my heart has already been taken through this tragedy. The second time wouldn’t be as hard.”
Whether or not Sorokin makes it big in the NHL, fans are sure to love his personality. The young goaltender has a wicked sense of humor, embraces the spotlight, will talk about pretty much anything (did you know he is a big science-fiction buff, likes to meditate and has recently tried learning to box?) and has the looks and self-confidence to become a media darling in New York. In fact, Sorokin, with his well-trimmed beard and curly hair, looks a bit like the very Jon Snow he was wishing death upon.
Of course, it is more than his heartthrob visage that is drawing attention to Sorokin right now. After being named the KHL’s playoff MVP for leading CSKA Moscow to its first title since the Soviet era, Sorokin has earned some very lofty comparisons. “He reminds me of a young Vladislav Tretiak,” said Bob Hartley, whose Avangard Omsk was vanquished by Sorokin’s CSKA in the Gagarin Cup final. “He was saving everything against us.”
Hartley then went on to compare Sorokin’s style to that of Evgeni Nabokov, which had a particular significance to the 23-year-old Sorokin, who grew up idolizing the former NHL star. The Nabokov comparison could be particularly apt, since Sorokin is an aggressive and acrobatic goalie who isn’t afraid to take risks and boasts one of the most impressive collections of flashy saves in the KHL. He is incredibly explosive and uniquely flexible, which allows him to play his somewhat risky and swaggering style with fewer negative consequences than might be expected.
Still being very young in goalie years, Sorokin’s style does tend to backfire once in a while, but he made enormous progress this season and was widely regarded as the KHL’s best netminder. While skeptics point out that the youngster has been playing behind probably the best defense corps outside the NHL, it’s hard to argue with his ridiculous .940 save percentage in 40 regular-season games – including a league-high 11 shutouts – which became an even more ridiculous .947 in the playoffs.
He reminds me of a young vladislav Tretiak. He was saving everything against us.
– Bob Hartley on Sorokin
The Islanders, who got a great season out of Robin Lehner in 2018-19, might not be as impatient to get Sorokin into blue-and-orange as they were a year ago, which is a good thing because he isn’t coming until 2020. The Siberian prodigy – Sorokin is from Novokuznetsk, which is also Sergei Bobrovsky’s hometown – is under contract with CSKA through next season and isn’t planning on getting out of it. “I’m the kind of man who tries to fulfill his obligations,” he said. “I’ll start thinking about (leaving for the NHL) later. Otherwise, you’ll be torn inside and will find yourself in no man’s land.”
So, no, it doesn’t look like Sorokin is exploring his buyout options. In truth, it wouldn’t make sense for him to do so, what with Lehner coming off a Vezina Trophy nomination and not looking ready to give up the No. 1 spot to a young prospect (assuming Lehner re-signs with the Islanders, of course). One more season behind CSKA’s impenetrable defensive wall and another potential run at the Gagarin Cup sound much more enticing than warming the bench in Brooklyn or riding the bus for AHL Bridgeport.
That said, nobody in Russia is doubting Sorokin will be New York-bound next year and might even join the Isles in time for the 2020 playoffs, provided they get there. Sorokin is suitably impressed with his future NHL team. “They have a strong system, and the players execute it well,” he said. “Their goalies look much better now than they did a couple of years ago. A goalie can change the outcome of the game, but without strong team play it’s very hard.”
Sorokin should like what he sees when he finally arrives in New York, with the Islanders’ young roster promising a brighter future for the team’s long-suffering fan base. And there should be little doubt about the franchise’s goalie of the future.