Goaltenders Ilya Sorokin and Igor Shesterkin look to be the future of New York hockey.
New York sports have an influx of competitions between young talent aiming to be the next face of the town, such as Daniel Jones and Sam Darnold, Aaron Judge and Pete Alonzo.
However, the next young New York competition — and potentially the fiercest — will be between two Russian 24-year-olds in Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin and Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin.
Let’s get to know the two prospects, starting with Shesterkin. Unlike Sorokin, Shesterkin has had some experience and success at the NHL level. The 2014 fourth-round draft pick made his NHL debut on Jan. 7, 2020, with a 5-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche. Larry Brooks of the New York Post described Shesterkin’s debut as one of the most anticipated in Rangers’ history.
Shesterkin then won 10 of his first 12 starts with a 2.52 goals-against average, solidifying his case that he was correctly ranked the No. 1 Rangers prospect.
Igor Shesterkin and Ilya Sorokin are the Rangers, Islanders brightest hopes
With Shesterkin, the Rangers’ have found their successor to “The King” Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist’s 15-year tenure as the face of the Blueshirts looks to be coming to an end after posting career lows in save percentage and goals-against average in 2019.
The other Rangers goaltender, Alexandar Georgiev, earned a spot between the pipes alongside Shesterkin with a solid 2019-20. The Rangers aren’t going to keep three goalies on their roster. Lundqvist — who is sixth all-time in NHL wins — is due $8.5 million in 2020-21, and the Rangers need to realize that all good things must come to an end.
The Rangers should be ecstatic that there wasn’t a long gap of time finding Lundqvist’s heir apparent. Shesterkin seems ready to dominate at “The World’s Most Famous Arena” for the next 15 years while Lundqvist’s No. 30 hangs from the Garden’s ceiling.
When one door closes another one opens, and Shesterkin has a chance to barge the door open with the Rangers in the expanded 24-team NHL playoffs. If Shesterkin can have success with the pressure on the line, Rangers nation can exhale that the four-year wait was worth it.
The Islanders-Rangers rivalry is one of the fiercest in the sport. Shesterkin may have many iconic battles against Sorokin, who is considered one of, if not the best, Islanders’ prospects.
There’s one major caveat — will Sorokin ever play for the Islanders?
In 2014, Sorokin was drafted No. 78 overall by the Islanders, however, he has yet to play in an NHL game. Instead, he has dominated the KHL, never posting a save percentage lower than .929. Sorokin led his team to a KHL championship in 2019 and earned playoff MVP honors.
Isles fans were most likely pleased to hear that Sorokin reportedly was ready to sign with the Islanders after his KHL contract expired on April 30. However, now Sorokin signing for next season is in question. Typically when a draft pick’s KHL contract expires, or a college player’s season ends, they are free to sign an NHL contract with the team they were drafted to for the rest of the season and postseason.
However, with the NHL season paused, there’s a new rule that prevents teams from signing draft picks to current year contracts for when play resumes. Therefore, NHL draft choices won’t be eligible until the 2020-21 season — whenever that may be. According to The Athletic’s “No Sleep Til Belmont” podcast with Arthur Staple, the sense is the players’ association will vote this rule down when renegotiating the CBA.
Islanders’ president Lou Lamoriello has been salivating over the idea of Sorokin between the pipes on Long Island. But now Lamoriello must anxiously wait to see if that dream will finally come true.
“I really have no comment on [Sorokin’s situation] until I know one way or another what the decision is from the league,” Lamoriello said May 27, regarding Sorokin potentially coming to the Islanders.
Rangers fans waited four years for Shesterkin’s debut, and if Islanders fans have to wait an extra year or two for Sorokin it can very well be worth the wait. The Islanders’ defense and goaltending have propelled them to two consecutive playoff berths. If Semyon Varlamov has to man down the net for a little longer, the Islanders may be able to withstand that.
But that won’t ease the anticipation of the promise that lies ahead for the two New York hockey franchises (sorry Devils). These two Russian friends — yes, friends — who may soon become bitter rivals have the potential to captivate The Big Apple and put hockey on the back of the New York City tabloids for the first time in a long time.
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