New York Islanders fans waited for Ilya Sorokin for years after the team selected him No. 78 overall in the 2014 NHL Draft. They got their first look at him last season, and it was a promising start as he became part of one of the league’s top goaltending tandems.
This season he looks like he is on the verge of taking over the Islanders’ starting job all for himself.
Through two weeks of this season, Sorokin has had an opportunity to take hold of the No. 1 job with Semyon Varlamov out with injury. He has taken that opportunity and helped drive the Islanders’ recent surge that has seen them go 3-0-1 over the past four games. And he has been the one driving that.
With Sunday’s 42-save shutout in Vegas, Sorokin recorded back-to-back goose eggs in a 24-hour period and lifted his save percentage for the season to .933 in six starts. He has been sensational and is helping the Islanders get through a brutal 13-game road trip to open the season.
It also creates an interesting situation for with Varlamov ready to return this week.
Varlamov has been the Islanders’ primary goalie the past two years, and he has been excellent. When healthy, he can be one of the league’s better netminders and has been that since signing as a free agent in 2019.
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It is pretty obvious — and has been for some time — that Sorokin is eventually going to be the franchise’s goalie of the future. He has that potential, he has that talent, and he has already shown that he can play at a high level on the biggest stage. Given the way he has played so far this season he is making a pretty strong case that he might also be the Islanders’ goalie of the present.
But will the Islanders actually go in that direction right now? And do they even have to do that? It is not like the Islanders do not have another option here — and a good option. Per Natural Stat Trick, Varlamov posted a .921 all-situation save percentage in his first two seasons in New York, a mark that only Tuukka Rask (.923) topped. He also recorded a a .930 five-on-five save percentage mark that is tops over that two-year period. Not exactly the type of goalie a team is looking to replace, especially because of an injury that sidelined them at the start of the season.
Then again, not every team has another goalie like Sorokin on its roster that has that sort of potential.
The most likely scenario here is that the Islanders continue to use both goalies as they did a year ago and boast the NHL’s best goaltending duo. Even if they do that it should probably be more of a 50-50 split than we saw a year ago because Sorokin clearly has the potential to be a game-changing — and franchise-changing — goalie that can dominate the league for years ahead.
The Islanders might not be perfect. They might have some flaws offensively. They definitely give up their fair share of shots. These two goalies, though, are going to make them a Stanley Cup contender.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.