Ilya Sorokin has yet to start a game in goal for the Islanders. That should come soon, most likely within the next week. But he’s already made a great first impression on his teammates, his coaches and the Isles faithful.
Sorokin, the team’s Russian goalie prodigy, finally met the media yesterday. It marked the first time the 25-year-old was made available by the Isles since they signed him back during the summer. He had spent time with the club as they made their run to the Eastern Conference Finals in the playoff bubbles. For the last two weeks, he’s been a full participant at Islanders training camp.
â€œItâ€™s very friendly guys, all my teammates,” Sorokin said during a zoom call with reporters Â with the help of an English translator.
Sorokin has been hyped up as the Islanders’ future in net for a long time now. In his homeland, he became hockey royalty and earned the reputation as the “best goaltender not playing in North America”. The Isles drafted him in 2014 but were patient in waiting for when he would finally make the jump to the NHL, which to him was a “dream”. It was also the dreams of Islanders fans who had only heard and seen highlights of his brilliance but craved to see the real thing in person.
— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) January 10, 2021
Now they are going to get their chance.
But Sorokin knows he wants to earn the respect and admiration of the fans, even with all the fanfare already thrown his way.
“Yes, my friends send me pictures and messages from Islanders fans [who] are happy,â€ his translator said. “He feels like heâ€™s now indebted to his fans and has to work hard for it to deserve this excitement.â€
If that didn’t speak volumes to the blue and orange diehards, his words about his experience of living on Long Island thus far did.
â€œI like the ocean. Itâ€™s very peaceful. I was in Manhattan â€” I donâ€™t like. A lot of people, a lot of stress. I like peaceful.â€
Looking at social media, the fans loved that statement. And in the words of Arthur Staple, the Isles beat writer for The Athletic, Sorokin spoke as if he was a true Long Islander.
Islanders head coach Barry Trotz has already anointed Sorokin the number two behind starter Semyon Varlamov and he plans to ease him in because he has to deserve his time in the NHL. That plan might be the best way for him to adjust but too may have an effect on Sorokin possibly having a shot at the Calder Trophy.
Sorokin is one of the dark horses to win the award while his fellow countrymen and now rival netminder Igor Shesterkin (Rangers) and number one pick Alexis Lafreniere (also Rangers) are the favorites.
While that’s something to take stock of during the season, Trotz loves what he’s seen from his newest import.
â€œA great personality,” the Isles head coach noted. “Heâ€™s a guy thatâ€™s got a smile on his face. Heâ€™s a guy that works at his craft, tries to get better at his craft and looks for the next thing. You can see it. He works at any task heâ€™s given. Heâ€™s been a pleasure to have around and a pleasure to watch him grow with his teammates.â€
Sorokin saying all the right things has endeared himself to many already. Now his highly-anticipated debut comes next.
If he gives the same impression he’s been able to give thus far, the Islanders might be looking at their next big star.
Kieffer Bellows working his way on to the opening night roster says a lot about how far heâ€™s come in a short while. It was just a few months ago his stock in the organization had taken a hit when he got dinged for violating the leagueâ€™s enhancing substances rules.
Now heâ€™s drawn praise from Trotz and could be slotted next to J.G. Pageau tomorrow night on the third line.
Talk about a turnaround.
Bode Wilde earning a spot on the varsity even just as a part of the taxi squad is a testament to his development. A scout told me when the Isles drafted him a few years back they got a steal and that he had a very high ceiling.
I mean itâ€™s not everyday you draw comparisons to John Carlson, a Norris-caliber defenseman. But thatâ€™s exactly what the feeling around him is by the coaches.