With the 2018 NHL Entry Draft now in our rear view mirrors, we are breaking-down the last 12 months for each of the Washington Capitals prospects and provide a forecast for the coming season. We continue this series of reports with a review and forecast for Ilya Samsonov, who will likely begin the 2018-19 season with the Hershey Bears. (You can access all of our Capitals Prospect Reports and player analysis on our “Prospects” page right here.)
Samsonov has recently signed an entry level contract, which will pay him $925,000 a season through the 2020-21 season. He will become a Restricted Free Agent on July 1, 2021. Samsonov is waivers-exempt.
The Capitals drafted Samsonov in the first-round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft (22nd overall). Prior to being drafted, he played one season with Stalnye Lisy (Steel Foxes), the junior ice hockey team affiliated with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL. He began the next season (2015-16), with Stalnye Lisy but was recalled to Metallurg to serve as the backup to KHL All-Star goalie, Vasily Koshechkin. He remained with Magnitogorsk for both the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. For his KHL career, he played in 73 games, winning 33, losing 16 in regulation and nine overtime losses during the regular season, with a save percentage of .929, with 1587 saves on 1709 shots. He played in 14 playoff games, finishing with a record of 4-4; his final career playoff save percentage was .920, as he saved 240 of the 261 shots faced. Metallurg Magnitogorsk, won the Gagarin Cup in 2016, and were the runner-up in the Gagarin Cup Finals in 2017. He participated in the World Junior Championships in both 2016 and 2017, helping Russia earn a Silver Medal in 2016 and a Bronze Medal in 2017.
2017-2018 SEASON SUMMARY
Ilya Samsonov was the backup goalie for Metallurg Magnitogorsk to Koshechkin, who represented the Olympic Athletes from Russia in the 2018 Winter Olympics. He played 26 games during the regular season, posting a 12-9-1 record with a 2.31 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage. He also played in five playoff games, posting a 1-2 record with a 2.30 goals-against average and .913 save percentage. Due to the loss of players to free agency, the team was not as good as they had been in the previous two seasons. While they made the playoffs again, the team was not as strong and appeared to struggle defensively.
The fact that he’s posted good statistics in the second-best hockey league in the world is a good sign on the level of his game, even if he has mostly served as his team’s backup. Development Camp and training camp will be huge for all goalies this summer but will especially be big for Samsonov, who will not only have to become comfortable in a new country and culture, but also adapt to North America’s smaller rink size.
2017-2018 MONTH-BY-MONTH RECAP AND TREND ANALYSIS
The following is a compilation of our month-by-month prospect reports for Ilya Samsonov during the 2017-2018 season.
Coming off the best season for a 19-year old in KHL history, Samsonov was off to a bit of a rough start with a 2.75 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. But there were two reasons for this. First, Samsonov had hernia surgery over the summer, which hindered him from working out for months. That is probably why he had a poor start in his first four games, posting a .889 save percentage. But after that, over his next eight games, he posted a .929 save percentage, and that includes doing quite poorly his last three games. The second reason for the not so stellar stats is the defensemen in front of him. Over the summer his team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, lost three key defensemen, which eviscerated their defense. They re-acquired two of them before the year was out.
Samsonov continued to have a pretty rough season over in the KHL after his record-setting season last year. Through 17 games, he has a .909 save percentage. Certainly not terrible, but obviously not up to par with his skill set. However, there are reasons for the decline. He already had two minor injuries this season, which disrupted any type of flow to his game. Also, his team lost a lot of good defensemen over the summer and the team suffered because of it. Luckily, they got some good defensemen back, but as they did, Samsonov got a concussion.
Ilya Samsonov had a bit of a rough go during December. He had a long break between games, playing in no games between November 22 and December 21. His first KHL game in nearly a month took place on December 21, when Metallurg Magnitogorsk traveled to Moscow to play CSKA. This game was a 4-1 win, for Magnitka in which Samsonov made 34 saves on 35 shots. On Christmas Day, the team traveled to St. Petersburg, where they played SKA. This time the game did not go as well for Magnitka, as they lost 4-0. Samsonov saved 36 of 40 shots. He played two more games that month. Overall, his KHL statistics for the month of December were two wins, one loss and 103 saves on 107 shots for a save percentage of .963. His overall save percentage for the season is now .916 with a 2.67 GAA in 20 games. He had been relegated to a backup role that has him seeing very little action. In many cases the defense has hung Samsonov (and Metallurg’s starting goalie) out to dry. Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan met with Samsonov on December 12th to discuss a future contract and there was a report that a verbal agreement was in place.
For goalie prospect Ilya Samsonov, the month of January began with hard luck losses and ended with wins. Samsonov appeared in four games, three games as starter, and the other game in relief. His first appearance of the month was against Dynamo Minsk on January 3 at home, where Metallurg Magnitogorsk lost 2-1. Minsk scored the winning goal with a little less than five minutes to go in the game, as Magnitka lost a heartbreaker. He next appeared in relief in a game on January 9, when they played Slovan in Bratislava. Magnitka’s starting goalie, Vasily Koshechkin, had already given up three goals nearly halfway through the game, when he was replaced with Samsonov. Samsonov gave up only one goal, but was designated the losing goalie; that goal was the opposing team’s fourth goal, even though Magnitka had never tied up the game. The final score was 4-3. Due to the KHL All-Star Break, Samsonov did not appear in another game until January 18, when Metallurg Magnitogorsk played Ugra. This time, Samsonov shutout the opposition as his team won 3-0. In his final start, which was the team’s final game before the Olympic break, he was the winning goalie in a game that Magnitka won 4-1. For the month of January, Samsonov made 89 saves and faced 93 shots, for a save percentage of .957. This brought his overall save percentage up to .922. He won two and lost two as his record is now 10-9. In other recent news, International Olympic Committee (IOC) gave the Russian Ice Hockey Federation a list of players who could participate in the Olympics. This meant the players are “clean” from a doping standpoint but other factors involved in that list as well. Samsonov’s name was included on that list. He was not selected for the Russian Olympic team.
With the KHL on a scheduling hiatus due to the Olympics, the players of Metallurg Magnitogorsk who were not selected for the Olympics, including Caps’ goalie prospect Samsonov, participated in a training camp in Davos, Switzerland. On February 13, Metallurg played an exhibition game against the Swiss team, Kloten Flyers and won 4-0. Samsonov saved all 25 shots he faced. Metallurg and Samsonov then participated in a tournament February 15-18, 2018 in Davos with three other teams: Dynamo Riga from the KHL, Ocelari Trinec from the top Czech league, and HC Davos from the Swiss National League. Samsonov played in all three games. Metallurg faced Dynamo Riga on February 15 and lost 3-0. Samsonov made 24 saves on 27 shots. Metallurg then faced Ocelari Trinec on February 16 and won this contest 3-0. Samsonov saved all 17 shots that he faced. Metallurg then played HC Davos on February 17 and won 5-3. Samsonov made 29 saves out of 32 shots. (Detailed Samsonov tournament summary can be found here) On February 23, Metallurg played Traktor Chelyabinsk in an exhibition game which was meant to be the last tune-up before resuming KHL competition. Samsonov was in goal again for this game. Metallurg won the game, 3-2 in overtime. Data was not available for the total number of shots faced in this game. Samsonov went 4-1 in the games played during the Olympic hiatus, including one pre-tournament exhibition, three tournament games, and one last tune-up before the KHL season resumed. Samsonov was in goal for Metallurg for their first game back on February 27. Metallurg shut out Ugra 4-0. Samsonov saved all 34 of the shots he faced. He is now 11-9 for the season with a save percentage of .926.
Ilya Samsonov’s team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, was eliminated from the playoffs during the second round in March. Samsonov appeared in goal during both rounds of the playoffs. He started their first two games in Round 1 against Avtomobilist, where the team won 3-2 in the first game on March 4, but lost the second game on March 5, 2-1. During Round 2 against Ak Bars, he made two relief appearances, in Game 2 and Game 3 in games that Magnitka lost. He started Game 4 and the team lost 4-1. Overall, for his playoff appearances, he saved 85 shots out of the 94 shots that he faced for a Save Percentage of .913. Samsonov finished the regular season with a 2.31 goals-against average, and a .926 save percentage in 26 games played. Samsonov’s current contract with Metallurg officially expired on April 30. Samsonov and Capitals’ General Manager Brian MacLellan met in Moscow back in the middle of December. Following the meeting, it was reported that the two camps agreed to a basic contract structure, but nothing was signed.
Given that Samsonov needs playing time, he is likely to start the 2018-19 season in Hershey rather than serving as the backup to Braden Holtby in Washington. Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan has stated on several occasions that Pheonix Copley would start the year as Braden Holtby’s backup in Washington. However, anything can happen in training camp, when a final decision is made.
Is Samsonov ready for an NHL crease? It’s a good sign that he’s posted an overall save percentage of .927 in the world’s second-best league, the KHL, in nearly three seasons. It is also a good sign that he’s performed in the KHL, as opposed to a junior league, and even has playoff experience, too. He even had a save percentage of .926 for the season in a season where he had a rough start due to still recovering from sports hernia surgery and when the team defense was not as good as the previous season.
By Diane Doyle