Henrik Lundqvist, Sergei Bobrovsky, Braden Holtby, Matt Murray, and Cory Schneider. Not only are those goalies some of the top netminders in the league, they are all from the Metropolitan Division. Murray and Schneider may be having tough years, but they have more good than bad on their resumes. Overall, that’s a star-studded group for just one division. But all of those goalies are getting older and the reign of having some of the best goalies in the league might be over for the Metropolitan and its teams….or so it may seem.
The Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, and New York Islanders currently have the Top 4 goalie prospects in the world, and all of them are only one to three years (give or take) out from establishing themselves in the NHL. This could cement the Metropolitan as the best division, in terms of netminding talent, for the foreseeable future.
As Capitals fans know, Ilya Samsonov is a very exciting prospect. Taken with the 22nd overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Samsonov has done nothing but impress wherever he’s gone. He had the best season ever in Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) history for a 19-year old netminder. To add to that he also stood on his head in the World Junior tournament in 2016 and won the Bronze Medal for Russia. He’s currently having a tough transition to the North American game in the American Hockey League (AHL) at 21-years old for the Hershey Bears, with a .864 save percentage in 11 games, but that’s expected of a lot of players adapting to North America while jumping right into the AHL in their first professional season. The Capitals probably wanted to ease Samsonov in but with an injury to fellow Hershey teammate Vitek Vanecek, he’s been forced to play a lot of games early in his professional career. Expect his stats to rise as the season goes on and he gets more comfortable.
Carter Hart was selected by the Flyers with the 48th overall pick in 2016 and since then has torn it up with some of the best numbers ever in the Western Hockey League (WHL). He also has a gold and silver medal under his belt in the World Juniors. Similarly to Samsonov, Hart is having a rough go of it in the AHL in his 20-year old season with a .893 save percentage in 14 games played. Unlike Samsonov though, Hart doesn’t have to adapt to the North American game, but he does have to adapt playing against more experienced players at the pro level, something Samsmonov had experience with in the KHL. Hart is very gifted and it’s doubtful his numbers stay so low. It may not be long before he sees some NHL time, and with the Flyers’ seemingly ongoing fractious goaltending situation, it could be this season.
The New York Islanders drafted Ilya Sorokin with the 78th pick in 2014. The Russian netminder has been absolutely stellar in the KHL. So far this season, he has an astounding 1.19 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage in 22 games played. The issue for Sorokin (or rather for the Islanders), is he has stated he will not come over to play in the AHL and until his current contract is over, which ends in 2020, when he will be 25-years old. Even still, that doesn’t guarantee that he will ever come over at that point. KHL money and playing in one’s home country is hard to turn down. It’s always best to get to North America as early as possible to start adjusting to the faster game. If Sorokin decides to come over it means he could not be NHL ready for another three years.
Not long after the Islanders picked Sorokin in 2014, the New York Rangers selected Igor Shestyorkin with the 118th pick. And much like Sorokin, Shestyorkin has thrived in the KHL. In 16 games this season, he has a 1.31 goals-against average and .946 save percentage. Many point out to the team he plays on as the reason he’s so successful. It’s true, SKA St. Petersburg is usually stacked year in and out, but it shouldn’t take away from what the young netminder has done. He’s still a great player that has a lot of potential. His KHL deal expires at the end of this season, so he could be in North America as soon as springtime rolls around. That said, he has one big obstacle in his way: Henrik Lundqvist. “King Henrik” may be 36, but he’s called The King for a reason. However, if Shestyorkin pans out, the Rangers will have a good replacement once Lundqvist decides to hang up his pads.
Prospects are just prospects until they prove otherwise, but so far the Metropolitan Division looks like it is destined to exhibit exemplary goalies into the foreseeable future. It’s exciting but also daunting that these netminders will be facing each other a lot in a season. And often it’s the goaltender that decides a playoff series, meaning Capitals fans should continue to expect nail-biting series for years to come.
By Luke Adomanis