“The Russians are Coming, The Russians are coming!” was a cry from an old movie during the Cold War era. Today in a hockey context, the saying could be used to describe the bevy of Russian goaltenders that have been drafted by Metropolitan Division teams in recent seasons. In this piece, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle takes a look at these goalies and the progression of their careers since entering the Metropolitan Division.
The wave of new netminders started back 2014 when both the New York Rangers and New York Islanders drafted Russian goalies in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, both of whom helped Russia win the Silver Medal at that winter’s World Junior Championship tournament, and both of whom went on to perform well in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). The trend continued over the next few seasons as other Metropolitan Division teams drafted Russian goalies who followed similar career paths. This first crop of Russian goalies has begun to make their way into the NHL.
2014 NHL Entry Draft
The Islanders drafted Ilya Sorokin (born 8/4/1995) in the third-round of the 2014 draft with the 78th overall pick. At the time of the draft, Sorokin had played two professional seasons; his first professional season (2012-13) came mostly in the Russian Minor Hockey League (Russia’s junior hockey league), but he appeared in five games with Metallurg Novokuznetsk of the KHL, and his second professional season was a reversal of his first as he played in four MHL games but spent most of his time in the KHL with Metallurg Novokuznetsk.
The Rangers drafted Igor Shestyorkin (born 12/30/1995) in the fourth-round with the 118th overall pick. Prior to being drafted, Shestyorkin spent the majority of his first two professional seasons (2012-13 and 2013-14) with MHL Spartak, recording save percentages of .920 and .947, respectively; additionally, he played in nine games for Spartak of the KHL during the 2013-14 season.
2015 NHL Entry Draft
The Washington Capitals drafted Ilya Samsonov (born 2/22/1997) in the first-round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft with the 22nd overall pick. At the time of the selection, Samsonov had played with Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk in the MHL and had represented Russia in the IIHF18 and Under World Junior Championships, as well as one game for Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL. Later in the 2015 draft, the Philadelphia Flyers selected Ivan Fedotov (born 11/28/1996) in the seventh-round with the 188th overall pick, at which time, Fedotov played with Reaktor Nizhnekamsk of the MHL and one game in the KHL for Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk.
2017 NHL Entry Draft
In 2017, the Flyers drafted Kirill Ustimenko (born 1/29/1999) in the third-round with the 80th overall pick. While Ustimenko was born in Belarus, his formative hockey training had been conducted in Russia, with St. Petersburg Dynamo, and has represented Russia internationally. Prior to being drafted, he mostly played with St. Petersburg at various age levels and played with St. Petersburg Dynamo of the MHL for the 2016-17 season and postseason and represented Russia in the Under-18 World Junior Championship for 2016-17.
The Columbus Blue Jackets drafted Daniil Tarasov (born 3/27/1999) just six picks later, despite the fact he missed the entire 2016-17 season due to a leg injury and subsequent surgery. Prior to that injury Tarasov had played primarily for the Under-17 division of Salavat Yulaev Ufa in the Russian Under-17 League but had also played in several games for Tolpar Ufa, the MHL affiliate of Salavat Yulaev. During the 2014-15 season, he played in the Under-16 Division for Salavat Yulaev Ufa in the Russian Under-16 League and represented Russia in the IIHF Under-18 Championships during the 2015-16 season.
That same summer, the New York Rangers invited Alexander Georgiev (born 2/10/1996), a Bulgarian-born goalie who was raised in Russia, to their prospect development camp that summer. Despite playing well in the Finnish League and performing well in the World Junior Championships in the winter of 2015-16, Georgiev had not been drafted by an NHL team. However, the Rangers invited him to Development Camp in July 2017 and signed him to an entry-level contract.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
No Russian goalies were drafted by a Metropolitan Division team.
2019 NHL Entry Draft
In 2019, the Carolina Hurricanes drafted Pyotr Kochetkov (born 6/25/1999) in the second-round of the 2019 draft with the 36th overall pick. Prior to being drafted, Kochetkov had played for the Under-18 team for Ak Bars Kazan, but played at various age levels for Dizel Penza, including Under-18 and the MHL. In 2018-19, he played for HC Ryazan of the MHL and two games with HC Sochi in the KHL. He helped Russia win the Bronze Medal at the 2018 World Junior Championship tournament. Kochetkov was passed over for the draft in the first two seasons he had been eligible, as a result of him playing in leagues that were less than high-profile or on poor teams.
World Junior Championship Timeline
2014 — IIHF Under 20 World Juniors – Russia won Silver Medal with Ilya Sorokin and Igor Shestyorkin in goal
2015 — IIHF Under 20 World Juniors – Russia won Silver Medal, primarily with Alexandar Georgiev in goal, backed up by Ilya Samsonov
2016 — IIHF Under 20 World Juniors – Russia won Bronze Medal, primarily with Ilya Samsonov in goal
2018 — IIHF Under 20 World Juniors – Russia won Bronze Medal, primarily with Daniil Tarasov in goal, backed up by Pyotr Kochetkov
Progress Since Being Drafted (Or Signed as Free Agent)
During the 2014-15 season, Sorokin played mostly with Metallurg Novokuznetsk, with one game in their system, before being traded to CSKA Moscow. He spent some time with their affiliate, Krasnaya Armiya Moskva, but spent more time with CSKA Moskva, however he played for Krasnaya Armiya Moskva in the postseason. Sorokin also played in goal for Russia at the 2015 World Junior Championship tournament, helping the Russians win the Silver Medal in which he and Igor Shestyorkin played an equal number of games. Since then, he has played for CSKA of the KHL and has also represented Russia in international competition, often the World Championships. His KHL regular season Win-Loss record is 108-54-19 and his playoff record is 46-17. In addition, he has an overall save percentage during the regular season of .929 and while he holds a playoff save percentage of .938 and has served as the starting goalie for CSKA since the 2016-17 season, during which time he has a goals-against average of 1.74 in the regular season and 1.41 in the playoffs. His current contract with CSKA lasts until the end of the 2019-20 season and as of yet, he has not signed a contract with the New York Islanders, likely due to the fact that NHL entry-level deals still pay less than $1 million per year, which is likely a deterrent to jumping from the KHL to play in the NHL.
During 2014-15 and 2015-16, Shestyorkin played at various levels for SKA St. Petersburg, including their VHL and MHL affiliates. However, this time period also included six games in the KHL in 2014-15, and seven games in the KHL in 2015-16. Since then, he has played with SKA in St. Petersburg. He also played in goal for Russia at the 2015 IIHF World Juniors, helping the Russians win the Silver Medal, during a run in which he and Sorokin played an equal number of games. This season, he will play in the Rangers organization after signing his entry-level contract. His overall regular season save percentage in the KHL sits at .935 and .919 in the playoffs. He served as the starting goalie for SKA for the 2016-17 season, but shared the net with another goalie for both the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. His regular season record in the KHL was 80-19-15 and he holds an 8-6 playoff record. Additionally, his goals-against average is 1.68 in the regular season and 1.92 in the playoffs.
From the 2015-16 season through the 2017-18 season, Samsonov served as the backup goaltender for his hometown team in the KHL, Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Samsonov twice represented Russia in the World Junior games, in both 2015 (when he played two games), where Russia won the Silver medal, and in 2016 (when he played six games), helping Russia win the Bronze medal and was chosen as the best goaltender of the tournament. During his time in the KHL, he compiled a regular season record of 33-16-9, .929 save percentage, and a .920 save percentage for the playoffs. He signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Capitals after the 2017-18 season and spent the 2018-19 season with their AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears. His first North American season was a tale of two, in which he got off to a poor start early in the season, but turned his play around for the second half of the season, finishing with a record of 20-14-2-3 and save percentage of .898.
Georgiev started the 2017-18 season with the Hartford Wolfpack, the AHL affiliate of the New York Rangers and played in 37 games. He was recalled to the Rangers to serve as their backup goalie in February and played in 10 games, posting a 4-4-1 record, a save percentage of .918, and a goals-against average of 3.15. During the 2018-19 season, he divided his time between Hartford and the Rangers, but spent more time with the Rangers. He played 10 games with Hartford and 33 games with the Rangers. He posted a record of 14-13-4 for the Rangers, along with a save percentage of .924 and a goals-against average of 2.91. With longtime Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist now 37-years old, there is more opportunity for younger goalies, such as Georgiev and Shestyorkin to get more chances in net.
Since being drafted in 2015, Fedotov has played five games in the KHL, with Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik and Ufa Salavat Yulayev, but has played mostly in the MHL and VHL. He is currently slated to play with Chelmet Chelyabinsk in the VHL, which is affiliated with Traktor Chelyabinsk. He has not signed a contract with the Flyers.
Since being drafted in 2017, Ustimenko played with St. Petersburg Dynamo in the MHL during both the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons and played in the playoffs for them in both seasons. During the 2017-18 season, he posted a save percentage of .929 and a save percentage of .927 the following season. He represented Russia internationally in three games but was not selected for the World Junior Championships. He has since signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Flyers and will likely play with their ECHL affiliate.
Since being drafted in 2017, Tarasov played with Tolpar in the MHL during the 2017-18 season and then primarily with Toros Neftekamsk during the 2018-19 season. However, he appeared in two games with Ufa Salavat Yalayev in the KHL. Tarasov represented Russia in the 2018-19 World Junior Team, helping them win the Bronze Medal. Tarasov has signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Blue Jackets and will likely play for either the Blue Jackets’ AHL affiliate, the Cleveland Monsters, or be lent to the KHL.
Having just been drafted, Kochetkov will likely play with either SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL or their VHL affiliate, SKA-Neva St. Petersburg.
Six of the eight Metropolitan Division teams have an influx of Russian talent in goal who have already helped the Russians earn medals in recent World Junior games. The Rangers’ prospects seem to be the most NHL-ready, with Alexander Georgiev already having spent just over half a season in the NHL and Shestyorkin trying to win an NHL job as well. Ilya Sorotkin, drafted by the Islanders, may be NHL-ready but has yet to come over from the KHL where he had excelled. Samsonov, drafted by the Caps, has spent one season in the AHL, and should hopefully be ready next season. Ustimenko and Tarasov have signed contracts with NHL teams but need more development time before they are ready for the NHL. Kochetkov was drafted recently and will likely also need more development time before being ready for the NHL. Still, the Russian “invasion” of goalies has begun in the Metropolitan Division. Every Metropolitan Division team has at least one Russian goalie in their system, except the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New Jersey Devils.
Statistics courtesy of NHL.com, Elite Prospects, and Hockey DB sites.