Placing goaltender Pheonix Copley on waivers earlier in the week made it clear that 2015 top pick Ilya Samsonov would be the new understudy for starter Braden Holtby to start the 2019-20 season. In just his second season in North America, the 22-year old netminder has assumed the Capitals backup netminder position, and is the projected future between the pipes for Washington.
With Holtby’s contract set to expire at the end of this season, Samsonov’s status as the backup comes with added pressure to adjust and adapt to the NHL level, all in time to potentially assume the Capitals starting position next fall.
In this piece, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle provides a brief overview of the life and hockey career of Samsonov for those Capitals fans that may not know a lot about the new Capitals netminder, as he prepares for his NHL debut on Friday.
Ilya Alexeyovich Samsonov was born on February 22, 1997 in Magnitogorsk, Russia, an industrial city in Russia (which is also the birthplace of Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin). Samsonov lived in Magnitogorsk with his mother, Natalya and began his professional hockey career in 2014-15 with Stalnye Lisy (Steel Foxes), the junior team affiliated with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, the city’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) team.
Samsonov enjoyed a successful season, posting an 11-4-1 record and played one game (in relief) for Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Additionally, he represented Russia in the International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 World Junior Championships.
NHL Draft and KHL Career
Heading into the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Samsonov was rated as the Top European Goalie eligible for the draft. Living up to his projected pedigree, the Capitals drafted him in the first round of the draft with the 22nd overall pick.
After a week in Washington with other team prospects for the Capitals’ annual Development Camp, he returned to Russia to play professionally. After just five games with Stalnye Lisy, he was recalled by Metallurg Magnitogorsk, with whom he remained for the rest of the season as the backup to starter Vasily Koshechkin.
Samsonov played in 19 games, posting a record of 6-4-3, a save percentage of .925 and a goals-against average of 2.04, in a season in that concluded with Metallurg winning the Gagarin Cup (the KHL’s equivalent of the Stanley Cup). He appeared in six games during the postseason run, winning twice and losing twice. In addition, he also participated in the IIHF Under-20 World Junior Championships and played in two games for the Russian squad, who took home the Silver Medal.
Samsonov returned to Metallurg Magnitogorsk for the 2016-17 season, during which he played in 27 games, posting a 15-3-5 record, a save percentage of .936, and a goals-against average of 2.13. Once again, he participated in the IIHF Under-20 World Junior Championships and played in six games, helping the team win the Bronze Medal. For Metallurg, he played in three playoff games, helping the team return to the Gagarin Cup Finals, where they failed to defend their title.
Samsonov played one last season with Metallurg in 2017-18, playing in 26 games while posting a 12-9-1 record, a save percentage of .926, and a goals-against average of 2.31. He played in five playoff games as Metallurg was eliminated in the second round.
Signing Contract with Capitals and Hershey Bears Career
After his season in the KHL was over, Samsonov signed a three-year, entry level contract with the Capitals on May 4, 2018. After participating in the team’s training camp, he was assigned to the Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate Hershey Bears. His first season in North America got off to a rocky start; the language barrier and the difference in rink size, made it tough for him at the start.
The 2018-2019 season as a whole turned into a tale of two for Samsonov. From October through December, he went 5-10-0 with a 3.88 Goals-against average and an .863 save percentage on the season. A number change preceded a nice month of January. After losing his first contest of the year, he caught fire.
He recorded his first shutout on January 12 (here) and posted a 15-3-2-1 record with a 1.78 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage. He was briefly recalled to the Caps to serve as backup during an injury to Braden Holtby, but did not see game time. During the Capitals’ postseason, he and Hershey teammate Vitek Vanecek were recalled to practice with the team in the event an emergency backup was needed.
After the 2018-19 season, Samsonov married his long-time girlfriend, Maria Semenova.
The couple, along with Capitals defensive prospect and Samsonov’s countryman, Alexander Alexeyev, traveled to America to workout prior to the official start of training camp.
Goaltender coach Scott Murray, suggested that Samsonov, Maria, and Alexeyev all move in with him for a couple of weeks prior to training camp in order to develop a stronger bond between them and also allow for a chance to continue to adapt.
Capitals’ Senior Writer Mike Vogel recently caught up with Samsonov to discuss his NHL debut.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) October 3, 2019
By Diane Doyle
NoVa Caps: Samsonov: The Future is Now
NoVa Caps: Samsonov to Make Debut in Friday’s Capitals Game
Wash Post Story: Samsonov’s Future May Be Arriving Fast
NoVa Caps: Hershey Bears: Tale of Two Seasons
Ilya Samsonov’s first 24 games in North America
Ilya Samsonov Wins First Playoff Game For Metallurg
Statistics found with HockeyDB.com, EliteProspects.com, and KHL site.