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Greenberg: The White Whale Might’ve Been Worth the Wait

Ilya Sorokin has been everything the Islanders could’ve asked for and more. The Russian netminder, who’s been in the organization for seven years, has lived up to the lofty expectations thus far.

After a shaky first few games, Sorokin has settled in. The “White Whale” is 10-1-0 in his last 11 starts with a 1.77 GAA and .929 SV% in that span. The only other netminder in the league with a lower goals against average during that time is Juuse Saros of Nashville. Sorokin is also unbeaten at Nassau Coliseum with a perfect 7-0-0 record, becoming just the third goalie in NHL history to win his first seven home starts. Yes, it’s only been 14 games, but Sorokin is already proving why the organization has been desperate to pry him away from the KHL.

I think his confidence, especially against Philly has been good,” Trotz said in the aftermath of Sorokin’s outstanding display in the shootout of Isles’ win last night. “I think his confidence every time he goes in the net is growing.”

The Isles have struggled to find consistency in net since the early 90s. They’ve had a goalie carousel that few organizations could match over that span. When they drafted Rick DiPietro first overall in 2000, the organization thought they’d found their guy for the next 15 years; we all know how that turned out. Now, however, Sorokin is proving that he could become what we all thought DiPietro would be — a franchise goalie.

At age 25, DiPietro had the best statistical season of his career. He won 32 games and had a 2.58 GAA and a .919 SV% and made the only All-Star game of his career. DiPietro would be awarded a 15-year contract as a result. Unfortunately, an avalanche of injuries sabotaged his career thereafter, as he would only play 113 games over the next seven seasons. New York was suddenly back in goalie purgatory, looking for stability.

The list was endless.

From Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron to Evgeni Nabokov and Al Montoya, the Isles had more goalies than fans in the Coliseum seats those days. Jaro Halak and Thomas Greiss provided much needed stability in goal for the franchise and backstopped some of the best moments in recent history, but they weren’t homegrown. Robin Lehner and now Semyon Varlamov have been fan favorites and certainly great netminders, but still weren’t homegrown. Sorokin, however, has a chance to be that guy.

From the day they drafted him in the third round, 78th overall, in 2014, the franchise and the fanbase have been hoping that he would be the one. So far, he looks every bit like the real deal. Some of that can be attributed to the experience he was already bringing to the table when he joined the organization. Sorokin began his professional career in Russia playing in the KHL as a 17-year-old. He put up video game-like numbers his last few seasons in Russia and was considered to be the best goalie in the country and not only that, the best goalie prospect outside of North America. The questions were not of his playing ability, but if he would leave the KHL to come give the NHL a try.

Isles fans were surely relieved last July when Sorokin signed a one-year deal with the team but had to wait until this season to see him up close for the first time. During training camp this year, Sorokin’s teammates were quick to praise his unique abilities in net such as freakish athleticism and quickness. They also applauded his work ethic, not only on the ice, but off it, as he took English classes everyday trying to learn the language.

His first three games were rough, as Sorokin looked unsure at times and seemed to struggle adjusting to the smaller rinks. But with each passing game, the Big Russian seems more and more settled and it’s beginning to translate to his play. He still has his rough moments, but each game he seems to make one or two saves that leaves fans in awe of his ability.

Last night’s shootout is a perfect example. Sorokin faced five shooters and stopped them all, with each save being more impressive than the previous one.

Sorokin has been money in the shootout this season, facing 13 shooters and only allowing one goal. He has all the makings of a number one goalie and he’s only even past 25 years of age. Working with goalie whisperer Mitch Korn will no doubt help, but Sorokin has the talent to be one of the top goalies in the league for years to come.

For a franchise that has struggled to find stability in net, Sorokin could prove to have been worth the wait.

 


Follow Ethan on Twitter at @egreenberg99

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About Ethan Greenberg

Ethan is a recent graduate of the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Public Relations with a Minor in Sport Management. He has worked in the past for the Syracuse Crunch, the AHL affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning. A recent addition to the IslesBlog family, Ethan is looking to pursue a career in sport communications.

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