Now one month into the season, it seems like a good time to take stock of Ilya Samsonov and see how he is progressing within the North American game.
Before diving into how he has played, it is important to note that Samsonov is only 21-years-old and is adjusting to a completely different game and a completely different life in a new country. Nothing about his play thus far necessarily means he will or will not live up to the lofty expectations that have been placed on his shoulders.
The numbers thus far, are not glowing. Samsonov has played in six games with the Hershey Bears and has posted a 3.47 GAA and .881 save percentage with a record of 2-4-0-0 (the AHL distinguishes between overtime and shootout losses in win-loss records).
Some of those numbers are due to the fact that Hershey was horrendously bad at the start of the season, losing its first five games in regulation and being largely non-competitive in the majority of those games. Both the team and Samsonov’s play has improved since then and he has won two of his last three starts.
So let’s take a look at his actual play.
Samsonov started two of the Bears’ three games this weekend. Check out the highlights here:
Samsonov’s play looks a bit chaotic, which is a stark contrast to a goalie like Braden Holtby who tends to look very calm and smooth. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Domink Hasek, for example, always looked like his hair was on fire when he played (no, I am not comparing Samsonov to Hasek, merely using him as an example, settle down). The issue is when a goalie creates chaos with his play because he can’t do things like freeze pucks or control rebounds as opposed to a goalie who just has a chaotic style. Samsonov appears to have a chaotic style of play.
The positive to note is that he is extremely good down low. He is a very big goalie and uses his size to his advantage when it comes to covering the net with his pads. He is pretty fast with kick out saves and generally tough to beat when players try to beat him low.
Having said that, everything above the pads needs some work. At development camp, I noticed watching Samsonov that, as big as he was, he tended to play really low almost as if to compensate for how big he is. I am seeing the same sort of thing here.
One area in clear need of improvement is on the posts. In both games from the above highlights, he lets in a soft goal because he cannot cover the post. A goalie needs to be able to hug and square himself to the post to take away all holes for a player to shoot at. There is also definite room for improvement with his glove. If you get your hand on a shot, you need to be able to stop it.
Screens appear to be an issue as well. In the second goal Samsonov gives up in the second game, he gets caught sliding in the wrong direction around a screen. Samsonov leans right trying to peek around the screen and he begins sliding over out of position when the shot is released. The shot gets deflected, but it was always coming to Samsonov’s left side. This wasn’t a case in which he was in a good position to save a shot until the puck was deflected, he was sliding the wrong way from when the shot was released and he had no chance to stop the puck.
In the large playing surfaces of the European rink, screens do not play as much of a factor because there is so much more ice for players to work with. Offenses are not set up to generate much traffic in front of the net. Obviously, the North American game is quite different in that respect. Clearly this is an area in which Samsonov still needs to adjust.
There is a lot of excitement over Samsonov from Caps fans and for good reason, but his early play shows that it is going to take him some time still to adjust.
Samsonov has already improved from the start of the season which is a good sign for his development, but we’re still a long way off before he is close to being NHL ready.
More prospect notes:
- Vitek Vanecek is still recovering from an upper-body injury and is expected to miss both of Hershey’s games this weekend. That will most likely mean Samsonov will start both games, but Parker Milner did play well in his lone start last week and head coach Spencer Carbery could spit the starts between the two.
- For more on Samsonov, Chris Kuc of The Athletic wrote a very good piece on the prospect netminder. The biggest takeaway from the piece is how important learning English will be to his development. It matters more for a goalie than most players, according to development coach Olie Kolzig. “There is a lot of communication involved in the game of hockey, and it’s such a read-and-react sport. Players have their backs to the play sometimes, so they rely on their teammates and the goaltender to verbally shout out instructions, and the same goes with the players talking to the goalie. If the goalie doesn’t understand, more times than not, he’s going to make a mistake with the puck, and more times than not, it will end up in the back of the net.”
- Liam O’Brien scored again in the team’s win on Friday and maintains the team lead in goals with seven while Connor Hobbs leads the team in assists with seven. O’Brien, Hobbs and Mike Sgarbossa are tied for the team lead in points with eight.
- I was reminded of this watching the Caps play the Penguins on Wednesday. If you want to know what type of player the Caps think Axel Jonsson-Fjallby could be in the NHL, watch Carl Hagelin play. I spoke to former Hershey coach Troy Mann last season about Jonsson-Fjallby and he said Jonsson-Fjallby reminded him of Hagelin, a speedy bottom-six type of forward who can be dangerous on the penalty kill.
- Juuso Ikonen scored his first AHL goal on Sunday. The goal was originally awarded to Hobbs, but a review determined that Ikonen had redirected the puck giving him his first.
- Alexander Alexeyev was selected to participate for Team Russian in the annual Canada Russia Series that pits junior Russian players against teams made up of Canadian players representing the junior leagues WHL, OHL and QMJHL. Alexeyev was also named an alternate captain. Russia split its two games with the WHL and will face the OHL for two games starting Thursday. You can read the full article naming Alexeyev to the team here.
- Speaking of international tournaments, Damien Riat has been named to the roster of Team Switzerland for the Deutschland Cup, an annual international hockey tournament hosted by Germany. Switzerland won its first game against Slovakia on Thursday. Riat did not register any points in the contest. Switzerland will play host Germany on Nov. 10 and Russia on Nov. 11.
- Chase Priskie is off to a great start at Quinnipiac this season. Despite being a defenseman, he leads the team in goals with six through seven games. He is also one point shy of the team lead in points with nine.
MORE CAPS NEWS:
- T.J.'s Last Laugh: Oshie scores game winner
- Holtby's Arrival: A big night for the goalie vs. Penguins
- A Permant Backup? What to think of Phoenix Copley