Traditionally a weak area for Russian teams, goaltending is an area where that country has managed to catch up and more consistently develop good players. Two of the best NHL goalies – Semyon Varlamov (COL) and Sergei Bobrovsky (CBJ) – are from Russia, and there are a few more younger netminders who can repeat those achievements should the youngsters continue to progress as they are doing now.
The 2014 NHL Draft featured a particularly good crop for Russia as they had three goalies selected. Those three draftees were the first Russian goalies drafted since 2012, when the Tampa Bay Lightning selected Andrei Vasilevskiy in the first round and the Washington Capitals spent a seventh rounder on Sergei Kostenko. The two goalies have had two very different career paths, with Vasilevskiy having his successful NHL debut earlier this season, while Kostenko skipped the entire 2013-14 season and has played in just one game so far this season for Izhstal Izhevsk of the VHL.
Below is the short list of NHL goaltending prospects playing in the KHL.
After a good performance at the 2015 World Junior Championship, Igor Shestyorkin returned to Russia and received a chance to be the backup to former New York Islanders prospect Mikko Koskinen with SKA St. Petersburg, one of the KHL’s top teams. This season, Shestyorkin has played for SKA affiliates in the VHL and the MHL, posting good performances in all three leagues.
Shestyorkin is a very agile goalie with quick reflexes who is a very good athlete, but needs to work on his technique. This summer, his KHL contract ended and his team folded, but he preferred to stay in Russia and signed a two-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg. It remains to be seen if Shestyorkin will be more keen to move to North America come April of 2016; it’s hard to predict at this time, not only because goalies develop at a slower rate than skaters, but also because Russian players are always a bit unpredictable, especially ones like Shestyorkin who decide not to cross the Atlantic to play major junior hockey in the CHL.
Ilya Sorokin, CSKA Moscow
Drafted in the third round, 78th overall, of the 2014 NHL Draft by the New York Islanders
After the 2015 WJC and prior to the KHL deadline trade, Ilya Sorokin was moved from Metallurg Novokuznetsk (the same team that produced Bobrovsky) to CSKA Moscow for a rumored transfer fee of about three million dollars. While in Novokuznetsk, Sorokin had plenty of ice time, but with CSKA he will be just the third goalie, behind former Calgary Flames and Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Kevin Lalande and KHL veteran Stanislav Galimov. Both goalies are playing well so it will be difficult for Sorokin to get much ice time, which means that Sorokin is likely be sent down to CSKA’s junior team in the MHL.
Sorokin can play at a very high level as he showed in Novokuznetsk and with the senior national team during the Karjala Cup in Finland, but he needs to be more consistent and improve in all the areas of his game. At the World Juniors, his play wasn’t up to expectations and he lost the starting job to Shestyorkin early in the tournament.
Ivan Nalimov, Admiral Vladivostok
Drafted in the sixth round, 179th overall, of the 2014 NHL Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks
The selection of Ivan Nalimov during the 2014 NHL Draft was a bit of a surprise, even if he showed many good things during the years in which he was overlooked. Nalimov, who, like Sorokin, hails from Novokuznetsk (as do many other NHL draftees), declared to be interested in crossing the ocean this summer, but after his deal with SKA St. Petersburg ran out, he opted to sign with Admiral Vladivostok to get more playing time. It worked out for Nalimov as he is now splitting games with KHL veteran Ilya Proskuryakov and getting very valuable ice time. Even if his statistics aren’t the best, he has been named both KHL Rookie of the Month and of the week numerous times and his team is now battling hard for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Galimov’s deal with Admiral Vladivostok will run out in April of 2016.
Top undrafted goalies
Denis Kostin, Avangard Omsk
Denis Godla, HC Slovan Bratislava
Igor Ustinsky, Avtomobilist Ekaterinburg
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