Having been born in Russia, lived in Russia, and played hockey in Russia for his first 24 years on the planet, Ilya Sorokin doesn’t encounter too many things on the ice that are difficult.
At least coming to New York and speaking English to a bunch of reporters — as he did for the very first time on Tuesday afternoon — provided a bit of a challenge.
“This was very hard,” Sorokin said as he got through the 20-minute availability with minimal help from a translator. “On the ice, that’s easy.”
Sorokin is finally joining the Islanders nearly seven years after he was drafted, all while developing into one of the very top goaltending prospects in the world with CSKA Moscow of the KHL.
After his contract with the Russian club expired, the door finally opened over the summer to join the Islanders.
“It was stay in Moscow for one more season or go to my dream and play in the NHL, the best league in the world,” Sorokin said. “All guys have that dream of playing in the NHL. I wanted a bigger challenge.”
Upon his arrival to North America, he joined the Islanders in the postseason bubble in Toronto, then Edmonton, to begin practicing and assimilating to NHL life as his team made a run to the Eastern Conference Final.
“I worked with the team a lot of times for three-and-a-half months. It started in the bubble,” he said. “I didn’t have a problem with any of the guys because they’re very friendly. We have [goaltender] Semyon Varlamov, he’s like a big brother.
“I was with the team all day for 24 hours. You start feeling how the team works, what the demands of the team are, and it was a good time.”
Sorokin is expected to be the Islanders’ netminder of the future for years to come, finally providing some stability at the position. But to start the 2021 campaign, head coach Barry Trotz has already confirmed that they will go with Varlamov — who backstopped that run to the conference final — to start.
“We’re going to take it one game at a time,” Trotz said. “We’re going to look at it from a [week’s standpoint]… I’m planning, yes, to get Sorokin in. Which game — is it two games in, is it four games in, is it six or seven games in? — I can’t really answer that right now.”
In the meantime, Sorokin continues to meticulously work on his game with the Islanders’ goalie-coach tandem of Mitch Korn and Piero Greco, which hasn’t gone unnoticed by his head coach.
“[We work on] a lot of things, small goalie movements, they change it,” Sorokin said. “The new coaches are changing the little details. The focus is on very small parts of the game and through that tweaking, there’s always something new.”
“He has a great personality, he’s a guy who has a smile on his face, he’s a guy that works at his craft and looks for the next thing,” Trotz added. “What’s the next thing that’s going to be out there? He studies it. That’s just his personality… He’s been a pleasure to have around.”