By Chris Gordon
Photo: Mike Ehrmann
When the Capitals drafted Ilya Samsonov 22nd overall at last month’s NHL Draft, many people were surprised that the team, already stocked with goaltending talent, would select another netminder. In spite of conventional wisdom, the Capitals insisted that they always draft the best player available. In this case, Samsonov was the best player available.
“Our scouting staff as a whole, individually and as a whole, were more than happy to be able to call his name,” Capitals assistance general manager Ross Mahoney told reporters at the draft. “We’ve always talked in the past about trying to draft the best player that’s available to us and for sure we thought he was our best player that we could take with that pick, so we went ahead and took him.”
Despite a contract with Metallurg Magnitogorsk that runs for three more years, the Capitals planned on Samsonov’s attending their development camp in July to work with goalie coach Mitch Korn.
“He has a contract, but we’ve had players in the past, some Russian players that we’ve drafted and they were able to come over,” Mahoney said. “We have tremendous confidence in our goalie coaches, being able to help this young man develop his game and bring it to a level that’ll get him to succeed in the NHL.”
That, however, never happened. While the Capitals first claimed Samsonov was missing camp due to a visa issue, he was actually attending Metallurg’s training camp as first reported by our own Ian Oland. Despite the mix-up, the Capitals didn’t purport to be concerned when they addressed the issue last week.
“He’s under contract, but he’s not here because they’re already training and they’re already starting their season, basically,” Mahoney said during Development Camp. “He is playing in the elite league. It’s happened in the past with some of our players we’ve had from Europe where their seasons have basically already started as far as the training and playing exhibition games coming up and that sort of thing. He had that commitment already, so we’re good with that.”
With Mettallurg’s training camp underway, their website posted video of GM Gennady Velichkin and head coach Mike Keenan talking about the upcoming season, including their plans for Washington’s first rounder. RMNB’s Igor Kleyner has your translation.
HC Metallurg PR: What is the goalie situation? Are you going to continue relying on Koshechkin-Samsonov tandem?
Gennady Velichkin: Our number-one goalie is Vasily Koshechkin. Ilya Samsonov, who received huge advances in North America, will be our number two. Just before he flew to America we extended his contract for another three years. Obviously, we understand that you cannot keep this guy as number three, or send him [down] somewhere, so he is going to help Vasily, but nobody will stand in his way of becoming number one even this season. We will only support a healthy competition. As far as ice time goes – we have an agreement with the coaching staff, that Ilya will get ice time, and he will get a chance to prove that he didn’t get all those great reviews from North American press for no reason.
Korn, for his part, was impressed that Samsonov was challenging for ice time in the KHL at such a young age.
“I know that he’s a talented goalie. I know that anybody at 19 to get a chance to play in the KHL which he’s done and going to do, makes him special,” Korn said. “He seems to have really solid goalie sense and the speed of the game requires great processing and he seems to possess that.”
Korn did express some trepidation at Samsonov’s absence, though if he had been at development camp, the language barrier likely would have gotten in the way of any serious coaching.
“[T]here’s no way to find out what makes him tick because he can’t really communicate because of English,” Korn said. “We’ve been in touch with his agent, we’ve requested that he begins the English process. You hope that the agent will be the catalyst in these things because they have to recognize that if these guys want to play in North America, they have to learn.”
Katie Brown and Igor Kleyner also contributed to this report.
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