By Graham Dumas
Capitals top goaltending prospect Ilya Samsonov, who finished last season with a career-best 15-3-5 record and .936 save percentage, is stuck as the backup goaltender with Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
Ten games into the young KHL season, Samsonov has started only three times. Further, though he won all three of his starts, Samsonov has struggled in each of his appearances.
Last week, Corey Pronman, Senior NHL Prospects Writer for The Athletic, gave some context as to why the talented Samsonov is potentially stuck in a supporting role.
Washington’s first round pick in 2015 and top goalie prospect, Ilya Samsonov… is the No. 2 goalie behind Vasily Koshechkin, who was KHL goalie of the year and playoffs MVP in 2016-17. While he got playing time in this situation the past few years, that is no guarantee for this season.
He is signed in Russia until 2017-18, but is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Get paid without a guarantee of playing time in the KHL, or take much less money to dominate the AHL since Washington does not have an open spot for a goalie this season. Philipp Grubauer is a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
Samsonov is also trying to work his way back into top form after injuring his groin last season. The 20-year-old Russian underwent inguinal hernia surgery in April and spent most of the offseason participating in extensive physical therapy.
After declaring himself 100% recovered in June, Samsonov walked back those comments big time in August.
“Recovery was difficult,” Samsonov said at the beginning of the KHL season. “I am almost 100% now, but the injury is still bothering me. I worry a bit, but there is still time before the season starts. We have been working on this for over three months, every day.”
In the three games he’s played in so far this season, Samsonov has faced a total of 79 shots and tallied a .886 save percentage with a goals against average of 3.01. Those numbers are well below his career totals of .927 SV% and 2.20 GAA over 50 regular-season KHL appearances.
What’s more, in those starts Samsonov played two of the weakest teams in the league, facing Lada (currently 25th at 2-8) twice, and Admiral (26th at 1-8) once.
Metallurg coach Ilya Vorobyev is tight-lipped when it comes to the press and has not discussed Samsonov’s role on the team at all this season. But at this stage it seems safe to say that he’s being very cautious with the young goaltender. Whether that changes will likely have a major impact on Samsonov’s future in North America.
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