Ilya Samsonov is the Washington Capitals’ goaltender of the future and the team’s de facto starter heading into next season. After winning 15 of his first 17 starts during his rookie season, the young Russian got consideration for the Calder Trophy at the end of the year. For Samsonov, the question isn’t if he will be a decent NHL player, it’s if he’ll be able to put it all together to be a top-tier talent in the league.
Capitals legend Olie Kolzig, the winningest goaltender in franchise history and currently a player development coach with the team, thinks the sky is the limit for Samsonov.
“I think Sammy has the ability to be like [Andrei] Vasilevskiy,” Kolzig said on the Capitals Talk Podcast last week.
Vasilevskiy is one of the best goaltenders in the league. The Russian goalie won the Vezina Trophy during the 2018–19 season and helped lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to their second Stanley Cup in 2020.
Kolzig praised the Capitals’ decision to bring in a veteran backup in Henrik Lundqvist and that it would help Samsonov develop quicker. The Caps were also considering giving the backup job to Vitek Vanecek who is a two-time AHL All-Star.
“With the shortened season last year and then obviously [Samsonov] wasn’t healthy when the playoffs started, there’s still a little bit of a question mark,” Kolzig said. “Not a question mark, but lack of experience with him. And so you need that veteran guy there to A, help guide him along but B, obviously step in.
“[Samsonov’s] still a young guy and he’s going to have some rough patches,” added Kolzig. “So you need that veteran guy that’s going to be able to get in there and do the job because we are still a competitive team that still have aspirations of winning another Stanley Cup and you don’t want to sacrifice that with having the growth of a young goaltender.”
The Capitals signed Lundqvist, 38, to a one-year, $1.5 million contract over the offseason after the New York Rangers bought him out. His resume is long. The King is the sixth winningest goaltender of all time (459). He won the Vezina Trophy in 2012 while being a finalist for the award four other seasons (2006, 2007, 2008, 2013). He led his Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014. Lundqvist has played in five different All-Star Games (2009, 2011, 2012, 2018, 2019) and has a foundation off the ice that helps kids who have health, education, and financial stability problems.
“You get a guy of Henrik’s stature and ability and what he’s done in the NHL and then you look at basically what you ended up getting him for and it almost seems like a no-brainer,” Kolzig said.
The only part of the goaltending equation that Kolzig didn’t like was seeing Braden Holtby leave the organization. Holtby signed a two-year deal with the Vancouver Canucks worth $4.3 million a season after the Caps’ decided to move on due to salary cap constraints.
“I was sad to see Holts go especially what he’s done for the organization,” Kolzig said. “I understand it’s a money deal and that is the crappy side of things, it’s the realistic side of pro sports because you do lose a great person in Braden.
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