The Islanders have been hoping to sign Ilya Sorokin since selecting him in the third round in 2014.
The long wait ended Tuesday with not just one, but two contracts for the Russian goalie and the possibility he will be joining the team, albeit ineligible to play, for the current training camp and when the Islanders depart for their quarantined arena/hotel bubble in Toronto on July 26.
“His stats and his resume speak for themselves,” Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said on a conference call. “The success he’s had in the KHL as well as the Olympics and the World Championships, we certainly feel highly about him. All records go out the window when you come to the NHL. But he has the skills and talent to have success.”
Sorokin, who turns 25 on Aug. 4 — Game 2 of the seventh-seeded Islanders best-of-five qualifying series against the 10th-seeded Panthers — agreed to a one-year, $925,000 entry-level deal for the remainder of this season. He also agreed to a one-year, $2 million deal for 2020-21.
As part of the NHL-NHL Players’ Association return-to-play/collective bargaining agreement extension, unsigned draft picks such as Sorokin were ruled ineligible to play if signed for 2019-20 but they could have this season count toward free agency. The second deal keeps Sorokin from being a restricted free agent this offseason.
“It was a normal process other than the transition rules, which we all had to adapt to and learn about,” Lamoriello said. “When I first came here [in 2018], I spoke to Ilya. His decision was to sign a two-year [KHL] contract and he had no out clause. Once that contract expired, we were talking to him and his intention was to turn pro in the NHL. Then, then pandemic took over. Fortunately, everything worked out.”
Lamoriello said Sorokin was still in Russia as of Tuesday and there are health and safety protocols, including COVID-19 testing, before he can join the Islanders for training camp, which began on Monday.
Lamoriello said the intention was to include Sorokin among the 52 personnel members the Islanders are allowed to bring to their hub city. Since Sorokin is ineligible to play, Lamoriello is hoping Sorokin will not count toward the maximum of 31 players the organization can bring.
The goal is to get Sorokin working with director of goaltending Mitch Korn and goalie coach Piero Greco as quickly as possible to get him acclimated to the North American game.
The NHL is not planning on starting the 2020-21 season until Dec. 1 but Lamoriello said the hope is the AHL can begin play before then. Lamoriello added Sorokin has indicated a willingness to play in the NHL’s top minor-league affiliate.
“My experience with Mitch for 20 years and Piero for two years is that any goaltender we get to our organization, they are like two kids in a candy store,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “They love to work with the players.”
Sorokin spent the last five full seasons with CSKA Moscow and was named the KHL’s playoff MVP in 2019 as he backstopped his team to the Gagarin Cup championship. He compiled a 26-10-3 record with a 1.50 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage this past season.
Sorokin also won an Olympic gold medal in 2018 at the Pyeongchang Winter Games.
Sorokin has trained in the past with current Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov, in the first season of a four-year, $20 million deal.
“Me and Ilya have a great relationship,” Varlamov said. “It’s great for him to sign a deal. It’s great for the organization in the long run. At this point, I’m focusing on the playoffs. I want to focus on the present, not on the future. He signed a deal and it’s great for him.”
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