The Islanders have a few of their top prospects ready to break through next season. Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang, 2014 first-round picks, are pros now, starting the season either with the Isles or in Bridgeport.
Mathew Barzal, their 2015 first-round pick, could make the big club at age 19.
But one of the lesser-known Isles prospects came to the team’s camp this past week, his first time ever in the United States, and it may have been a small peek at what the Islanders could have on their hands in a couple years.
Ilya Sorokin is his name. He was the team’s third-round pick, 78th overall, in 2014, a promising young goaltender already playing in the KHL, Russia’s pro league, as a teenager.
But just two years later, Sorokin has blossomed into possibly the organization’s top prospect. He changed teams last season in the KHL, from his hometown club in Novokuznetsk to the CSKA Moscow team, once known as the Red Army.
He went from third-stringer there to the top netminder in the league, with a ridiculous .953 save percentage and 10 shutouts in 28 starts. He helped CSKA reach Game 7 of the Gagarin Cup, the KHL’s Stanley Cup, before losing to Magnitogorsk.
“That’s just one year,” Sorokin said through a translator earlier this week at the Isles’ new practice facility in Eisenhower Park. “I have to prove a lot of things. I need consistency. You can have one year of perfect play but you need another year to show you can be on that consistent level.”
Sorokin turns 21 next month and he has yet to play for Russia in a World Championship — he was on the team this past spring but sat behind NHLers Semyon Varlamov and Sergei Bobrovsky, the Blue Jackets goaltender who is from the same city as Sorokin.
And the effort to get Sorokin to Long Island this week was quite the undertaking. He received his passport just days before his flight and the Islanders didn’t want to advertise his participation in the camp because of the sensitive nature of NHL-KHL relations.
He made it, though, and as one member of the Isles organization noted just after Wednesday’s Blue-White Scrimmage, Sorokin “is the real deal.” The young goaltender was impressed by seeing over 2,000 Isles fans pack into the Northwell Health Ice Center for the scrimmage.
“I’ve never seen that in my life, two thousand people at a practice game,” he said. “I saw some people were standing because there were no seats. Unbelievable.”
There’s not much cause to get excited in the short term, as Sorokin has a contract for next season with CSKA and, as some diehard fans know from the lengthy wait to see 2008 draft pick Kirill Petrov — he spent eight seasons in the KHL before coming over for last season, which wasn’t a success — there can be some last-second changes with talented Russian players.
But Sorokin got to see the States for the first time. “Everything my friends tell me about it, it’s pretty close to what they said,” he said. “I went to Times Square and it was amazing, like in the movies.
“I talked a little with Bobrovsky about the NHL. He said here, everything is on the highest level. Everything is done for the players to play, you don’t have to think about anything else. So we will see.”