The goalie position is the most scrutinized for the Islanders, as it is for almost all NHL teams.
It’s why fan-favorite Robin Lehner signing a one-year, $5-million contract with the Blackhawks was such a seismic shock to the team’s partisans. And why bringing in Semyon Varlamov on a four-year, $20-million deal to be Thomas Greiss’ partner as Lehner’s replacement was dissected so thoroughly.
It’s why anticipation that Ilya Sorokin – called by Varlamov the best goalie in the KHL – finally will join the Islanders’ organization after one more season in Russia runs high. And why prospect Linus Soderstrom being able to participate in the Islanders’ summer development camp in late June after missing last season to injury was big news.
And then there’s Jakub Skarek and where the Czech prospect fits into the Islanders’ goalie hierarchy.
Right now, the NHL spots are set with Greiss and Varlamov and Christopher Gibson again third on the depth chart, returning to Bridgeport. Soderstrom said he will play in North America this season so he could win the other AHL spot or start in the ECHL with Worcester.
Minor-league veteran Jared Coreau also is under contract and a possible candidate for the AHL.
The Islanders selected the 6-3, 196-pound Skarek, 19, who plays a classic butterfly style, in the third round of the 2018 NHL Draft. He moved from the Czech Republic to play in Finland last season, including 22 games in the Finnish Elite League as he compiled a 6-8-7 record with a 2.45 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage.
“It was a big difference compared to the Czech league,” Skarek said at the Islanders’ development camp in East Meadow. “Everything is much faster. We’re playing in smaller rinks than we’re used to in Czech so it was a little bit different. I had to play much more with the stick. I think it’s a great preparation for a step here.”
Living in a foreign country was understandably a big adjustment for Skarek off the ice as well.
He learned to care for his own apartment and to cook his own meals. He got used to the Finnish winter, when the sun can rise after 9 a.m. and set shortly after 3 p.m.
And he learned to speak another language, adding a bit of Finnish to a stable that already included Czech, English, some Russian and a little bit of Swedish. He’s also learning Spanish.
“I had a lot of professors in school, great teachers helping me,” Skarek said. “I also like to listen to music. English music. I also like English movies. I think a person can learn it very easily when he hears it everywhere and is trying to speak.”
Skarek just isn’t sure when the move to North America will come.
“I have a contract here and I also have a contract in Finland,” Skarek said. “I don’t know. It doesn’t matter to me where I’m going to play. I just want to play as many games as possible because I know those games will help me.”