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Islanders' Semyon Varlamov embraces pressure of replacing Robin Lehner

Then-Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov takes a drink during

Then-Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov takes a drink during a timeout against the Edmonton Oilers on April 2 in Denver. Credit: AP/David Zalubowski

Of course, there’s pressure. There’s always pressure.

The Islanders made few offseason personnel moves, the most significant being importing Semyon Varlamov from the Avalanche to replace fan-favorite Robin Lehner in a goalie tandem with Thomas Greiss after Lehner’s storybook lone season on Long Island.

So, the 31-year-old Russian knows plenty is expected of him after signing a four-year, $20 million deal on July 1, the same day Lehner agreed to a one-year, $5 million deal with the Blackhawks.

“I just treat pressure as a privilege,” Varlamov said on Tuesday after 18 Islanders participated in an informal scrimmage at the team’s practice facility in East Meadow. The veterans will report to training camp on Sept. 12.

“I’ve played with the best players in the world and I’m very happy to a part of that, part of this organization and part of this league,” Varlamov said. “The pressure has always been there. It’s going to be there every game. Every time you step on the ice you feel the pressure. I think you just need to know how to deal with the pressure. I think pressure brings the best out of you.”

The Islanders will need that to replicate last season’s success.

The team, in its first season under coach Barry Trotz, director of goaltending Mitch Korn and goalie coach Piero Greco, improved by 23 points to finish second in the Metropolitan Division and sweep the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs before being swept by the Hurricanes.

“It was easy for me to make the decision and sign with the Islanders,” Varlamov said. “The Islanders have a great team and a great coaching staff. Barry Trotz just won the Stanley Cup, he’s the best coach in the league. To work with [Korn and Greco] and learn something new, it will be great for me.”

Lehner and Greiss shared the Jennings Trophy as the Islanders allowed the fewest goals in the NHL and Lehner (25-13-5, 2.13 goals-against average, .930 save percentage) was also a Vezina Trophy finalist and won the Masterton Trophy for perseverance and dedication after detailing his battles with addiction and mental-health issues.

“I never met the guy but he had an incredible year,” Varlamov said. “I’m very proud of the guy and what he’s done for himself and his team and then for the entire league. What he’s done is amazing. I’m sure the fans enjoyed it, watching this team last year. But this is a new season.”

Perhaps it’s a needed change for Varlamov, who was 20-19-9 with a 2.87 GAA and a .909 in his eighth season with the Avalanche. He has battled injuries, missing the last six weeks of 2017-18 with a lower-body issue and was limited to 24 games the previous season after suffering a torn groin.

“I’m very excited about a new fresh start with a new team,” said Varlamov, picked 23rd overall by the Capitals in 2006.

And the pressure that comes along with that.

Note: Defenseman Bode Wilde, picked 41st overall in 2018, is in a walking boot after spraining his right ankle. It is unlikely he will participate in the Islanders’ rookie camp, which opens Sunday.

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