Ilya Samsonov can be as good as Andrei Vasilevskiy, Washington Capitals professional development coach Olie Kolzig said.
The 23-year-old is expected to share time with Henrik Lundqvist this season, which the NHL is targeting to begin Jan. 1. The longtime New York Rangers goalie signed a one-year contract with the Capitals on Oct. 9 and will be a mentor to Samsonov, whose 16 wins in 26 games (22 starts) were second to Mackenzie Blackwood of the New Jersey Devils among NHL rookies last season. He was unfit to play in the postseason because of an undisclosed injury.
“I think [Samsonov] has the ability to be like Vasilevskiy,” Kolzig told the Capitals Talk Podcast last week. “But 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. Not a question mark, but lack of experience with him, so you need that veteran guy there to A, help guide him along but B, obviously step in.”
Vasilevskiy won the Vezina Trophy voted as best goalie in 2018-19 and has led the NHL in wins in each of the past three seasons, including 35 last season. He began his NHL career two years after the Tampa Bay Lightning selected him in the first round (No. 19) of the 2012 NHL Draft and played behind Ben Bishop before the latter was traded to the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 26, 2017. Three seasons later, Vasilevskiy helped the Lightning win the Stanley Cup.
The Capitals are hoping for a similar trajectory with Samsonov while under the guidance of Lundqvist, whose 459 wins are second among active NHL goalies to Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights (466). Samsonov, a first-round pick (No. 22) in the 2015 NHL Draft, backed up Braden Holtby, who signed a two-year contract with the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 9 after 10 seasons in Washington, including a Stanley Cup championship in 2018.
“He’s a still young guy and he’s going to have some rough patches, so you need that veteran guy that’s going to be able to get in there and do the job because we are a competitive team that still has aspirations of winning another Stanley Cup,” said Kolzig, whose 301 wins are first in Capitals history. “You don’t want to sacrifice that with having the growth of a young goaltender. I thought for what we got Hank for and what he brings to the table, I thought it was a no-brainer for the organization.”