Quality goaltending has been a hallmark of the Washington Capitals’ organization dating back to the days of Olaf Kolzig, Semyon Varlamov, and, more recently, Braden Holtby. With the departure of Philip Grubauer and the subsequent calling-up of AHL goalie Phoenix Copley, the Hershey Bears were suddenly faced with a disparity in net. While Vitek Vanecek has proven himself to be a stud at times in his role as the backup to Copley in Hershey, there is a new face in town that will likely keep Vanecek in that backup role for the time being. That face is that of 21-year-old Russian goalie Ilya Samsonov.
Drafted by the Capitals 22nd overall in the first round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Samsonov immediately became the heir-apparent to Capitals starting netminder Braden Holtby, himself a successful former Bear. While scouts all over the world are familiar with Metallurg Magnitogorsk’s young up-and-comer, fans’ reception of Samsonov was decidedly lukewarm, something that he intends to change. When interviewed during Capitals Development Camp this summer, Samsonov stated, “I’m really worried about next season, but it’s a good worry. I want to prove something to myself, to people who believed in me and picked me to come here to Washington.” With that kind of drive, coupled with his professional success in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in Russia, Samsonov is expected to make quite the splash in Chocolatetown this upcoming season.
Samsonov’s incredible reflexes, speed, and sense of awareness when it comes to the game make him one of the elite goaltending prospects currently in the North American system. Posting an impressive .927 save percentage over 4 seasons in the KHL with his hometown club Magnitogorsk, Samsonov is set to excel at the AHL level behind the tutelage of former Caps great Olie Kolzig. With his inherent skill, the young Russian has helped to lift his club to a KHL Championship in the 2015-16 season, as well as lead his country to a silver medal in the World Juniors Championship in the same year, and a bronze medal the following year. With a career of accomplishments already established, and at just 21 years old, it is easy to see just why Capitals GM Brian MacLellan had to have him in Hershey for the 2018-’19 season.
While the goaltending situation in Hershey and Washington is still shaking itself out, it seems to be the case that the Hershey Bears faithful will be in for quite a treat when the young Russian phenom skates onto the ice for the first time in the chocolate and white. In the shadow of the Grubauer trade, the Hershey Bears have grabbed their netminder of the future, securing the legacy of outstanding play at the position for years to come.
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