NY Islanders: 5 reasons why Ilya Sorokin should be a Vezina Finalist

New York Islanders v Edmonton Oilers
New York Islanders v Edmonton Oilers / Lawrence Scott/GettyImages
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The nominees for the Vezina Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL goaltender who is "adjudged to be the best at this position," will be announced on Thursday, and the New York Islanders' Ilya Sorokin is expected to be among the three finalists.

2022-23 was the season Islanders fan patiently waited so long for while Sorokin starred in the KHL before finally signing a contract with the Islanders in 2020.

The 27-year-old finished his third NHL season with a 31-22-7 record, was sixth in the league with a 2.34 goals against average (GAA), and finished third with a .924 save percentage. This past season was his first since coming to North America, where he was the unquestioned No. 1 goaltender to start the year, and he more than proved he was capable of handling the added responsibility.

2023 NHL All-Star
2023 NHL All-Star / Joel Auerbach/GettyImages

After appearing in 52 games the prior season and finishing sixth in Vezina Trophy voting, Sorokin was named an All-Star for the first time in his career and represented the Metropolitan Division during the weekend with Brock Nelson and newly acquired Bo Horvat.

While Linus Ullmark of the Boston Bruins (league leader in wins, GAA, and save %) is expected to win the Vezina after a historic regular season, Sorokin was the darling of the advanced analytics crowd for his saves above expected numbers, and other media members felt he more deserving as well given the impact on the team.

It would be a surprise if Sorokin took home the Vezina, but it would be a shock if he wasn't one of the three finalist for the trophy. Here are 5 reasons why we expect him to be a Vezina finalist.

Shutout King

No goaltender in the NHL now or ever is more likely to post a shutout than Ilya Sorokin. The net-minder led the NHL in shutouts with six in 2022-23 a season after registering seven the prior. In his brief three-year career spanning 130 career starts, Sorokin has earned 16 shutouts.

That means he has recorded a shutout in 12.4% of his career starts, which is the highest mark in league history among goalies with at least 100 starts since 1943-44.

Sorokin is already tied for 3rd place in team history in shutouts (16) with Rick DiPietro. Next season, he'll be chasing down Billy Smith (22) and Glenn 'Chico' Resch (25) to move up the list.

Home Dominance

Sorokin was very good everywhere he played last season, but he was especially strong on home ice.

New York Rangers v New York Islanders
New York Rangers v New York Islanders / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

At UBS Arena, the 2014 third-round pick was a sparking 20-10-3 with a 1.91 GAA and .936 save percentage. That 20-win mark on home ice is rare for the franchise, and he was only the third goalie in team history to win at least 20 games on home ice in a single season. It was last done by Jaroslav Halak (22) during the 2014-15 season, his first with the team, and Billy Smith also won 20 games in 1981-82, the year he captured the Vezina Trophy, the only Islanders goaltender to do so.

It wasn't just this season that Sorokin sparkled at home. Among active NHL goalies, Sorokin has the best career home marks in both GAA (2.01) and save percentage (93.1%). 

Highlight Reel Machine

Perhaps no goaltender in the NHL is more likely to give you a highlight reel save than Ilya Sorokin. His athleticism, freakish flexibility, and natural instincts mean he is never out of a play and would-be sure goals end up magnificent game-altering saves.

Last season, Sorokin made the 'save of the year' with his sprawling, jaw-dropping lunging stop to rob Artemi Panarin at Madison Square Garden in an Islanders win over the New York Rangers. That save will be hard to top for the rest of his career, but he came close this season, including a key paddle save that may have saved the Islanders' season.

Late in the second period on Feb. 20, with the Pittsburgh Penguins leading 2-1, Jake Guentzel made a play that had Sorokin moving to his left. His pass was deflected and then corralled by Kris Letang, who got off a backhand that looked destined for the empty net before Sorokin stuck out his stick and made an absurd paddle save to keep it a one-goal game.

The Islanders went on to win the game 4-2 and swept the season series against the Penguins, just enough to finish ahead of them in Eastern Conference standings which kept Pittsburgh out of the playoffs for the first time in 16 seasons.


Sorokin entered the season as the clear No.1 goaltender for the first in his career, with veteran Semyon Varlamov as the backup. It was always expected that Sorokin would have the lion's share of the starts, but even with an accomplished backup as an option for head coach Lane Lambert, the workload for Sorokin was even heavier than expected.

Anaheim Ducks v New York Islanders
Anaheim Ducks v New York Islanders / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

GM Lou Lamoriello elected not to trade pending UFA (unrestricted free agent) Varlamov at the deadline, but the 35-year-old only started two games after the deadline as the Isles rode Sorokin to the playoffs and into their first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The 27-year-old appeared in 62 games this season (after 52 in 2021-22), starting 60 of them, and became the first Islanders goaltender to appear in 60 or more games since Rick DiPietro did it in three consecutive seasons from 2005-06 to 2007-08.

"It's really good experience. I never play in regular season 60 games, and it's not easy," Sorokin said via The Hockey News. "And if you have bad physical conditions, it's no chance to play in this league". 

The 60-game mark is a rare feat in Islanders history, having only been done by four other goaltenders (Ron Hextall (93-94), Tommy Salo (97-98), Chris Osgood (01-02), and DiPietro). Sorokin has now played in 136 games between the pipes for the Islanders, breaking a tie with Varlamov on the last game of the regular season and tying Ronnie Melanson for ninth place in team history.

"I felt okay (with the playing time)," Sorokin added. "So sometimes was days when I feel not good, but I think it's normal situation,"

Islanders MVP

You can make an argument that Sorokin deserves Hart Trophy votes as much as he does for the Vezina. That is how important and integral he was to the Islanders' success this season. Not only are the Isles not a playoff team without him, they're likely not a playoff contender.

As the team struggled to adapt to subtle changes in Lane Lambert's system to make them more offensively focused compared to Barry Trotz, they struggled defensively, consistently allowing a significant number of high-danger shots and scoring opportunities. Nevertheless, Sorokin kept them in games long enough to mount a series of early season comeback wins and allowed one or fewer goals in 22 starts this season.

Apr 21, 2023; Elmont, New York, USA; New York Islanders celebrate the victory against the Carolina
Apr 21, 2023; Elmont, New York, USA; New York Islanders celebrate the victory against the Carolina / Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

“I think it’s just his demeanor and his focus,” Lambert said in early April. “He’s been asked (by the media) within the last week about how he blocks everything out — he’s a very focused individual that has certainly come along way in his short career, and we feel like he’s in a good spot right now.”

Ultimately, Sorokin wasn't able to steal a series as many hoped against the favored Carolina Hurricanes in the first round. Sorokin was good but not great throughout the series, allowing crucial goals from bad angles in Game 2 and the series-ending OT winner in Game 6.

None of that takes away from what was a spectacular regular season filled with spectacular moments that have ascended Sorokin into the conversation among the NHL's best goaltenders. A UFA after next season, Sorokin has the chance to become the most decorated regular-season goaltender in team history if his contract is extended.