The NHL Network has been releasing their rankings of the league's top 50 players in recent weeks, a list compiled from input from researchers, producers, and on-air personalities. To date, they've released the list from 50 to 11, with one New York Islanders player making the list.
28-year-old Ilya Sorokin came in at 21 and will be the only Islander ranked in the Top 50, with Mathew Barzal, Bo Horvat, and Brock Nelson likely falling somewhere between 50-100 if the list had gone that long. Sorokin is ranked ahead of Vezina Trophy winner Linus Ullmark (46), coming off one the greatest statistical seasons in NHL history, as well as former Vezina finalist Jusse Saros of the Nashville Predators (40) and former Vezina Winner Connor Hellebuyck (36), who has finished in the top three for the award the last three seasons.
One player ahead of Sorokin is his good friend and 2022 Vezina Trophy winner and Hart Trophy finalist Igor Shesterkin of the New York Rangers. The Blushirts backstop came in at No. 18, three spots ahead of Sorokin. Two-time Stanley Cup winner Andrei Vasilevskiy, who will miss the start of the season and be out for at least two months following back surgery, is still the highest-ranked goalie on the list at No. 16.
Shesterkin finished last season 37-13-8 with a 2.48 GAA and a .916 save percentage, a very solid season following a 2021-22 campaign that would've been hard to improve on. Nevertheless, if you held a poll based solely on last season, it's likely that Sorokin would've jumped ahead of Shesterkin in most rankings after posting a 2.34 GAA, .924 save percentage, and six shutouts, the best in the NHL.
Shesterkin remains ranked higher than Sorokin for a few reasons. One is that he's been on a better team and is more likely to have a more impressive W-L record. The other is that in winning the 2022 Vezina and leading the Rangers to the Eastern Conference Finals, he has accomplished things at the NHL level that Sorokin simply has yet to do.
Yes, Sorokin led the Islanders in a first-round series win against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2021, but it was Semyon Varlamov in net for most of the Bruins series and all seven games against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Last April, with a chance to be the difference in the series against the favored Carolina Hurricanes, Sorokin wasn't his sharpest, allowing bad goals in Games 2 and 6 that could've swung the series the other way in the Isles favor.
There are only a handful of elite goaltenders in the league, and these two are in the conversation. It may be splitting hairs as to which one is better, but that's what sports debates are about, right? And the fact they are close friends on cross-town rivals means it's a debate that isn't going away for the next decade or so.
Sorokin picked up sizeable momentum last season in closing the gap between the two Russian-born stars. There are already some, especially those in the advanced analytics community, that value him more than Shesterkin, but he'll need a second-consecutive season of outplaying him and having playoff success to finish ahead of him in the eyes of many that follow the league.