NY Islanders: Making the case for Ilya Sorokin over Igor Shesterkin

2023 NHL All-Star - Skills Competition
2023 NHL All-Star - Skills Competition / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages
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The future between the pipes in New York is in great hands. Evident by their performances the past two seasons, Ilya Sorokin of the NY Islanders and Igor Shesterkin of the NY Rangers are two of the best the world has to offer - it wouldn't even be hyperbole to say they are the two best.

A question proposed by the NHL Network has recently gotten the two fanbases to embrace debate, asking which would be preferred to build a franchise around. As the two are analyzed head-to-head, Sorokin and Shesterkin are the furthest from rivals off the ice.

The two have been best of friends since their days playing in Russia, born four months apart. They were part of the Olympic Athletes from Russia team that took home gold at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, both serving as backups. Their "bromance" was on full display at the 2023 NHL All-Star Game as the two seemed to always be at each other's side, with Shesterkin making the usually stoic Sorokin crack a smile with a camera in his face during introductions at the skills competition.

The two are so close that Shesterkin and his girlfriend made Sorokin the Godfather of their son, Timofey. Sorokin, along with Russian teammate Alexander Romanov, spent Christmas with Shesterkin at his home in Manhattan, and the two have been seen working out in the off-season, in what one might consider a workout from the days of the Russian Army team, as the two were pushing a car.

Now that Sorokin is locked-up on Long Island for the next nine years, Shesterkin is next in line for a long-term contract, as his current deal is set to expire at the end of the 2024-25 season.

While it's splitting hairs comparing the two, there's the argument for Sorokin to don the title of the new King of New York.

Though Shesterkin entered the league a year earlier than Sorokin, the two have followed similar career paths. While Shesterkin started his career in the AHL, putting up lights-out numbers, Sorokin began his career in North America, stepping right into the NHL. Entering their first full NHL seasons in 2020-21, Shesterkin took the starting role while Sorokin played backup to Semyon Varlamov as he became familiar with the NHL game.

The two may spend their free time together and are among the elite in the crease, but they don't necessarily play similar styles. Shesterkin likes to leave his crease to play the puck as he's one of the top stickhandling netminders in the world, often looking to score when the opposition's goalie is pulled. Sorokin doesn't share this skill set, even mentioning during an interview at the NHL Awards that he has no desire to score. He prefers to remain between the pipes, showcasing his all-world flexibility, rarely seeming fazed.

Shesterkin has seen more starts, earning 153 since entering the NHL, with a win in 64.7%. On the other hand, Sorokin has seen the starters crease 133 times, claiming victory 52.6% of the time. While Shesterkin's Rangers have finished above the Islanders in the standings in both seasons, Sorokin's numbers suffered mightily during the 2021-22 season as the Isles were one of the most impacted teams in terms of games missed due to COVID. The team wrestled with the fact they were fielding a glorified AHL team, as the goal department was severely impacted.

Regarding SV% and GAA, there is very little separating the two. Both have a career .924 SV%, with Sorokin holding a slight edge in GAA at 2.34 compared to Shesterkin's 2.37. Where Sorokin does hold a significant advantage in the shutout department. Despite starting 20 fewer games, Sorokin's 16 clean sheets are five more than Shesterkin's 11. A difference of five may not seem like much, but Sorokin's 12% is a significant lead over Shesterkin's 7.2%, as he's recorded the highest shutout per games started percentage in NHL history.

In 2021-22, Shesterkin had one of the best seasons ever for an NHL goaltender, finishing with an incredible .935 SV%, allowing just 2.07 goals per game, earning him the Vezina Trophy. Aside from his Vezina season, Shesterkin's numbers have been significantly lower in his other two seasons, finishing both with a .916 SV% and GAA's of 2.62 (2020-21) and 2.48 (2022-23).

Conversely, Sorokin's numbers have been much more consistent. In his rookie year of 2020-21, an awkward season for everyone, especially those just entering the league, he finished with his best GAA (2.17) and worst SV% (.918). In his two years as a starter, Sorokin's statistical range has been much more confined, with a GAA of 2.40 (2021-22) and 2.34 (2022-23) - versus a SV% of .925 (2021-22) and .924 (2022-23).

Sorokin finished second in Vezina voting this season as Linus Ullmark was granted the award, playing for the best regular season team in NHL history while posting outlandish numbers.

If the two played their home games on the other sides of the continent from each other, this would likely never be a debate. The only reason there is a war of words over who holds the advantage is due to intermingling fan bases and a 20-mile distance between UBS Arena and Madison Square Garden. While it's all fun and games debating the two, both sides can be happy with their top-notch netminders and enjoy the battles for years to come.