Sorokin vs Shestyorkin: A Style Comparison
On the surface, it’s easy to offer to a comparison of Russian goaltenders Ilya Sorokin and Igor Shestyorkin. They were born months apart, picked within one round of each other in the same draft to teams from the New York area (Sorokin to the Islanders and Shestyorkin to the Rangers), and have been playing regular minutes in the KHL since they were 18 years old.
In the prospect world, they are two of the highest-profile goalies to come from Russia in the last 10 years – alongside names like Andrei Vasilevskiy and Ilya Samsonov. This is a big deal for a country that has only had five goaltenders reach 100 wins in the NHL in their history.
Recently, the two ‘tenders have been duelling in the KHL with jaw-dropping save percentage numbers. Shestyorkin finished with a .937 last season with SKA St. Petersburg, and currently holds a .930 in 27 games. Sorokin had a .929 with CSKA Moscow last year, and has followed it up with a .930 this year.
Shestyorkin notably outplayed Sorokin at the 2015 World Juniors, but it has been Sorokin who has been getting the call more often at the two most recent World Championships. With the Olympic Games approaching, and both goalies on the Russian roster….err, I mean “Olympic Athletes From Russia” roster – things should only continue to get more interesting. Early reports have given veteran Vasily Koshechkin the inside track on the starting job, but it’s still a storyline to keep an eye on.
The two goaltenders are obviously very close in terms of their development and overall ceiling, but how do they differ stylistically? Which goaltender has a better shot at translating to the North American game? We’ll attempt to answer some of those questions.
It’s no secret that Sorokin is the far more aggressive of the two goaltenders. On a calm day, he sets up for plays with his heels at the top of the crease. Shestyorkin, on the other hand, very rarely will spend time outside of the blue paint. He sets up firmly with his toes at the top of the crease, and doesn’t often stray out further than that.
Both goaltenders also like to employ the overlap technique on plays from the outside, which is a bit surprising due to the bigger ice surface in the KHL. Shestyorkin is much more reserved and careful about his usage than Sorokin.
Shestyorkin is much more reserved and careful about his usage [of the overlap technique] than Sorokin.
Both goaltenders are above-average at using their edges once down in the butterfly, but post integration is the one area that Shestyorkin has a clear advantage over Sorokin. Shestyorkin’s seals are tighter, transitions are cleaner, routes are shorter, and he gets a better overall push off the post than Sorokin does.
Shestyorkin’s seals are tighter, transitions are cleaner, routes are shorter, and he gets a better overall push off the post than Sorokin does.
Sorokin sometimes struggles to get a rotation on his hinge, and that forces him to push out into the middle of the crease in scenarios where he would be better served to push straight across. This leaves him susceptible to losing his balance on scramble plays around the crease. For Shestyorkin, this is one of his biggest areas of strength. His calmness on quick-developing plays around his crease is really something to behold.
Sorokin sometimes struggles to get a rotation on his hinge, and that forces him to push out into the middle of the crease in scenarios where he would be better served to push straight across.
Both goaltenders take very different approaches to playing screen shots and plays when the puck is being passed around the zone. Sorokin prefers a higher “relaxed stance” while following the play, and Shestyorkin likes to go for the opposite and gets as low and wide as he can. Both approaches have their pros and cons, but it mostly comes down to preference.
Sorokin prefers a higher “relaxed stance” while following the play, and Shestyorkin likes to go for the opposite and gets as low and wide as he can.
Sorokin’s “relaxed stance” gives him better access to his edges, but takes him longer to seal the ice in the butterfly. Shestyorkin’s low, wide base allows him to seal the ice in a heartbeat, but leaves him more vulnerable to long, cross-ice passes.
One bad habit that Sorokin has is his tendency to bounce up and down while shuffling in his relaxed stance. This causes his eye level to move up and down, increasing the difficulty of tracking the puck around the zone.
One bad habit that Sorokin has is his tendency to bounce up and down while shuffling in his relaxed stance.
Sorokin truly embraces the aggressive nature of his game, but this can predictably lead to problems with over-committing. Shestyorkin has a very mature approach to staying on his feet, and only uses the butterfly when it is absolutely necessary. Sorokin can get a little slide-happy at times, which is common with young goaltenders, but it is definitely an area that he will need to improve before he reaches the North American pro game.
When a goalie drops into the butterfly, it means both skate blades are now removed from the ice. In order to move left or right, the goaltender will need to load their leg and push – which takes time. Staying on your feet removes that delay, but a lot of goaltenders still have the habit of going into a slide – even on plays that they have time to beat on their feet.
This can also lead to over-sliding, missing your mark, and taking yourself out of the frame – all of which Sorokin is much more susceptible to than Shetsyorkin is.
Sorokin is much more susceptible to over-slide, miss his mark, and take himself out of the frame than Shetsyorkin is.
In terms of athleticism, both goaltenders rank high, but Sorokin takes it to another level. His flexibility alone brings fans to their feet on a daily basis. If you find yourself asking “how can Sorokin survive playing so aggressively?” look no further than his ability to bail himself out with show-stopping saves. He may get into some sticky situations, but his explosiveness allows him to get back into most plays, even when it looks impossible.
He may get into some sticky situations, but Sorokin’s explosiveness allows him to get back into most plays, even when it looks impossible.
Overall, Shestyorkin looks to be the safer bet based on his mature positional play and incredible post-integration. Sorokin will have the tougher adjustment to the North American game, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be able to do it. If he is able to harness his explosiveness and enthusiasm, the Islanders will have something special on their hands.
If you’re bored by the fact that NHL players will not be at the Olympics, hopefully you can be entertained by getting a chance to see two of the best goaltending prospects that Russia currently has to offer battling it out for a job.