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Capitals Draft Top-Ranked Goaltender Ilya Samsonov

Capitals Draft Top-Ranked Goaltender Ilya Samsonov

Ilya Samsonov became the first goaltender selected at the 2015 NHL Entry draft on Friday night when the Washington Capitals took him with the 22nd overall pick.

The young Russian phenom played for Magnitogorsk of the MHL (KHL’s junior league) and performed exceptionally well during international play, where he caught the attention of many scouts. Samsonov was included in our “Top 5 Eligible Goaltenders” preview earlier this month, and this was the breakdown about him:

One of the most intriguing goaltending prospects heading into the draft is the Russian Ilya Samsonov. He is under contract for the next three years with Magnitogorsk of the KHL, and that may be the reason that he doesn’t get drafted as high as he is projected to go. If a team does draft him in the first round, but fails to sign him after two years, they would receive a compensatory draft pick. Still, the risk may simply be too high for some teams.

The doubt stems from the argument about whether he is worth a first round pick or not. Some scouts believe that he could easily be placed somewhere in the 20-25 range, but others aren’t as confident. It’s the same type of high-risk, high-reward situation that landed the St. Louis Blues Vladimir Tarasenko at 16th overall in 2010 – and everyone knows how that worked out for them.

Samsonov has very good size, but plays a style that is more expected of a goaltender that is much smaller. He’s just so athletic and acrobatic that he chooses to play more aggressively. He knows he can recover quicker than most goalies of that size, so he loves to challenge shooters and play at the top of his crease.

His glove hand may be the best out of the entire draft class in 2015, and he regularly breaks out flashy windmill saves during games. His ability to successfully play an aggressive style is what puts him at the top of the class this year. He could be taught to reel his game back a bit, but that explosiveness will always be there – and that is what teams are excited about.

Like most rhythm-based goaltenders, Samsonov does have his struggles with consistency. There are times when that aggressiveness can go awry, and he’ll be caught scrambling out of position. His exceptional reactive ability makes up for it on most nights, but not always.

Another knock against him is the fact that he didn’t play a ton of games this past season with the Magnitogorsk minor team. The quality of the competition he faced has also been scrutinized. Strong international tournament showings have quelled most of those concerns, so expect a lot of teams to be very high on Samsonov heading into draft day. He could end up being the first goaltender taken in the draft, but the pick certainly comes with some risk attached.

The fact that Samsonov is signed to the KHL for the next three years apparently did not scare the Capitals away, as they selected him higher than most experts projected that he would go. As most first round picks do, Samsonov met with media after his selection, and his responses may give Capitals’ fans some hope that he’s willing to make the transatlantic jump.

You can watch the full video of the interview with Samsonov after he was selected by clicking here.

About The Author

Greg Balloch

Greg Balloch is a Vancouver-based writer for InGoal Magazine, broadcaster for Sportsnet 650, and goaltending coach. His career began in Hamilton, Ontario with the Junior 'A' Hamilton Red Wings, before moving to Vancouver to cover the Canucks on the radio and work with the Surrey Eagles of the BCHL. A lifelong goaltender, he has been teaching the position for over a decade.