Ilya Sorokin seems to be settling into life as a New York Islander rather nicely.
The Russian goaltender has been working on his craft at the rink, learning English away from it, and finding time to take walks on Jones Beach when he can. He said he prefers the peacefulness of Long Island to the hustle and bustle of Manhattan and his favorite goalie growing up was former Islander Evgeni Nabokov.
Yes, it seems like Sorokin will fit in just fine on Long Island as he embarks on his NHL career, which he described as a dream.
"I had the options to sign one more contract [with CSKA Moscow] or go to my dream and go to have progress," Sorokin said. "The NHL is best league in the world. All guys have dream of playing in the NHL."
Sorokin has worked hard to turn that dream into a reality, both during his time in Russia, where he was one of the KHL's most decorated goaltenders, and since coming to North America. Ask any European goalie and they'll speak to the speed of the game, language and culture adjustments of coming over. Armed with that knowledge, the 25-year-old has worked hard over the past five months to acclimate himself to his new surroundings.
"I worked with the team for plenty of time, for three-and-a-half months, starting in the bubble," Sorokin said. "I didn't have any problem with the guys because they're all very friendly guys, all my teammates. We have Semyon Varlamov, he's like a big brother, a big help to me with any questions in the process."
After signing an entry-level contract and a one-year extension in July, Sorokin joined the Islanders in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles, using that time to familiarize himself with the organization. He skated almost daily with Director of Goaltending Mitch Korn and Goaltending Coach Piero Greco, and said they've help him with some of the finer details of his game.
That time was invaluable for the Russian netminder, whose KHL season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It not only allowed him to adjust to new systems, teammates, terminology and coaches, but it allowed him to train with NHL players as opposed to sitting idle.
"You start feeling how team works and what the demands of the team are," Sorokin said of his time in the bubble. "It was a good time. I'm very happy for time with organization."
"When you work every day with the best players, you get better," Sorokin added.
Sorokin has also taken daily English lessons while in the bubble with a tutor. He had his translator alongside him for Tuesday's media availability, but was able to answer most questions with little intervention. Head Coach Barry Trotz said that the language lessons offered a little window into his work ethic, which was renowned over in the KHL, in addition to coming to Long Island early to prepare for camp.
"Obviously he's picked up the English language and worked very hard at it," Trotz said. "What I have found with him is a great personality. He's a guy that has a smile on his face. He's a guy that works at his craft and tries to get better at his craft and looks for the next thing. What's the next thing that's going to be out there and studies it. You can see it, that's just his personality… He works on any task that you give him. He's been a pleasure to have around and a pleasure to watch him grow with his teammates."
Varlamov is the natural fit to help Sorokin acclimate, as a fellow Russian goaltender. Trotz said Varlamov had taken Sorokin under his wing in the bubble - along with Thomas Greiss, who effectively trained his replacement - and that Varlamov has opened his doors to him on Long Island. The two trained together for about three weeks prior to training camp.
"We were on the ice pretty much every day together and I think he's very excited a new career, a fresh start," Varlamov said on media day. "He spent a lot of years playing in the KHL and he's been very successful in that league. I'm sure he wants to establish himself in the NHL and I think he'll definitely be able to do that. He's very talented and a pretty young goalie. He'll be a great fit for our team."
Sorokin described Varlamov as a "big brother" and as someone he's been able to learn from on and off the ice.
"I'm very happy to work with him. He's a team leader and I'm learning from him," Sorokin said.
Video: 2021 Training Camp 1/12: Ilya Sorokin
Sorokin has looked sharp during the team's camp, showing off his quick lateral movements in net. While he won't get any exhibition games before his NHL debut, he picked up a shutout in one of the Islanders' training camp scrimmages. Trotz has committed to Varlamov in the season opener, but has a plan to work Sorokin into the fold, as the team is excited to see what they have in store.
"He looks really good," Scott Mayfield said on Friday. "He's just fast, he can move post-to-post real fast and makes those saves. Sometimes it seems like he was out of it and then will reach back and catch one, so just the way he can move. As far as playing the puck, he seems good. Just those little goalie touches, all of that kind of comes around. It takes a little bit of time with a new D corps. and new words. He got that first taste of it in the bubble and so he learned most of it there. It's been pretty seamless there and looks good."
Sorokin knows that he'll have to deliver in games to prove himself in the NHL. He said he was aware of how excited Islanders fans were about his decision to sign and come over, and wants to put pay them back for their - and the team's - faith in him.
"He feels like he's indebted to his fans," Sorokin's translator said. "Now he has to work hard for it to make sure he deserves this excitement."