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'Culture shock' for Capitals goalie prospect Samsonov

No. 22 pick in 2015 attends first NHL development camp, adapts to language barrier, workload

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Washington Capitals goaltending coach Mitch Korn described Ilya Samsonov's first day at their development camp as a "culture shock."

Not only was Tuesday the first time Samsonov was on the ice with the Capitals coaches and their other prospects since they selected him in the first round (No. 22) of the 2015 NHL Draft, but the 19-year-old Russian goalie speaks very little English. To assist with that, Capitals senior director of communications Sergey Kocharov put on skates to serve as an on-ice interpreter between Samsonov and Korn before and during some drills.

The other shock to Samsonov's system was the workload, which apparently was much heavier than he's used to playing for Magnitogorsk Metallurg in the Kontinental Hockey League.

"He just practiced harder than he's ever practiced in his life in one day," Korn said.

While acknowledging it was a grueling day, a smiling Samsonov appeared happy to be experiencing it all.

"It was a lot of fun, very interesting," Samsonov said. "Obviously, everything is new, but it was great. It was a great first day. It was a difficult first day on the ice."

After the Capitals made Samsonov the first goaltender selected in the 2015 draft, he was unable to attend their development camp last summer because it was held in the second week of July, just before he was due at training camp in Magnitogorsk.

"Otherwise, I'd for sure be here," Samsonov said. "But I'm glad to be here now."

Korn refrained from making an assessment of Samsonov's Day One performance.

"We watched him today and it was an adjustment for him. It was a big adjustment," Korn said. "You have to remember also this is summer ice. He's been off the ice for a while."

There was so much that was different for Samsonov from the language to the drills to the players and the coaches, the narrower NHL rink and that barrage of shots he faced.

"I'm still trying to adjust," Samsonov said. "It's still the first day. I got so many shots, so many shots today and I'm still trying to get used to the size of the rink too. So, it's just an adjustment to the players and everything else."

What stood out most about Samsonov was his size -- he's listed at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds -- and bright white (apparently new) pads, glove and blocker.

"Very big guy, very physical guy, fills a lot of net, but it's a whole different culture," Korn said. "The standards that have been set for him, the level of intensity are way different here than where he comes from, so we're going to go through a process. Everything is a process and it takes time."

How much time is unclear. Samsonov said that he has two more years left on his contract with Magnitogorsk, where he went 6-4-3 with a 2.04 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in 19 regular-season games this season.

"Right now, there is no plan," Samsonov said of when he'll come to North America. "I still have a two-year contract, so we'll live and we'll see. I hope to God to play in the best league in the world, but right now I don't have any plans."

Korn hopes Samsonov will come over to begin his development within the Capitals organization for the 2017-18 season.

"But I have nothing to go on to say it won't be next year or it won't be two years from now," Korn said. "So, I don't know when it will be, but regardless of when it will be, when he gets here, it will be a process. He's not going to learn significant English all by himself in Russia. He's not going to adapt to North American hockey by playing in Russia. Those things will happen when he gets here. They can't happen until he gets here."

For now, Samsonov plans to soak in all he can while here this week for this development camp and take it back with him to Russia. After serving as Magnitogorsk's backup last season, he hopes to be the No. 1 next season. He'd also like to earn a spot on Russia's team at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship again after playing in two games in the 2016 tournament.

"I'm not sure what the coach [in Magnitogorsk] has in mind, but for me personally I think it's time for me to take the next step on the team to earn more playing and be the No. 1 goalie," he said.

Korn would also like to see Samsonov play a bigger role with Magnitogorsk.

"From our end, we would like to see him play more," Korn said. "I would imagine he would like to play. Players play. That's what they do. That's what they want to do and true No. 1 goalies play a lot."

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