Ranking the Best Russian Goalies in the NHL Today

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistNovember 26, 2021

Ranking the Best Russian Goalies in the NHL Today

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    Russia has produced several great NHL forwards and defensemen. However, the number of notable goaltenders from that country to reach the league before 2010 was limited to Nikolai Khabibulin, Evgeni Nabokov and Ilya Bryzgalov.

    Over the past 10 years, though, several noteworthy Russian netminders have carved out NHL careers. Some, such as Andrei Vasilevskiy and Sergei Bobrovsky, have taken home the Vezina Trophy as the league's top netminder.

    So how do today's crop of active Russian NHL goaltenders measure up against one another? That's what we'll endeavor to find out with this ranking, taking performance and individual awards into account.

8. Alexandar Georgiev, New York Rangers

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Born in Bulgaria, Alexandar Georgiev moved with his family to Russia soon after his birth. After going undrafted in 2017, he joined the New York Rangers' development camp and earned a spot with their AHL affiliate in Hartford.

    Called up to the Rangers midway through the 2017-18 season, Georgiev finished 4-4-1 with a 3.15 GAA and .918 save percentage. He played well enough with the rebuilding Blueshirts to earn a backup spot. It's the role the 6'1", 178-pounder has been largely consigned to, first as Henrik Lundqvist's understudy and now as Igor Shesterkin's.

    Georgiev, 25, has had his difficulties this season, sporting a 2-1-1 record with a bloated 4.08 GAA and a save percentage of .858. On Nov. 22, the New York Post's Larry Brooks reported Georgiev is unhappy in a backup role and wants out of New York, though he hasn't requested a trade yet.

    Despite his struggles, Georgiev sits fifth among active NHL Russian goaltenders with 102 games played and 45 wins. He has a career GAA of 3.01, a .909 save percentage and six shutouts.

7. Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals

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    A native of Magnitogorsk, Russia, Ilya Samsonov was the Washington Capitals' first-round pick in 2015. He spent the next three seasons playing for his KHL hometown club, winning a Gagarin Cup in 2016. The 6'3", 200-pound Russian netminder took one season to get acclimated to the North American game with the Capitals' AHL affiliate in Hershey before joining the big club in 2019-20.

    Samsonov began as an understudy to Braden Holtby but was soon outperforming the long-time Capitals starter. He finished that season with a 16-6-2 record in 26 games with a 2.55 GAA, a .913 save percentage and one shutout.

    That performance convinced the Capitals to anoint Samsonov as their new starter following Holtby's departure via free agency in 2020. Two bouts with COVID-19, however, limited his sophomore campaign to 19 games and a 13-4-1 record with a 2.69 GAA and .902 save percentage. 

    Samsonov has put up better numbers early in this season, going 6-0-1 in eight appearances with a 2.11 GAA, .924 save percentage and three shutouts. However, he finds himself jockeying for the starter's job with Vitek Vanecek, who has earned twice as many starts. Samsonov can become a good NHL starter, but he'll have to work harder to secure that job with the Capitals.

6. Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders

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    Drafted by the New York Islanders in the third round (78th overall) in 2014, Ilya Sorokin would spend the next several seasons developing his game in the KHL, most of it with CSKA Moscow. The Mezhdurechensk, Russia, native backstopped that club to the Gagarin Cup in 2019.

    At 6'3" and 190 pounds, Sorokin has good size and athleticism for an NHL goaltender. Acting as the backup for veteran starter Semyon Varlamov last season, he saw action in 22 games and posted a 13-6-3 record with a 2.17 GAA, a .918 save percentage and three shutouts.

    Sorokin also acquitted himself well while taking over for Varlamov in the opening round of the 2021 playoffs, picking up four wins to eliminate the Pittsburgh Penguins. He saw limited action in three more games over the remainder of the postseason but gave a tantalizing preview of his potential.

    With Varlamov sidelined by an undisclosed injury to open the season, Sorokin put up good stats for the struggling Isles with a 5-5-2 record, a 2.54 GAA, .925 save percentage and three shutouts. He is making a case to take over as the full-time starter.

5. Anton Khudobin, Dallas Stars

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    Born in Kazakhstan on May 7, 1986, when that country was part of the Soviet Union, Anton Khudobin moved to Russia to advance his playing career. He has played for Russia in several international tournaments.

    The smallest goalie on this list at 5'11" and 195 pounds, Khudobin broke in with the Minnesota Wild in 2009-10. Over the past 13 years, he established himself as a journeyman backup with the Wild, Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes and Anaheim Ducks before joining the Dallas Stars in 2018-19.

    Brought in as Ben Bishop's understudy, Khudobin took on more responsibility between the pipes as Bishop's injuries mounted. With only two career postseason games under his belt, in 2020 Khudobin backstopped the Stars to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in 20 years, finishing with 14 wins in 25 games with a 2.69 GAA, a .917 save percentage and one shutout.

    Now 35, Khudobin has struggled since that playoff run. He's won three of seven appearances this season and posted a 3.73 GAA and .873 save percentage.

    Father Time could be catching up with Khudobin, but he still has a solid career resume among Russian NHL goaltenders. He's fourth among that country's active NHL goalies with 257 games played, 114 wins and 11 shutouts.

4. Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers

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    Born in Moscow, Igor Shesterkin was selected by the New York Rangers in the fourth round (118th overall) in 2014. Making his NHL debut in 2019-20, he wasted little time taking over from Henrik Lundqvist as the Rangers' starting goaltender.

    Called up by the Rangers on Jan. 6, 2020, Shesterkin quickly impressed by winning 10 of 12 starts and posting a 2.52 GAA and .932 save percentage. The remainder of his regular season was cut short by a fractured rib suffered in a car accident on Feb. 23 and the premature end of the schedule because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He returned that summer and played one game as the Rangers were eliminated from the qualifying round.

    Shesterkin's stats the following season dipped a bit, as he posted a 16-14-3 record with a 2.62 GAA, a .916 save percentage and two shutouts. However, he played well enough as the Rangers' full-time starter to show elite potential.

    Now in his second full NHL season, Shesterkin appears more at ease in his role and with the NHL game. Possessing quick reflexes and excellent side-to-side movement, he's been crucial to the Rangers' 11-4-3 start. In 14 games played, the 25-year-old is 9-3-2 with a 2.33 GAA and a .931 save percentage.

    Shesterkin had big skates to fill while taking over from a future Hall of Famer in Lundqvist. So far, he's handled the pressure well. If he maintains his solid play, he'll rise up the ranks of the NHL's top goalies.

3. Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders

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    Making his NHL debut in 2008-09 with the Washington Capitals, Semyon Varlamov would rise to become a starting goaltender during eight seasons with the Colorado Avalanche. He's now in his third campaign with the New York Islanders.

    Originally from Samara, the 33-year-old Varlamov is fourth among Russian NHL goalies with 532 games played and 251 career wins. He's also tied for third in career shutouts (34) with Ilya Bryzgalov and Florida Panthers netminder Sergei Bobrovsky.

    Like most of his peers on this list, the 6'2", 210-pound Varlamov is a big-bodied goaltender who covers a lot of the net. He also possesses quick reflexes and a poised demeanor. However, he has been plagued by injuries throughout his career.

    Following his three seasons with the Capitals, the Avalanche acquired Varlamov on July 1, 2011. They envisioned him as their starting goaltender, a role he would fill throughout his tenure in Colorado. He's second all-time among Avalanche goalies with 183 career wins and 21 shutouts, third in save percentage (.915) and fourth with a 2.72 GAA.

    Signed as a free agent to a four-year contract by the New York Islanders in 2019, Varlamov settled in well as their starter. He was outstanding last season, finishing tied for the league lead in shutouts (seven) while sitting second among starters with a .929 save percentage.

    Varlamov has also acted as a mentor to promising goaltender Ilya Sorokin. While the 26-year-old is the Islanders' future starter, Varlamov might not be ready for backup duty.

2. Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers

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    Marta Lavandier/Associated Press

    Now in his 12th season, Sergei Bobrovsky sits third among all Russian NHL goaltenders with 549 games played and 305 career wins. The 33-year-old Florida Panthers starter is also tied for third in shutouts (34) with Ilya Bryzgalov and Semyon Varlamov. Since his NHL debut in 2010-11, he's third among all goalies in career wins and 10th in shutouts with 34.

    Born in Novokuznetsk, Russia, Bobrovsky holds the distinction of being the first Russian to win the Vezina Trophy (2012-13). He's also the only active NHL goalie to win the award twice, earning it the second time in 2016-17. When the 6'2", 182-pound Bobrovsky's at his best, his size, quickness and experience make him difficult to beat.

    Though he broke in with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010-11, he was traded on June 22, 2012, to the Columbus Blue Jackets for three draft picks. It would prove to be one of the worst moves in Flyers history, as two of those picks (Taylor Leier and Anthony Stolarz) only played briefly for them.

    The Flyers' loss was the Blue Jackets' gain, as Bobrovsky enjoyed his best seasons in Columbus. He won both Vezinas with the Jackets and is their franchise leader with 213 career wins, a career GAA of 2.41, a .921 save percentage and 33 shutouts.

    Despite his impressive regular-season numbers, Bobrovsky has had difficulties in the postseason. In 41 games played with the Flyers, Jackets and Panthers, he has just 13 victories with a 3.24 GAA and .899 save percentage, with just one series victory as he backstopped the Jackets to a first-round upset over the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2019.

    Signing with the Panthers in 2019, Bobrovsky struggled through his first two seasons with his new club. He's played well this year, sitting among the league leaders with eight wins, a 1.99 GAA and .973 save percentage. His poor playoff stats, however, keep him out of the top spot.

1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Andrei Vasilevskiy isn't just the best Russian goaltender in the NHL. Over the past four seasons, the 27-year-old has established himself as the league's top netminder.

    Joining the Tampa Bay Lightning as a backup in 2014-15, Vasilevskiy took over the starter's job two seasons later. The native of Tyumen, Russia, quickly rose up the ranks of the league's elite goalies. His 6'3", 225-pound frame fills much of the net. He's also quite agile and adept at taking away the bottom half of the net from opposing scorers.

    In 2017-18, Vasilevskiy became a Vezina Trophy finalist for the first time with a record of 44-17-3 and posting a 2.62 GAA, a .920 save percentage and eight shutouts. The following season, he won the Vezina with a 39-10-4 record, a 2.40 GAA, .925 save percentage and six shutouts as the Lightning tied an NHL single-season record with 62 victories.

    Vasilevskiy was also a Vezina finalist in 2020 and 2021. His goaltending was crucial to the Lightning winning consecutive Stanley Cups during those seasons. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy last season, becoming the first Russian netminder to be named playoff MVP.

    Since 2017-18, Vasilevsky leads all NHL goaltenders with 158 wins and sits second with 23 shutouts and third with a .922 save percentage. He's proved to be a clutch performer who shines in big-game situations. Expect him to be Russia's starter in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

               

    Stats (as of Nov. 23, 2021) via NHL.com and QuantHockey. Additional info via Hockey Reference.

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