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Ilya Samsonov still a year away from playing North American hockey

Ilya Samsonov still a year away from playing North American hockey

Finding a starting goalie in the NHL can be tricky and it can take years for teams to find a quality starting netminder. Just aPhiladelphiadlephia Flyers or the Dallas Stars. The Capitals, however, don’t have to worry about that.

Not only does Washington have a Vezina Trophy-winning goalie in Braden Holtby, they also have a goalie they are very confident will be their future starter in Ilya Samsonov.

Samsonov’s KHL contract expires at the end of the 2017-18 season. Should his team lose early enough in the season, he could potentially come to the NHL in the spring of 2018 in much the same way that Evgeny Kuznetsov did at the end of his KHL contract.

That, however, is not the timeline the team envisions for their young netminder.

RELATED: Caps preparing for entry draft looking for late-round steals

In a conference call with the media on Monday, assistant general manager was asked if Samsonov was still at least a year away from playing North American hockey.

“That's probably going to be the timeline,” Mahoney said. “I think there's no need to rush him. He's progressed very well for us. He played very well I thought last year in the KHL and I thought he was really, really good at the World Junior, the under-20.”

In six games in the World Junior tournament playing for Team Russia, Samsonov registered a 2.11 GAA with a .930 save percentage en route to a bronze medal. That, however, was just against young players. How did he fare in a professional league against seasoned vets? Pretty darn good.

Playing in the KHL, the league thought by most to be the second best hockey league in the world, Samsonov registerd a 2.13 GAA and .936 save percentage in 2016-17 playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk.

The only worry the Caps seem to have about their budding prospect is whether he is getting enough playing time. Samsonov is the backup for his KHL team and played in just 27 games last season and 46 over the past two years.

“You always like to see your young goalies play a lot and [I] wish he would have had a few more games for sure,” Mahoney said. “But watching him play in the under-20 in the world juniors, I thought he took it again to another level and so that was really healthy. Any time you have these younger players you want to make sure that they're continuing to get better and better and better and he showed that. In the KHL, it would be nice to see him play some more games, but that's a team also that lost the league championship and has a veteran goalie playing ahead of him.”

Even when Samsonov does come to North America, there’s no guarantee he goes directly to the NHL. It can take players some time to adjust from the European game to the North American game with the different rink sizes and style of play. The fact that Samsonov could be a year away does not necessarily mean Samsonov will be rocking the red in the 2018-19 season.

The prospect of having to wait even logner to see Samsonov take the crease in Washington is a bummer, but there’s one important thing to remember.

“You forget, he's only a 19-year old this past year so he's still a young guy,” Mahoney said, “And I think his future is really going to be bright.”

MORE CAPITALS: ​Former Caps coach to be inducted into U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame

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Braden Holtby — the skater — is a sight to behold

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CSNMA

Braden Holtby — the skater — is a sight to behold

Braden Holtby is an elusive guy.

The 2015-16 Vezina Trophy winner might be large in stature, but keeps to himself. When you do see him, he's typically covered in layers of goalie pads or briefly chatting with the media following a game.

So imagine the surprise to see Holtby take the ice at Kettler IcePlex well before training camp begins with zero goalie pads on.

That's what took place on Monday morning. As several players hit the ice for some unofficial workout sessions, there was the 6-2 Saskatchewan native strolling onto the ice, with a regular stick, regular skates, regular gloves and Andre Burakovsky's helmet.

RELATED: 2017-18 CAPITALS SEASON PREVIEW SERIES

Frankly, it was a bit odd to see Holtby skate up and down the ice.

Maybe it's because we're used to seeing him in the crouch position. or maybe it's because we actually see his entire figure, not just a pile of leather pads.

But even goalies need to work on non-goalie skills. The more familiar you are with position players, the better you will be to stop them from scoring.

But man, seeing Holtby skate like a forward sure does take some time to get used to. 

RELATED: RANKING THE CAPITALS' MOST IMPORTANT PLAYERS

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The 25 most important players for the Caps: No. 20 Taylor Chorney

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The 25 most important players for the Caps: No. 20 Taylor Chorney

Every player on an NHL team plays a role.

Some play bigger roles than others.

In the coming weeks, Tarik El-Bashir and JJ Regan will rank the 25 most important players in the Caps’ organization, from least to most important, weighing factors such as past production, future potential and intangibles. 

Today’s player: No. 20 Taylor Chorney.

RELATED: 2017-18 CAPITALS SEASON PREVIEW SERIES

One of the more interesting storylines during training camp is going to be the battle along the blue line and where everyone, particularly a veteran like Chorney, fits into the plan as the Caps skew a bit younger.

The top pair is easy to figure out; it’ll be Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen.

After that, it gets a little more interesting.

John Carlson will be on the second pair, perhaps with Aaron Ness.

If that's how things shake out, it would make sense to have Brooks Orpik anchor the third pair, especially if the No. 6 spot goes to a rookie since they'd surely benefit from the steady hand of a soon-to-be 37-year-old.

But will that spot go to a youngster like Christian Djoos, Madison Bowey or someone else? 

Or will it go to Chorney, a 30-year-old who's appeared in 141 NHL games spread over eight seasons for four clubs?

The Caps anticipate that Djoos and Bowey are closer to being NHL-ready than their other defenseman prospects.

Djoos lit up the AHL last season to the tune of 58 points in 66 games and the team needs to replace some offense. Bowey, meanwhile, has the look of a promising two-way defenseman.

But here’s the drawback—and where Chorney, in my opinion, fits into the equation.

Neither Djoos nor Bowey have done it yet. And until they do, no one can be 100-percent sure they’re completely ready to handle the everyday duties that the NHL demands. 

Chorney, to that end, has a significant advantage in experience, at a position where it matters a lot. He appeared in 18 games last season and a career-high 55 games the year before, also with the Caps. 

The bottom line: I suspect Chorney, who is entering the final year of his contract, will open camp penciled in as the team’s No. 6/7.

I also expect that he'll play a decent amount this season, maybe more than last year but perhaps less than 2015-16. I could even see him in the opening night lineup. Eventually, though, the Caps will want to see Djoos, Bowey or another youngster squeeze their way past Chorney and into the lineup full-time.        

Check out the full list of the Caps most important players as it comes out here and check out previous player profiles below.

— No. 25 Aaron Ness
— No. 24 Chandler Stephenson
— No. 23 Riley Barber
— No. 22 Pheonix Copley
No. 21 Devante Smith-Pelly