NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 07: Igor Shesterkin #31 of the New York Rangers skates out to play against the Colorado Avalanche his first NHL game at Madison Square Garden on January 07, 2020 in New York City.
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The New York Rangers and crosstown rival Islanders both have young Russian goaltenders. Who are you taking: Igor Shesterkin or Ilya Sorokin?

Danny Small

New York sports are unique in ways that other cities won’t truly ever understand. Cities like Chicago know what a crosstown rivalry is like with the Cubs and White Sox occupying the same city. Now imagine that in every sport.

Right now in New York, there are already a few phenomenal individual crosstown rivalries. The Jets have Sam Darnold while the Giants have a promising young quarterback of their own in Daniel Jones. The Yankees have Aaron Judge and Gerrit Cole, but the Mets have their own star duo in Pete Alonso and Jacob deGrom.

Add Igor Shesterkin and Ilya Sorokin to the list of great New York sports debates. The Russian goaltenders will man the pipes for the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders for the next decade. It’s also worth noting that the New Jersey Devils have a promising young goaltender of their own, MacKenzie Blackwood.

But putting Blackwood aside, for now, the Shesterkin vs. Sorokin rivalry has the potential to be historic. With Sorokin recently signing with the Islanders, the rivalry is officially underway.

The 24-year-olds were born within a few months of each other and both were taken in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Sorokin went 78th to the Isles while the Rangers took Shesterkin at 118. One look at either guy’s stats in the KHL will illustrate that these guys are two of the best goalie prospects to come out of Russia in some time.

The best part about this rivalry is the fact that these two friends are buying into it.

Igor Shesterkin

Igor Shesterkin has one obvious edge over Ilya Sorokin at this point in time — experience. Of course, he’s only played in a handful of games for the Blueshirts so far, but based on those 12 games, he looks like the real deal.

A sparkling .932 save percentage led to a 10-2 record as a starter. Shesterkin played a significant factor in New York’s playoff surge that was cut short by the coronavirus shutdown. Thankfully for Rangers fans, the NHL’s Return To Play format includes Shesterkin and company in the field.

Although a 12-game sample isn’t enough to know a true evaluation of Shesterkin, he still has time to add a few more notches to his belt in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Head coach David Quinn gave Shesterkin the green light as the team’s No. 1 in the regular season. It’s hard to see him going with Alexandar Georgiev or Henrik Lundqvist over the Russian rookie to start in the Qualifying Round against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Shesterkin has made it over the first hump of his NHL career. That’s no small accomplishment and it gives him a slight edge over Sorokin for the time being. Shesterkin is already proving himself as a bonafide No. 1 starter and it certainly looks like he has the potential to become one of the best in the NHL.

Ilya Sorokin

It took Ilya Sorokin a little longer to make his way to New York, but he’s finally coming. The CSKA Moscow star has the potential to become of the best — and most exciting — goaltenders in the NHL. His athleticism and flexibility tend to result in some acrobatic saves.

As for his technique, scouts say he’s a bit more aggressive than his Russian counterpart. Sorokin is known for coming out and setting up at the top of the crease. His athleticism allows him the freedom to play a bit more aggressively than other netminders.

His aggressive nature paid off in the KHL. He put up downright absurd goals against average and save percentage numbers as the No. 1 goaltender for CSKA Moscow.

Seasn Team League GP A PIM MIN GA EN SO GAA W L T Svs Pct GP A PIM
2015-16 CSKA Moscow KHL 28 0 0 1639 29 0 10 1.06 17 7 4 589 0.953 20 0 0
2016-17 CSKA Moscow KHL 39 2 2 2276 61 0 5 1.61 25 7 6 794 0.929 7 0 0
2017-18 CSKA Moscow KHL 37 2 0 2183 58 0 8 1.59 25 8 4 779 0.931 18 1 0
2018-19 CSKA Moscow KHL 40 2 0 2328 45 0 11 1.16 28 6 4 710 0.940 20 1 0
2019-20 CSKA Moscow KHL 40 0 4 2365 59 0 9 1.50 26 10 3 848 0.935

Although the NHL and the Stanley Cup Playoffs are a different animal, Sorokin already knows what it’s like to capture playoff success. Sorokin led CSKA Moscow to a Gagarin Cup win in 2019, winning MVP honors in the process.

Unfortunately, Isles fans won’t see Sorokin at all this season. His contract doesn’t allow him to join the team for their Qualifying Round against the Florida Panthers.

For now, we’ll have to wait and see who ends up becoming the “King of New York.” Ilya Sorokin vs. Igor Shesterkin is setting up to be the next great rivalry in New York City.

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