Netminder Ilya Samsonov‘s 2020-21 campaign by no means went according to plan. However, Brian MacLellan and the Washington Capitals expect that to change next season.
The Capitals extended a qualifying offer to RFAs Samsonov and Lucas Johansen on Monday. According to MacLellan, a bridge deal seems to be the logical next step for the Russian netminder.
“I’d say that’s most likely given the season he had last year,” MacLellan said. “[He had] a little inconsistency… I think he recognizes that there’s upside there. We recongize that there’s upside there, so that makes sense for both parties.”
After losing Vitek Vanecek in the expansion draft, Washington will now explore several options in the crease. The Capitals can stick with what they have in the system, going with either Pheonix Copley or Zach Fucale, or they may pursue a veteran backup come free agency.
Whatever the case, one thing is clear: Samsonov is the team’s starter next season. And it’s his job to lose.
Samsonov violated COVID-19 protocols twice last season, missing significant time on the protocol list and as a healthy scratch later in the season due to “disciplinary reasons.” Absenses, as well as struggles from time to time, led him to losing his starting spot to Vanecek. In 19 total games in 2020-21, he went 13-4-1 with a 2.69 GAA and .902 save percentage.
When he returned for the postseason after Vanecek’s injury, he played in Games 3, 4 and 5 against Boston. He showed determination and strong play, and he also had quite a few standout performances and big saves. But ultimately, the Capitals fell in five games.
If he can maintain that same level of drive and determination of his game heading into next season, the 24-year-old can make major strides next season.
A bridge deal should also push Samsonov to continue to build his game. With this type of extension, he will have a couple of seasons to prove his potential. And from there, he can either show that he’s a franchise name and worth a high salary or not. The Russian will likely preferthe former.
Also, having a veteran backup could work wonders for him, especially if they can serve as a strong mentor for him. He’s still learning and young with a lot of promise. There’s also pressure from Copley and Fucale, who will surely be determined to make the NHL jump and get playing time with the big club. In fact, the heaviest competition could come from Copley as he pursues a permanent stay up with the Capitals.
In the end, there’s a lot weighing down on Samsonov’s shoulders going forward. Whatever plays out next is Samsonov’s choice.
“He has to earn it, too. I think that’s up to him,” MacLellan said. “He has the potential to be a No. 1 and I think he has to show it.”