WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ilya Samsonov appears confident, his eyes bright with excitement and motivation as he takes in Washington Capitals training camp.
The 24-year-old said it was a quick offseason, one that he welcomed. After signing a one-year, $2 million bridge deal back in July, he’s eager to hit the ground running with Washington.
“[The summer] was pretty quick… I’m so happy, get ready for the season,” Samsonov said. “Excited to get a full season and ready to work.”
The 2020-21 campaign didn’t go according to plan for the Russian netminder. In August 2020, Samsonov was injured in an ATV incident, and when the season finally got going in January, a severe bout with COVID-19 held him out for a significant amount of time.
“There were a few days that were challenging for me. Had trouble breathing for a little bit there, and walking a bit,” Samsonov said last year through an interpreter.
As a result, he also lost the starting job to Vitek Vanecek. Down the stretch, Samsonov would again be placed on the COVID-19 list, and he was held out due to disciplinary reasons as well. However, he made a strong return in the playoffs, doing what he could for the Capitals in three games before they were eliminated in Game 5 vs. the Boston Bruins.
“It was not fun season for me,” Samsonov said. “We lost the first round. But we get some more concentration for this season for sure.”
In 2020-21, Samsonov went 13-4-1 with a 2.69 GAA and .902 save percentage. He said he spoke with general manager Brian MacLellan at the end of the offseason about expectations going forward.
“He say to me what I need to do in this summer, what was important for me,” Samsonov said. “I am understand and keep working.”
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This offseason, Samsonov was able to return home to Russia and spend time with family, while also training overseas. He skated with his hometown team, the Metallurg Magnitogorsk. He also worked with a mental coach.
“I was [able to] get some more stuff for my balance, my balance on the ice and off ice, too,” Samsonov explained. “Get some little bit different diet for this offseason. More mental concentration.”
Returning to D.C. this season, Samsonov is excited to get the year going and is looking forward to finally playing a full year.
“I feel unbelievable. No injury, no nothing,” Samsonov said. “I’m just keeping forward, looks forward and get some ready for work hard.”
The young goaltender is also hoping to prove that he belongs in D.C. and can still be the team’s goalie of the future in a “prove it” contract year.
“I got some, lot of motivation, I really like it, this team, this city, fans, everything,” Samsonov said of the bridge deal. “I so happy stay here.”
Washington is happy to have Samsonov back and working in tandem with Vitek Vanecek, who is returning for his sophomore season after a wild seven days this summer where he was taken in the Seattle expansion draft and then dealt back to the Capitals.
“Sammy is a bright young player, and at the end of the day to win hockey games in the NHL, you got have good goalies, and [he and Vitek] are,” Tom Wilson said. “You know, we’re excited to have them back there. They’ll do the job and just continue to get better. It’s a huge part of the game.”
Overall, Samsonov is ready to meet — and exceed — Washington’s expectations as the Capitals look to make a deeper run and contend for a Stanley Cup.
“We have a good team, have the best team in the league,” Samsonov said. “I think we will go to much long, longer season than the last year.”