By Kevin Woodley – NHL.com
New York Rangers rookie Alexandar Georgiev is the latest in a line of Russian goaltenders to turn heads in the NHL.
He is 3-2-0 with a .929 save percentage in his first six NHL games, including a win against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday.
It wasn’t always that way for Georgiev as a goalie; just as goalies from the Russian system have not always been in fashion in the NHL.
here have been nine such goalies picked in the NHL Draft the past four years, compared to 22 from Russia or the former Soviet Union in the previous 30 years.
In the NHL, Russian goalies are among the elite at the position. Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets became the first Russian to win the Vezina Trophy as the top goalie in the NHL in 2013, Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche was the Vezina runner-up to Tuukka Rask in 2014, and Bobrovsky won it again in 2017. Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning is considered a Vezina front-runner this season, leading the League in wins (40).
Three of the top goaltending prospects in the world are Russian: Ilya Samsonov of the Washington Capitals, Ilya Sorokin of the New York Islanders and Igor Shesterkin of the Rangers.
Things have changed greatly for these goalies in the past decade, and Georgiev is a great example of their development.
Georgiev doesn’t have the fondest memory of his first experiences stopping pucks as a 7-year-old in Russia.
Maybe it’s because he rarely got to stop any.
Georgiev, 22, was born in Bulgaria but moved with his family to Russia soon after (he is a dual citizen and has played for Russia internationally). When he started playing goalie, he was placed with players three years older.
“The guys would be practicing and I would be off to the side doing shuffles from one end to the other and back the whole hour. I was crying after some practices, it was so tough,” said Georgiev, who eventually worked his way into practice after mastering fundamentals. “I would be happy to make one save in that practice. I would celebrate because those guys were so ahead of me.”
Georgiev’s path from Russia to the Rangers was hardly a straight line. It may not have been possible without an early detour to Finland to find more modernized coaching.
“By the time I was 10, the goalie coaches in Russia were not up to date, so they would teach you stuff [Vladislav] Tretiak would do, like skate saves,” Georgiev said, referring to the legendary Soviet goalie. “It probably improved my skating a lot, but at that point we started looking for something abroad also and my dad found a goalie school run in Finland by (former Columbus Blue Jackets goalie) Fredrik Norrena.”