22. Egor Sokolov (Reader Rank: 24, Last Year: NR)
It was a busy draft week for the Senators in early October, and Egor Sokolov is the first player of the bunch to make his debut on our Top 25 Under 25 list. He’s already etched in Sens history as their first Russian drafted in over a decade, going back to Ruslan Bashkirov in 2008. But while a second round pick might’ve been too rich of a draft slot in the eyes of most analysts, there’s still a lot to dissect with the Russian giant.
The Sens seem to love their player connections, and Sokolov already has familiarity with the organization. He’s the second member in a row on our list to come from the Cape Breton Eagles, with teammate Kevin Mandolese backstopping them to fourth place in the Eastern Conference last season. He also played with Drake Batherson in 2017-18, forming a bond together with the same billet family. You might also notice something in the background of this photo...
Extremely honoured to have signed my first nhl contact with @Senators thank you @CBEHockey for past 3 years❤️also thank you to my family,billet family, friends and coaches, who helped me to reach my goals ❤️excited to see what’s next ❤️ pic.twitter.com/DC3j5X5og9— Egor Sokolov (@sokol2926) November 20, 2020
Sokolov entered the draft as a double overager having already turned 20 in June, but he comes with a strong track record. He’s been a representative for Russia at international tournaments going back to 2016, including their U20 World Juniors roster at the beginning of this year. His three seasons in the QMJHL are where he really brought the firepower, leading the league with 46 goals in 52 games last season. With 97 goals over three seasons, he’s consistently been one of the league’s most dangerous finishers. But his explosion last season was finally enough to earn him a draft pick the third time around.
There were teams interested in Sokolov even before the draft, with the Columbus Blue Jackets signing and then releasing him from a Professional Tryout Contract ahead of the 2019-20 season. Now he’s firmly locked into the Senators, signing a three-year entry-level contract just a week ago.
Looking at how he plays, it’s evident how he was able to score so much in the QMJHL last season. His finishing ability is up there with the Quebec league’s best — he generates lots of power behind his shot to beat goalies clean, and has all the size and strength in the world to plow through competition. He posted a shooting percentage last season of 18.7%, a number that will likely decrease against better competition and a little less luck. But his ability to fire the puck is what put him on the map, and it’s what will carry him if he eventually makes it to the NHL. He’s very comparable to Mark Kastelic in this sense — another overage Sens pick who thrives off of being massive and shooting the puck.
As with any overage draft pick, however, the question needs to be asked why they were passed over in previous drafts (in Sokolov’s case twice), and the red flags are just as evident as they’d been in previous seasons. He’s a weak skater by even the QMJHL’s standards, let alone that of professional leagues, something that worryingly hasn’t shown much progression over the last two seasons. It severely hampers his ability to contribute to the rush, operating more as a passenger to his linemates. He also doesn’t provide much on the backcheck either, with more agile players usually able to find paths around him despite his immense reach.
The QMJHL as a league is also notorious for being fallible for players like Sokolov to massively inflate their scoring totals. There’s rarely much attention paid to structured defensive systems league-wide, which allowed Sokolov to frequently just push players around and get to the net whenever he wanted, just because he’s 6’4” and 240 lbs. He’ll still have a physical edge going forward, but it won’t be to nearly the same degree as last season. He’s sort of like an anti-Alex Formenton in that sense, with the two being polar opposite skaters and finishers.
Sokolov’s path to success will likely involve two things: significant improvement to his skating stride, and tactical placement alongside a strong playmaking centre. He already has the physical capabilities to play in the NHL, something that most 20-year-old prospects can’t say. I’ll be curious to see how Troy Mann decides to deploy him in the AHL next season, as stapling him next to gritty bottom-six checkers won’t do him any good for his offensive skills, as chaotic as that combo may be to watch.
Even just a month after the draft, Sokolov seems to have emerged as a fan-favourite. He seems to be a wonderful, personable player who already has some familiarity with the team. The transition to pro hockey may have its bumps, but he’s been welcomed to Ottawa with open arms.