Nikita Soshnikov made his season debut with the Maple Leafs last night. It didn’t take long to show he is a “bona fide NHL player”.
Soshnikov started this season recovering from an injury. Since he was exempt from waivers the Leafs decided to ease him back into the game. They had him start the season with the Marlies where he could train, watch games, and slowly work his way back to the lineup.
According to the crew on last night’s TSN broadcast, it was Lou Lamoriello himself who last weekend watched Soshnikov play vs. the Albany Devils and was impressed to the point that he insisted on his immediate return to the Maple Leafs’ lineup.
And what a return it was.
Soshnikov played on the fourth line with Ben Smith and Matt Martin, a line that had a surprisingly strong impact in the game. Early in the second period Ben Smith got the puck in the net behind Cam Talbot after receiving it on a nifty setup by Soshnikov.
While setting up that goal was great, the Soshnikov line’s most memorable moment was three minutes later in the period. Fourth line shifts are often about resting your best players and crossing your fingers they can clear the puck out of the defensive zone. Soshnikov would have none of that, and went on with his linemates to befuddle the Oilers and maintain a strong attack. Both Smith and Martin recorded shots on Talbot as Soshnikov worked around the net to recover the puck and keep it in play.
Soshnikov did all he does best in a single shift. He blocked shots, generated scoring chances, and nailed Kris Russel with a big hit on the boards. He’s like a Roman Candle firecracker: just when you think he has shot out all of his fireballs, he surprises you with one more.
And can we talk about his victory fanafare? Actually, let’s not talk and just watch.
So this is the part where I gloat. I’ve talked up Soshnikov for some time. Now, as I said in our podcast before the start of the season, I don’t think he’s going to become a top line player, but he has the energy and drive to be a part of the lineup every night and contribute in the “middle six” in various roles. He can adapt.
Now, some members of the <scarequotes> Mainstream Media </scarequotes> seem to have also decided Soshnikov is a good hockey player. A certain gentleman whom I shall refer to only as “S. Dangle”... no wait, that’s too obvious... “Steve D.”, has taken up a crusade against our lovable overlord Steve “Scotty” Wheeler to stain our webzone’s illustrious reputation by indicating that we never liked Nikita Soshnikov, and we never will.
I haven’t actually listened to his so-called “podcast,” but what I’m hearing is he viciously attacks Mr. Wheeler by indicating he believes Soshnikov is the worst NHL player ever. This is what I’m hearing, folks. This is what people are telling me he’s saying.
PPP loves Soshnikov
Back in the summer, PPP published our annual Top 25 Under 25, a ranking of the best players in the Maple Leaf’s system under the age of 25. Nikita Soshnikov was ranked at number 10, up from 18 the previous season. That was the biggest jump up the rankings of any player in our Top 25.
In fact, I gave Soshnikov the highest ranking of anyone on the panel at 7; that’s five above where I ranked Zach Hyman! Part of the reasoning for my rank was the strong impression he left on me last year during the Marlies’ Calder Cup Playoff run.
It wasn’t just me. Half of our 14 member voting panel ranked him in the top 10. Another three had him at 11.
I had the honour to write up his Top 25 post and will repeat an anecdote I wrote up from one of those Calder Cup games:
Soshnikov blocked a brutal slapshot and went down hard. The whole arena gasped, and you could even hear the sound of the puck hitting his body, but he was back up on his skates in seconds. He saw that the shooter had recovered the puck and was about to try again. Sosh activated beast mode, skating hard at the Bears player, checking him into the boards, recovering the puck, and then starting a rush. All that done by himself.
Soshnikov won’t quit on any play.
Now you’re going to say... “BUT BUT WHEELER SAID HE HATES SOSHNIKOV!!!1!”
Let’s see what he actually wrote.
Much like with Hyman, I had Soshnikov lower than the Leipsics of the world because they still have more room to grow, a wider range, and ultimately a higher upside. I like what Soshnikov brings as a skater and forechecker, but I'm not in love with his upside offensively. I would argue he tops out as a bottom six forward, and doesn't have the tools to play, or at least make an impact, higher in the lineup.
- Scott Wheeler
Sounds to me like Scott thinks much like I do, only in different words. He’s a “bona fide” NHL player in Scott’s mind. A bottom six role on a team stacked with the young talent of the Maple Leafs is pretty good. I mean Jack Capuano thinks such level of talent is good enough to be on Tavares’s left wing this season.
Mr. “““Dangle”””, I rest my case. I expect in your next podcast an apology to Steve “Scotty” Wheeler, and/or a declaration that James van Riemsdyk is the sexiest NHL player of the 2016-17 season. Your choice, either one is fine by me.