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2017 Top 25 under 25: #14 Nikita Soshnikov

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The Maple Leafs winger falls back four spots. Did he simply have an off-season, or has he hit his ceiling?

Chicago Blackhawks v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Last year, Nikita Soshnikov had the largest rise up our Top 25 Under 25 list, from 18th in 2015 to 10th in 2016. That meteoric rise came on the back of a fantastic debuted with the Marlies, where his physical play, shot blocking, and general pest behaviour on the ice led him to 28 points in 52 games, followed by another 7 points in 11 playoff games.

I ranked him the highest in last year’s Top 25 Under 25 at #7, thoroughly impressed with what I saw on the ice with the Marlies, and in his brief time playing for the Maple Leafs.

In this year’s list Soshnikov has fallen back four positions to 14. Only one of the returning voters from last season increased their ranking of him. Many of our new voters were further negative on Soshnikov, ranking him in the lower teens.

Nine points

Most conversations about Soshnikov seem to immediately get to one stat: in 56 games played last season, he had only five goals, and four assists. Nine points. Katya gets right to the heart of the matter.

"Nine points they say," in that tone. "But he played with Martin," is the retort. Neither tells you who the player is, and the reality is somewhere in between his exciting turn as a fun player on a bad team, and a fourth liner who shot from stupid places.

He is capable of putting in NHL minutes. He can ride along and even add some verve to a higher line. He's got more points in him than nine, he's not the man who will play top six like we might have thought at one time. He might start the season on the Marlies, but he's a man who can play the game in the NHL. - Katya

Scott gets to the heart of the matter in explaining why he gave the lowest rank, noting Soshnikov will be 24 years old to start next season.

There are two main reasons I had Soshnikov as low as I did. The largest is that he's about to turn 24 and there are now 12 forwards in the Leafs organization I think are clearly better than him. At that point, you're looking at ranking a fringe NHL player on an increasingly competitive team (he can play in the NHL lower in the lineup just fine, there's no disputing that) against younger players who have potentially higher upside. With the Leafs where they are, I have always opted in favour of a player who has a chance at being a higher-impact player than that fringe level that it now looks like Soshnikov is going to fit into. The second, is that it's unlikely Soshnikov takes a huge step forward at this point. He's an excellent skater and forechecker who shoots a lot (more than he should at times because he doesn't see the ice all that well) and can generate through his release. That's fine, but it's value that I think players I had slightly higher still have a fair chance of exceeding. - Scott Wheeler

Brigstew agreed with this philosophy

At this point it seems like he'll never really be any better than a fourth line winger. He might be a good one relative to other fourth line wingers, but given how easy it is to find decent fourth liners as free agents I don't really put much value in that compared to other guys I ranked ahead of him. Even if the other guys I rank ahead never make the NHL like Sosh has, as of right now I still believe they at least have a chance of being better than a 4th liner. - Brigstew

Here’s the debate about Soshnikov in a nut shell: did his performance last season indicate his ceiling is only a fourth line—but useful—grinder type, or, does he have more in him to give but was held back by his linemates?

Outside of a brief experiment on a line with Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov, Soshnikov spent the season playing opposite Matt Martin; with one of Brian Boyle, Frederik Gauthier, and Ben Smith at center.

If you check out this chart for last season at HockeyViz, you can see the combination with Boyle was a great improvement over any combination with Smith.


However, there’s not much data to draw effective conclusions there. Only nine games after Boyle joined the lineup, Soshnikov was injured and missed the rest of the regular season and the playoffs.

Soshnikov also spent about ten games as a fixture on the powerplay, but was then moved off and left instead to light penalty kill duty for his special teams role. He was an effective penalty killer though, never missing an opportunity to block a shot, and always willing to seize opportunities to grab the puck and clear it.

So, is there room for improvement and the ability to move up the Maple Leafs lineup, perhaps again with Kadri as his center? First, there’s the little matter of his waiver status.

Waivers

We’ve already discussed the Leafs roster logjam of wingers with a few other players, notably Kerby Rychel. Like Soshnikov, Rychel has now played in two different NHL seasons, both with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Last season Rychel didn’t see the NHL ice at all. He played only for the Marlies.

Rychel has now lost his waiver exemption status, however, despite being almost exactly one year older, and having playing in more NHL games, Soshnikov has not lost his exempt status. The clock ticked down last season to two NHL games until he loses the status.

Could Soshnikov have a season like Rychel? Stuck in the AHL, hoping for a call-up as an injury replacement, but possibly never getting that call? And what about his own injuries? He missed a lot of games last season, and you could say he plays a style which at times seems reckless. Is that a part of the problem with Soshnikov too?

Barring a trade, we will have to wait until training camp to find out his future.

Of course, we cannot end this without the obligatory Soshnikov first NHL goal celly. Enjoy!

Poll

Where will Soshnikov start the season?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    On the ice for the Leafs first game.
    (127 votes)
  • 19%
    In the press-box for the Leafs first game.
    (233 votes)
  • 69%
    On the ice for the Marlies first game.
    (837 votes)
1197 votes total Vote Now