Nikita Soshnikov, a free agent signing out of the KHL in 2015, played his second season with the Maple Leafs organization in 2016-17.
After crossing over from Russia, Soshnikov spent the majority of his first season in North America (2015-16) playing a checking line role against top lines in the AHL, tallying 18 goals in 52 games before he received the call from the Leafs.
2016-17 Season Expectations
Outside of the lottery pick, Soshnikov was one of the few exciting developments of the Leafs’ 2015-16 season after he was brought up from the Marlies at the end of February. He put up five points in 11 games and looked good on Nazem Kadri’s wing, showing off an explosive shot and fearless brand of physical play that belies his size.
His two goals were total snipes, and the enthusiasm exuded in his goal celebrations reminded all of the Leafs fans suffering through the dog days of a 69-point season that there was some joy to be had still from watching the games:
Coming into the 2016-17 season, Soshnikov was the forgotten one among the Leafs glut of rookies competing for spots due to an injury he picked up before training camp. Head coach Mike Babcock referred to him as an NHL player at the start of the season but said that the organization’s plan was to get him back to 100% health with the Marlies in the month of October.
2016-17 Season Summary
Soshnikov was called up by the Leafs early in November and picked up a goal and an assist in his first three games while playing just 8:24 on average. Unfortunately, that was about as good as it got for Soshnikov offensively this season.
He battled through a 23-game points slump in December and January, shooting the puck just 24 times over that stretch (11:34 TOI/g). He snapped that scoreless skid with three goals in six games at the end of January/early February before entering a 11-game pointless slump in February and March.
Soshnikov’s injury in late March came at an unfortunate time, as Babcock liked what he was getting out of his fourth line with Soshnikov next to Martin and deadline addition Brian Boyle. In his final five games of the season, Soshnikov averaged 12:48/game, which was his highest TOI segment of the season, and he picked up a goal and an assist in that span.
Overall, Soshnikov tallied just four more points in 45 more games compared to his short NHL stint in 2015-16. That is largely the product of opportunity; Soshnikov played over 15 minutes a night during his NHL call-up last season, playing on his strong side with Kadri and Komarov as his most common linemates, compared to 10:51 per game alongside Matt Martin and Ben Smith/Frederik Gauthier on his off-wing this season.
As with Josh Leivo, we’re left wondering what his production might’ve looked like if he got some of the offensive opportunities Hyman – again, not to discredit Hyman’s abilities as a forechecker – enjoyed next to Matthews and Nylander.
For Soshnikov’s part, his shots rate was too low this year (1.2/game) and he missed the net quite a bit — missed shots accounted for 34% of his unblocked shot attempts, which was highest among the Leafs’ regular forwards. He has such a wild, hard shot, and he could be more productive if he put pucks in play more often by shooting low for tips and rebounds.
It was unclear if he was healthy and available for selection, but it would’ve been interesting to see ‘playoff Soshnikov’ in Round 1 against the Capitals, knowing the edge he can bring to the game along with his shot and penalty killing ability.
2016-17 Season Statistics
|GP||G||A||Pts||PP Points||TOI/g||5v5 Pts/60||Shots||Sh%||CF%|
One area not listed above where Soshnikov shows really well statistically is on the penalty kill. He played a limited role there (1:08/game) but his results were excellent — among players with a minimum of 50 shorthanded minutes played, Nikita Soshnikov’s 0.95 Goals Against Per 60 was the lowest in the NHL. While a league-wide comparison of his shots against per 60 ranking at 4v5 (72nd in the NHL) versus his on-ice 4v5 save percentage (.977, 1st in the NHL) suggests there was a measure of luck involved, he was on the ice for the fewest shots per 60 on the team on the PK. Stats aside, he covers ice really well, he’s fearless and he wins battles, which comes together to make him a useful player in shorthanded situations.
One concerning trend in Soshnikov’s young NHL career is his injury history. He missed training camp and started the season with the Marlies because of a hamstring injury sustained before the season started, he picked up an upper-body injury in February, and his season was ended by a third injury in March.
Soshnikov also picked up a lower-body injury late in the 2015-16 season, forcing him to miss the team’s final 11 games. A question that has to be asked at this point is whether Soshnikov, with his physical frame, is capable of staying healthy consistently while playing his fearless brand of hockey.
Soshnikov (who is exempt from the expansion draft) will be 24 at the start of next season and he is signed for one more year at a good number — $736,667 — before he becomes an RFA. That makes this upcoming season, assuming he sticks around, make or break as far as his future in the organization and in the league is concerned.
Soshnikov was undoubtedly told he would be in a battle to make the opening night roster next season in his exit interview with the coaching staff last week. He was eligible to join the Marlies for their playoff run, but it appears the two sides agreed it was best to allow Soshnikov to get started on his offseason. Showing up to camp in the Fall healthy and in great shape is an important first step toward earning more opportunity next season.