You need to pay more attention to savvy two-way Calgary Flames blueliner Ilya Solovyov
Photo credit:Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
By Mike Gould2 months ago
Hey, FlamesNation! It’s been too long. Hockey season is finally upon us. Calgary Flames training camp is in full swing. And with a couple of spots open on defence, it’s time for you all to turn your full attention to Ilya Solovyov.
I seldom write in the first person. I find it can make articles feel clunky and self-important — and, generally speaking, I just don’t think it’s good form. (I also tire of seeing all those Is littering the page).
But I think it’s appropriate in this case as I present an opinion that goes a little against the grain, and it’s this: I think Ilya Solovyov is the Flames’ best defence prospect.
That’s not intended as a slight against Etienne Morin, Jeremie Poirier, Yan Kuznetsov, or anyone else. Morin and Poirier have significant upside as two-way puck-movers; Kuznetsov is big and physical, although not the greatest skater. All three of them will play NHL games.
And then there’s Solovyov, who has steadily improved each year since being selected by the Flames in the seventh round of the 2020 NHL Draft. He took a massive leap forward with the Calgary Wranglers last season, spending much of the year on the team’s top pairing with Nick DeSimone and very much looking the part of a big-minutes AHL defenceman.
Solovyov appeared in 68 games with the Wranglers and collected 18 points, all but two of which came at even-strength (he scored the other two shorthanded). The 6’3″ Belarusian has never been the most productive, but he certainly managed to hold his own in the offensive zone last year — and at age 19, Solovyov collected 40 points in 53 OHL games with the Saginaw Spirit in 2019–20.
In Seattle on Monday, Solovyov used his underrated skating ability to jump into the rush and score a nifty goal to give the Flames a 2–1 lead over the Kraken midway through the first period. He had previously assisted on Dryden Hunt’s goal earlier in the frame.
But where Solovyov’s value truly lies is in the defensive zone. He’s a well-built, rangy player who excels at disrupting zone entries with his long stick. He’s also more than capable of knocking opponents to the ice with his 215-pound frame.
Solovyov also stands out compared to his peers because of his mobility. Whereas someone like Kuznetsov often appears a little laboured in his movements and struggles at time to keep up with attacking forwards, Solovyov is a poised, fluid defender who makes difficult plays look effortless.
Poirier, Kuznetsov, and Solovyov were the Wranglers’ three young bucks on the blue line in 2022–23. Here’s how they fared in terms of even-strength goal differential last year, according to Pick224:
- Poirier: 53 for, 45 against (+8 — 54.08% for)
- Kuznetsov: 40 for, 39 against (+1 — 50.63% for)
- Solovyov: 50 for, 36 against (+14 — 58.14% for)
Not bad at all. Among all regular Wranglers defencemen, only DeSimone and Colton Poolman posted better results at both ends of the ice. Poirier and especially Kuznetsov wound up way behind.
Solovyov just turned 23 in July. He’s entering the final year of his entry-level contract with the Flames. And with Oliver Kylington’s status uncertain, it’s entirely possible that Solovyov could garner serious consideration for an NHL role coming out of training camp.
MacKenzie Weegar, Noah Hanifin (for now), Rasmus Andersson, Chris Tanev, and Nikita Zadorov all have locked-in spots with the Flames. Jordan Oesterle probably does, too. But even if the Flames play those six defencemen on opening night, they’ll need a seventh.
Solovyov might just be that guy. His main competition is Dennis Gilbert, who loves to fight and isn’t half-bad in his own zone, but he’s also essentially a known quantity with limited offensive upside. Solovyov is also a better skater.
It’s easy to imagine Solovyov slotting in seamlessly on a pairing with Tanev, if called upon. He has all the tools to be a successful NHL defender. This is the age when guys typically begin to show what they’re made of at the top level, and it should soon be Solovyov’s turn.
If everything works out in his favour, Solovyov could be a really good second-pairing defenceman for a long time. Even if he doesn’t quite find his stride in the NHL, the big lefty should still be able to fill a bottom-pairing role — but I have faith that he can do more.
Also, he’s not allowed to switch from No. 98 on his jersey. I don’t make the rules: it looks too cool.
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