The Calgary Flames trounced the Vancouver Canucks in their opening game by a whopping 10–0 scoreline. Matt Coronato had a hat-trick, Jonathan Huberdeau had two goals, Jacob Markstrom stopped everything that he faced, and so much more. While the Canucks did ice an AHL lineup, the vibes around the Flames finally felt good for the first time in a long time. Lost in all the storylines of the game was how strong defenceman Ilya Solovyov played in this game. Take a look at the dark blue bar next to his name here:
He then went on to put up a goal and an assist in last night’s game against the Seattle Kraken.
Coming off of a very strong AHL season with the Wranglers, there’s a good chance he sees NHL minutes this year.
Who is Ilya Solovyov?
Not a well-known name in the Flames’ prospect pool, the team drafted Solovyov in the seventh round of the 2020 NHL Draft. An over-ager, Solovyov played his 18-year-old season in the Belarussian league, putting up eight points for the National U20 Team.
He then came to North America, joining the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit, where he put up a whopping 40 points in 53 games, good for seventh on his team and second among blueliners. This led to him being drafted by the Flames.
From there, he took a jump back to Eurasia, playing in the KHL with Dinamo Minsk. He put up nine points in 41 games, which doesn’t seem like much but the KHL is a very tough league to break into at the best of times let alone one to put points up in.
While his numbers didn’t sparkle, he did earn an entry-level contract with the Flames and subsequently joined the Stockton Heat. Again, his numbers didn’t sparkle in the AHL as he adjusted back to the North American game. He had just eight points in 51 games, playing mostly on the bottom pair but playing most games. The Heat had a deep defence corps that season, with Andy Welinski, Nick DeSimone, Kevin Gravel, Connor Mackey, Juuso Valimaki, and more, on the blue line.
Last season, Solovyov was quietly one of the most effective two-way blueliners on the team. He jumped up to 18 points in 68 games, playing top-pair and second-pair minutes as well as lots of penalty kill minutes. On a team with Jeremie Poirier and Yan Kuznetsov as the new standout blueliners on the team, Solovyov quietly outshined both of them, earning trust with his coaches and teammates as a reliable defenceman who can make an impact at either end of the ice. Plus-minus is a flawed stat, but he finished fourth on the team in this stat. This speaks to his reliability on the ice, particularly at 5v5.
What would Solovyov bring to the Flames?
The Flames are looking at an open spot on their blueline, with the news that Oliver Kylington will not be at the opening of training camp this season. Without any further update, there appears to be a chance that he will be gone for a little bit longer than just training camp. If he is gone for a while, the team will need to figure out who will take his spot.
The most logical solution is to have Jordan Oesterle fill that spot. Signed this past summer, the Michigan product is coming off of an 11-point NHL season with the Detroit Red Wings. These numbers are not huge by any stretch, but having NHL experience is always super helpful to have on the blueline.
It’s hard to imagine Solovyov knocks him out of that spot on opening night, but there is a very good chance he earns the seventh blueline spot to start the year, with the possibility of him earning a role down the line. There isn’t a huge salary difference between the two players, but Solovyov’s $828K cap hit is easier to manage under the cap this season.
While he is a left-shot blueliner, Solovyov brings a steady defensive game to the team, and would likely be a good fit with someone like Nikita Zadorov on the third pairing. Having Solovyov on the ice would allow Zadorov more freedom to push forward and jump into the attack as needed while having Solovyov able to cover back as needed. While he doesn’t have NHL experience, he does have a good amount of KHL experience, which is the second-best league in the world.
The Flames have two dynamic pairings in Rasmus Andersson, Noah Hanifin, Chris Tanev, and MacKenzie Weegar. Their third pairing with Zadorov is an opportunity to potentially mentor one of the Flames’ top prospects on a rotational basis. This would be helpful to have Solovyov on one game and Oesterle on the other. This gives the Flames a chance to then use Solovyov, as long as he’s providing value, against weaker teams, and then roll Oesterle against some of the stronger teams where the NHL experience will likely be more important.
Solovyov is showing himself to be one of the Flames’ top defensive prospects in the organization, and someone who is looking increasingly like an NHLer. If he continues to trend positively at camp, he should start the season on the big club.
Photo credits: CalgaryWranglers.com