After three years in pro hockey, Ottawa Senators prospect Egor Sokolov hasn’t landed a full time NHL job just yet, but he’s still managed to build a pretty solid fan base in Ottawa. From Rocky to Rudy to the 1980 Miracle On Ice, everyone loves an underdog story and Sokolov has a dandy.
Back in 2017, Sokolov couldn’t speak a word of English when he left Russia to pursue his NHL dream in Canada. His billet brother in Sydney, Nova Scotia was Drake Batherson, who had just been drafted by the Senators. Batherson took him under his wing and helped him adjust to his new surroundings on the East Coast. They never imagined they’d eventually end up in the same NHL organization.
But it took a while.
After two years with Cape Breton in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Sokolov was famously passed over in not one, but two NHL drafts. At that point, he considered giving up the dream and returning home to Yekaterinburg, Russia.
But he decided to push on and he’s glad he did.
In 2019-20, in his last year of junior eligibility, and in the midst of the COVID pandemic, Sokolov erupted for 46 goals in 52 games. It was now impossible for the NHL to ignore him and the Senators selected him late in the second round, 61st overall.
As good as Sokolov’s hockey story is, people respond equally well to his positive, engaging personality.
For example, right after Sokolov was drafted by Ottawa, some endearing video from his draft party emerged on social media.
The 2020 NHL draft was held online and when his name was announced, Sokolov – wearing a dark pink suit – was joyfully mobbed by his billet family.
During his three years living with the Ryan family, Sokolov was like a son to them and like a big brother to their daughter, Neico. Sokolov was never too cool to play Barbies with Neico or sing songs with her in the back seat on the way to hockey practice.
As an NHL prospect, there’s a lot to like. He’s still only 23 years old – a 6-foot-3, 222-pound winger, who’s been an excellent scorer in both Quebec Junior and in the American Hockey League, leading the B-Sens in points last season.
In late September, as the Senators were starting training camp, Faces caught up with Sokolov to discuss his journey to this point. “Everything Happens for a Reason ….I’m six years now in Canada and happy I made that decision.”
Faces: How did summer training go this year?
Sokolov: Really good. I was in Ottawa all summer. I went home for six weeks after the season. And then probably around mid-June, I came back to Ottawa and spent the summer here. It was great – a lot of skating, a lot of training. So yeah, I’m definitely happy with how everything turned out and how good of shape I am in right now.
hat were some of your goals in the off season?
The biggest goal was to elevate my skating as much as I could. I worked three times a week with our technical skating coach, Shelley Kettles. We focused on things like quickness and my skating has come a long way. I was also focused on “How can I be the difference out there with my big frame? How can I use my body? How much advantage can I give myself? How quickly can I make a decision on the wall or protect the puck down low or take the goalie’s eyes away?”
You and your girlfriend Kaleigh got engaged, how did that come to be?
After the season was over, we went to Miami for a little vacation. So that’s where I proposed to her. So I think that was one of the things that was keeping us busy over summer, planning the wedding and stuff like that.
You’re certainly in a different place now compared to six years ago. You had just arrived in a foreign country, you spoke no English, and you were away from your family. Can you tell us about those days and how Drake Batherson played a role in helping you adjust?
Yeah, absolutely. When I came over in 2017, he was the best thing that could have happened to me. He was like my brother. I remember the first day we were on the ice and I’m like, ‘Man, there’s no way this guy was like a fourth round pick. I can’t believe he’s not a first round pick.’ Obviously, it was hard for us at the start because I couldn’t speak a lick of English and it was all texting and translating on our phones.
For me, it was uncomfortable going with the boys everywhere because I couldn’t talk, or understand, and I was worried it was going to be awkward. But Drake always just told me, ‘You’re coming with us. You don’t have an option.’ So that helped make me more comfortable. And if I made a mistake, Drake was like, ‘Okay, he made a mistake. Let’s joke about it, but we’re not gonna make him feel bad about it, right?
And then I get drafted by Ottawa and next thing you know, we’re in the same organization again. It was definitely special for me playing my first NHL game and he was out there as well. Back in junior, I couldn’t talk to him. And now we talk for hours and hours non-stop. So definitely, I was lucky enough to have him as a billet brother for half a year and we’ve kept it really close since.
You originally cancelled your plans to come play hockey in Canada. What happened? And what changed your mind?
When I was 16, I pretty much had to make a decision. My agent back then called me and asked what I wanted to do next year. And I told him straight on that I want to try to play in Canada. He had a really good connection with the Moncton Wildcats, so he called them and he said, ‘Hey, I have a client and if you’re interested, watch this big tournament he has coming up and see if you guys might want to pick him.’ So I had a phenomenal tournament with 12 points in six games and Moncton decided they were going to pick me.
So I have three or four months before the draft to chill out, spending time with my mom and dad and brother and I’m all good to leave. And then, boom, the day of the draft hits. I look at mom, I look at dad, I look at my brother. I said, “Guys, I don’t think I can do this. I can’t go that far away and not be able to see you guys whatsoever.”
So I called my agent 10 hours before the draft to tell him I’m backing out. So he’s obviously panicking. It’s not the best position for an agent to be put in. He calls the team and they’re pretty rattled as well, but it is what it is.
So later on, I watched the import draft, just to see where my buddies were going to go and Cape Breton, out of nowhere, picked me at 35. I called my agent right away.
I said, “These guys know that I’m not coming, right?”
He’s like, “Yeah, they do know that, but the GM called and said we know we’re taking a risk here. We would love for him to come. But if he doesn’t, you know, we took a swing. It is what it is. We’re ready to waste the pick.”
So I’m like, okay, these guys are serious. They’re wasting their pick? You only have two picks. They could have picked anybody else, someone that wanted to come.
So, after that, I looked at my mom and dad again and I said, “I think it’s meant to be. I think I have to go. Everything happens for a reason. And next thing you know, two days later, I call back and tell them I’m coming over. I’m six years now in Canada and happy I made that decision.
After being passed over twice in the NHL Draft, what was it like when the Senators finally called your name in 2020?
Coming into that draft, my agent back then tells me it’s a 99.99999 percent chance I’m getting picked today. And in my head I’m like, “Okay, so there is .11111 chance that I’m not getting drafted.” So you start worrying and everything got dragged out. The NHL draft was in October and my season got cut short in March. So I had to wait seven months before getting drafted.
Doing the calls with all the teams was stressful too, because I wanted everything to be perfect. I didn’t want to give anybody a reason not to pick me.
It wasn’t the thing I was focusing on. It was my overall game and obviously getting rewarded at the end of the season with five NHL games was probably one of the most amazing feelings I’ve had.
And it was the first time they were doing it online. It was dragging on so long. We were at pick 40 and I thought we were in the 7th round. So in my head, I’m thinking, I’m not getting picked again. This is done. And then soon enough, 61 comes around and boom, I’m getting drafted. It was crazy. Everything I had to sacrifice, leaving my mom and dad and brother and it finally paid off. It was a dream come true.
What’s been the difference between playing in the AHL and playing in the NHL?
To be honest with you, once you get comfortable at the NHL level, it actually gets easier than the AHL because the NHL has the best players. They know where to be, how to get open, when to get open. They always talk to you and they make everything easier on you. Whereas the AHL, there’s a lot of guys who are trying to get to the NHL. Most of the guys think the only way they can get to the NHL at this point is by flying around and grind, grind, grind. It’s all about putting a puck deep and banging bodies and stuff like that.
But once you get up and you play with NHL players, it makes it easier. Obviously, how much time you have with the puck is one thing where you have to be much quicker than at the AHL level. But everything else, once you get hold of it and you build chemistry with your linemates, it becomes much easier.
Were you happy with your season last year?
Yeah, absolutely. Not so happy with the overall season because we didn’t make the playoffs. But I can’t say that I wasn’t happy with what I was able to achieve, leading the team in points. But it wasn’t the thing I was focusing on. It was my overall game and obviously getting rewarded at the end of the season with five NHL games was probably one of the most amazing feelings I’ve had. And then making an All Star game, getting a Team MVP award and a Man of the Year award. I’d be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t happy with my season.
How excited should Ottawa Senators fans be about the 2023-24 season?
I think the people should be really excited. It’s definitely a special group, especially young and obviously a good mix of veteran presence as well. I think it’s going to be a big run of Ottawa hockey for next year. It’s impressive to watch them and how tight they are off the ice is probably even more impressive, how they just enjoy spending time at the rink.
Unfortunately for Sokolov, he didn’t make Ottawa’s NHL club out of camp this year so it was back to Belleville for now to keep working on the dream and terrorizing opposing AHL goalies.
Perhaps Sokolov can take after Mark Stone and draw inspiration from his early days in Ottawa. Like Sokolov, Stone wasn’t the game’s finest skater and still isn’t today. All Stone has ever done is produce and now he’s a Stanley Cup champion. Sokolov has also produced at every level, entering this year with 134 points in 169 career AHL games. Given the chance, especially when you factor in his amazing attitude, it’s hard to believe Sokolov won’t soon find his way to the highest level.