Ilya Samsonov’s summer, in his words, was too short.
Still, the Maple Leafs’ No. 1 goaltender got in the work that was required for him to build off a sharp first season in the Toronto net.
When the 26-year-old wasn’t enjoying the warm weather at his off-season home in Fort Lauderdale with his wife and baby son, he was in the gym, concentrating on his neck/shoulders area after he had issues with both during last season. That included yoga.
“I feel more comfortable right now, better shape a little bit,” Samsonov said Thursday at the Ford Performance Centre following the Leafs’ first on-ice sessions at training camp.
“I’m so excited to be here. One more year with an excellent team, excellent teammates. I’m happy to see everybody. I’m comfortable.”
Unlike last year, when he was competing with Matt Murray for the starter’s role before eventually taking over, Samsonov has the spot nailed down. Samsonov shone for Toronto in 2022-23, recording a .919 save percentage (seventh among National Hockey League goaltenders) while posting a record of 27-10-5. Samsonov also had a 2.33 goals-against average and posted four shutouts.
An off-ice test for Samsonov came two months ago, when he endured the arbitration process with the Leafs. Two days after the hearing on July 21, Samsonov was awarded a one-year, $3.55 million US contract. He had been seeking $4.9 million, while the Leafs filed for $2.4 million.
The process weighed on him, Samsonov acknowledged. Conversations with Leafs general manager Brad Treliving after it was done helped get Samsonov in a proper frame of mind.
“For sure, I think about it,” Samsonov said. “This is my future and yeah, I think about this, but this is just the business.
“We prepared for this with my agent (Don Meehan). I was talking with Brad after arbitration. This was a really nice discussion. It’s in the past.”
Samsonov is sporting a new mask, one that is adorned with a snarling dog as an homage to former Leafs goalie Curtis Joseph.
“I talked with Cujo a couple of days ago, he said it was an unbelievable mask,” Samsonov said. “(I have) respect for him, he’s an unbelievable goalie. He’s huge for Toronto.”
New defenceman Simon Benoit, meanwhile, was not on the ice. He is listed as day to day with back spasms.