Andrei Vasilevskiy – Now Among the NHL’s Best

The Tampa Bay Lightning have come out of the gate with a purpose to start the 2017-18 season. Led by the league’s top scorers Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning have equaled a franchise-best with 11 wins in their first 15 games of the season. With Stamkos and Kucherov stealing most of the spotlight from the team’s success, not to be overlooked is 23-year-old goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy who has backstopped the Lightning to all 11 wins and has provided the team with stellar goaltending. Vasilevskiy’s play has been encouraging to see for Lightning fans and he deserves the most credit for the team’s success so far.

Andrei Vasilevskiy Handling Number One Job

Not everyone was convinced heading into this season that Vasilevskiy would be fully ready to take on the role of a number one goaltender at just 23-years-old. Up until now, the 19th overall pick from 2012 has handled his job like a veteran and his 0.924 save percentage and 2.52 goals-against average rank him as one of the top goaltenders in the league this season. The Lightning’s netminder leads all goaltenders with 11 wins, 10 of which came in October, tying the NHL record for most wins in the opening month of a season.

The Lightning have done a great job of developing their young goaltender who always had the potential to be an NHL starter. In the last three seasons, the Lightning made sure that Vasilevskiy saw as much action as he could between backing-up Ben Bishop and starting some games in the AHL, so that he could get used to playing a North American-styled game.

Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning goalie
Andrei Vasilevskiy (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman had to make a decision on whether to keep Bishop or Vasilevskiy by the end of the 2016-17 season due to the expansion draft and oncoming salary cap issues. In the end, it made much more sense to part ways with their veteran goaltender via trade and let Vasilevskiy play out the rest of the season. Putting the future in the hands of Vasilevskiy, who has much more upside, was the right decision made by Yzerman.

Vasilevskiy Has Come up Big for the Lightning

If you asked every member of the Lightning today, the majority would likely say that Vasilevskiy has been the team’s best player so far this season. It seems as though Vasilevskiy is coming up with at least one big save every game to bail out his team and he’s given the Lightning a chance to win every game through the first month of the season. In 13 starts, the 23-year-old has just two losses, one being in overtime. Though the Lightning lost those two games by one goal, it could have been a lot worse if it wasn’t for Vasilevskiy.

Vasilevskiy has allowed his team to collect points in games they normally wouldn’t. Coming up with timely saves and always being ready for the next challenge are some of the factors that have allowed Vasilevskiy to succeed in the NHL at such a young age. Vasilveskiy’s work ethic is certainly another factor in this as well, which he has received praise for in the past. The Lightning goaltender is 10-0-1 in his last 11 starts and has given up 18 goals in his last nine games, after allowing 15 in the first four games of the season.

Related: The Lightning’s Undervalued Players

Vasilevskiy Could Be Headed for Stardom

At 23-years-old, Vasilevskiy has barely scraped the surface of what should be a long and successful career. It’s not easy for many young goaltenders to make the jump from back-up to starter immediately, as we saw with Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck who struggled last season when handed the number one job. Vasilevskiy has also earned some valuable NHL playoff experience in his brief professional career, playing in place of an injured Bishop in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks at age 21 and a full seven-game series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2016 Eastern Conference Final, both in which he performed impressively and earned wide recognition.

Andrei Vasilevskiy Bolts
Andrei Vasilevskiy has led the Lightning to first place in the NHL. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

What we’ve seen from Vasilevskiy so far has led me to believe that one day he could be one of the NHL’s top goaltenders. Not only has Vasilevskiy put up solid numbers at the start of his career, he’s already playing a huge part in his team’s success, which is something you’d expect from experienced goalies. Perhaps one day we’ll see Vasilevskiy taking home some hardware for his individual performances, though for now the main focus for the Lightning goaltender will be to continue learning and helping his team win hockey games.