In my previous article, I discussed the pros and cons that come with Kristers Gudlevskis. The smartest move for the Tampa Bay Lightning right now, when it comes to who will be between the pipes, is to send Anders Lindback away and replace him with a much more experienced as well as dependable goalie.
Gudlevskis obtained experience and proved his consistency when stepping up against the Columbus Blue Jackets as well as filling in for Lindback during the last two playoff games. With Gudlevskis, of course, comes a great, big question-mark: will his performance be impressive in the long run? And, though the answer to that question is probably Yes, the Lightning can still not afford to gamble.
So, let us turn to Russia for the Lightning’s second option between the pipes: Andrei Vasilevski.
Youthful Dominance Overseas
Drafted 19th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning during the first round, Andrei Vasilevski stood as an asset highly coveted among other GMs. The Russian, 19 years old, has been playing hockey for several different Russian leagues since the age of 15.
Vasilevski made his debut in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League two years ago. In eight games, he won four and only lost one, posting a 2.22 Goals Allowed Against (GAA) as well as a .924 Save Percentage (SV%).
In the most recent season, Vasilevski played 28 games with Salavat Yulaev Ufa in the Russian KHL. With a 14-8 record, Vasilevski recorded a 2.21 GAA and a .923 SV%. Three of the 14 games won were shutouts. At the end of the season, Vasilevski led all Ufa goalies in games played, GAA, SV%, and shutouts.
The 6-foot-3 Russian monster led Salavat Yulaev to the semi-finals in the KHL playoffs this year. His GAA average was 1.99 with a .934 SV%. Vasilevski won nine out of eighteen games, with one of them being a shutout. Though he was dissapointed with being eliminated in the semi-finals, the scouts were highly impressed yet again.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, Vasilevski’s performance on the international level is nearly immaculate. Vasilevski has participated in the past three IIHF U-20 World Junior Championships. In 2012, he led his team on to win the silver medal and then the bronze medal in 2013. This year, Vasilevski’s run in January’s World Junior Championship was the stuff of legend. In six games, the Russian netminder possessed a .933 SV% and an absurd 1.83 GAA.
All this is impressive, yes, but it sounds like the accomplishments of a goaltender like Kristers Gudlevskis – a player a little bit older with experience on the international hockey stage in both the Olympics and the IIHF, as well as performances in the AHL and NHL. Alas, Vasilevski’s accomplishments become even more fantastic when his age is taken into consideration. Being only 19 years old and playing this well on both the KHL and IIHF levels proves not only does Vasilevski’s talent exist, but also shows what potential greatness there is in growth.
Already being such a great goaltender, in a way, eliminates the unknown risk that comes with Gudlevskis. Vasilevski is young, but, given the chance to play on the ice at an NHL level, well, one can safely assume that his performance would outshine Anders Lindback’s at the very least.
Russian Intimidation & Composure
Where there is potential, there already exists talent. Honing in on that potential is like an architecht carefully brushing away the dirt and clay of centuries to uncover an ancient, perfect fossil. The sheer potential for Vasilevski has already been noted many times by scouts and reporters. Vasilevski’s unique chance at stardom resides in both his style and composure.
Vasilevski provides an influence over a game’s tone similar to Bishop: intimidation. The source of this intimidation derives from Vasilevski’s composure. See, goaltending takes place upon the mental plane. The saves and puck-handling are just an external reflection of a goaltender’s mindset. When a goalie is nervous, unsure of either his team or himself, he often tends to make mistakes through jagged moves often too quick or in the wrong direction.
A thoughtful, calm netminder can force an entire offense not to place doubt in themselves. Andrei Vasilevski possesses said mental acuity. He holds an unheralded ability to read plays, to react to varying styles of opposing team meant to throw goalies off. Instead, it is the offense who are left scratching their heads, asking teammates what they did wrong during the set-up process. Forwards fumble for the puck in an attempt to capitalize on rebound efforts.
But, those rebound efforts are futile. Vasilevski, thanks to his height as well as a pair of legs that stretch across the entire crease, can play in both the butterfly and upright position. This is largely thanks to his ability to swipe pucks from mid-air with his glove hand when in the butterfly position, thus closing top-shelf gaps which most goaltenders leave open when on their knees. Skating with swift athelticism, Vasilevski also can move from one side of the crease to another, stopping shot after shot. Don’t believe me? Okay, then just take a look for yourself:
Hard to believe he’s just 19, right? Well, in many of these clips, ole Andrei was even younger. He’s scrambles for the puck, but does so with a calm demeanour similiar to that of Carey Price and Jonathan Quick. Vasilevski flashes the blocker pad within the blink of an eye. Playing with such fluid movements as well as high level of consistency, it often seems like a miracle when the puck does make its rare visit to the back of the net.
It’s safe to say that Vasilevski (often criticizes solely for his puck-handling skills by those who seem to forget his not even twenty years old yet) possesses a massive upside. As a back-up, Vasilevski would make up for his lack of experience with pure talent. Vasilevski will probably need some time to improve his game in either the AHL or as the occasional back-up for when Bishop does require that much needed rest.
Compared to Linback, this newest Russian Wonder provides a great deal of hope and promise for an increasingly well-built (and young) Lightning squad. And, luckily for us, last Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Lightning signed Vasilevski for a three-year Entry Level Contract.
Look’s like the big boy’s comin’ to America.