When Andrei Vasilevskiy got word that he would be sent back to the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League, he could have more than certainly done his best Arnie impression and said “I’ll be back”.
He has certainly given the Tampa Bay Lightning every reason to stay with the team, and make no mistake about it; his time will come maybe sooner rather than later.
The 20-year old rookie from Russia has won three of his first four starts and has been impressive in each of them, even in the loss. The lone blemish on his resume? A 45-save performance against the New York Islanders.
Perhaps the greatest debate when talking about goaltenders, right next where exactly they should be drafted, is how much playing time a young netminder should get to allow them to develop into their full potential.
It is very clear that Vasilevskiy is perfectly capable of playing at the NHL level, and maybe on a lot of other teams he would be but the Lightning already have two capable NHL goalies – Ben Bishop and Evgeni Nabokov.
Bishop, of course, was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season and has once again emerged as one of the better goalies in the league. He has been slowed by injuries of late, opening the door for Vasilevskiy, but will still remain the team’s go-to goalie when healthy.
Andrei Vasilevskiy: The Case To Be The Backup
Of course, at 20-years old, Vasilevskiy has plenty of room to grow mainly from the experience perspective. With goalies, repetition is key – mastering how aggressiveness, learning angles and rebound control can take years to master for some – which is why you see so many goaltenders taking longer roads to the NHL.
But let’s say, for argument’s sake, Vasilevskiy is solid enough with all of those aspects (watching him play, hard to argue against) that a lengthy AHL apprenticeship isn’t needed? For every goaltender who took five or more years to establish themselves as NHL starters, there are some who mastered the finer points quicker and made it to the NHL sooner.
There has to be a reason the Lightning made Vasilevskiy the first goaltender selected in the 2012 draft, also making him the first Russian netminder to be taken first at his position, right?
Match that with the fact that Steve Yzerman warned Nabokov that at some point this season he may find himself in the press box as the third goaltender – why shouldn’t this be the time to make Vasilevskiy the backup?
Coming over from the KHL, Vasilevskiy has already played against tough competition; the same level that he is probably seeing in the AHL right now, so what is there left to prove at that level? In his two years in the KHL, Vasilevskiy combined for a .923 SV% and posted a 2.21 GAA in his last year where he played 28-games.
Developmental stages/time is different with each goalie. Some mature faster at a physical and mental level. Playing against the pros in Russia prepared him mentally for the NHL. Playing in the AHL could be, depending on how you look at it, be only a small increase in competition – even just a side step.
If the Lightning already feels he has already ‘graduated’ that ‘level of competition’ there is no point in playing him in the minors.
There is no doubt that Vasilevskiy will be a vital part of the Lightning’s future, just depending on who you ask is how soon that future will come about. With everything he has shown now, and with no disrespect to Nabokov, there is no reason that shouldn’t be now.
Anthony covers the Tampa Bay Lightning for The Hockey Writers. He is also currently a Featured Columnist for Last Word on Sports, and has held editorial positions on multiple Fansided websites and the now defunct The Farm Club.