Bolt Prospect of the Week: April 15, 2014

We continue our Bolt Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for their recent contributions on and off the ice.

The Bolt Prospect of the Week for April 15, 2014 is … Andrey Vasilevskiy, G, Salavat Yulaev (KHL - Russia).

If last week was Andrey Vasilevskiy’s final week playing in Russia, he left a lasting impression on his home country.

The teenage phenom was spectacular in net for Salavat Yulaev Ufa, nearly carrying the team through the Eastern Conference Finals to the Gagarin Cup series. While the official record books will show Mettalurg winning the series, 4-1, it was much, much closer than it appeared.

Last week Vasilevskiy allowed two goals in 10 periods of playoff hockey – and lost two games.

On Monday, the Lightning’s second first round pick in 2012 (20th overall) stopped all 22 shots he faced as Ufa won Game 3, 4-0. It was Vasilevskiy’s first shutout of the playoffs.

On Wednesday, he made 27 saves on 28 shots in a tough, 1-0 Game 4 loss. There was no goal support on Friday, either, but Ufa still almost managed to pull off the upset, losing 1-0 in overtime. Vasilevskiy was 37 of 38 on shots in Game 5, including a game-saving splits-save in the closing minutes.

Coincidentally, the goaltender on the other end of those shutouts was Vasily Koshechkin – a Lightning draft pick whose rights are still owned by Tampa Bay (considered a graduated prospect).

Vasilevskiy finished the playoffs with a 1.99 goals against average and a .934 save percentage.

The 6-3 netminder, who was named our Bolt Prospect of the Week for his near herculean efforts, is done for the year in the KHL and is under contract with Ufa until the end of the month. The Lightning have expressed significant interest in getting Vasilevskiy under contract, but it may not come in time for him to join the Lightning’s “Black Aces” practice group for the NHL playoffs.

He has shown interest in coming to North America and nearly joined the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads two years ago, and he even played this season wearing a Lightning mask that fashionistas would say clashed with his green Ufa jersey. Vasilevskiy wanting to come to North America is step 1 in “the Russian factor,” and an expired KHL contract is step 2. Step 3 is to get the NHL contract done, but recent reports out of Russia state Ufa will try to keep Vasilevskiy with the club for one more year.

We hear Vasilevskiy wants to join the Lightning organization as soon as possible, though a $70k AHL salary next year would pale in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of dollars he could make in the KHL. Speculation is Vasilevskiy will split goaltending duties with Kristers Gudlevskis in Syracuse next season where they both can get a good amount of games played – more than they would as Ben Bishop’s backup in Tampa.

The caveat here is Bishop’s injuries. If one is significant enough to require offseason surgery and a lengthy recovery time, there may be a spot in Tampa available for the first month or two of next season.

That’s a big unkown right now, as injury news is kept secret until the conclusion of the playoffs.

What we do know is Vasilevskiy is as good as any goaltending prospect to come around in the last 20 years. We know this because the Lightning’s head amateur scout, Al Murray, said so.

While goaltenders take the longest to develop out of any position player, and are the toughest to project, we feel good about penciling “Vasya” in as a franchise goaltender at the NHL level some day.

(KHL photo)

Honorable Mention: Jonathan Drouin, C (Halifax, QMJHL), Kristers Gudlevskis, G (Tampa Bay, NHL).

2013-2014 Prospect of the Week winners:

April 9: Jonathan Marchessault, W, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
March 31: Adam Wilcox, G, (Minnesota Golden Gophers, NCAA, USA).
March 24: Andrey Vasilevskiy, G, (Salavat Yulaev Ufa, KHL, Russia).
March 17: Jonathan Drouin, C, (Halifax Mooseheads, NCAA).
March 10: Jonathan Drouin, C, (Halifax Mooseheads, NCAA).
March 3: Matt Peca, C, (Quinnipiac Bobcats, NCAA).
February 25: Kristers Gudlevskis, G, (Team Latvia, IIHF).
February 17: Brian Hart, W, (Harvard Crimson, NCAA, USA).
February 10: Matt Peca, C, (Quinnipiac Bobcats, NCAA, USA).
February 3: Adam Wilcox, G, (Minnesota Golden Gophers, NCAA, USA).
January 27: Dylan Blujus, D, (North Bay Battalion, OHL, Canada).
January 20: Mark Barberio, D, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
January 13: Kristers Gudlevskis, G, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
January 6: Ondrej Palat, LW, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
December 17: Tyler Johnson, C, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
December 10: Ondrej Palat, W, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
December 3: Cedric Paquette, C, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
November 26: Tyler Johnson, C, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
November 19: Jonathan Drouin, C/W, (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL, Canada).
November 13: Jonathan Drouin, C/W, (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL, Canada).
November 4: Nikita Kucherov, W, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
October 29: Kristers Gudlevskis, G, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
October 24: Henri Ikonen, W, (Kingston Frontenacs, OHL, Canada).
October 16: Nikita Kucherov, W, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
October 9: Henri Ikonen, W, (Kingston Frontenacs, OHL, Canada).
October 1: Andrey Vasilevskiy, G, (Salavat Yulaev Ufa, KHL, Russia).
September 24: Adam Erne, W, Tampa Bay (NHL) and Quebec (QMJHL)