Report: Vasilevskiy Coming to North America

Igor Eronko of Sports.ru's hockey department tweeted this morning that prized Lightning prospect goaltender Andrey Vasilevskiy has decided to leave Salavat Ufa of the KHL and sign with Tampa Bay.

The Lightning have not announced the signing.

Vasilevskiy, who led Salavat to the KHL semifinals, was under contract in the KHL until the end of April. With the turn of the calendar page, he was eligible to sign with the Lightning and come to North America. Reports surfaced during the KHL playoffs that Salavat was going to offer the 2012 19th overall pick a hefty deal to remain in Russia for at least one more year. At the time of the reports, Vasilevskiy said he wasn't going to discuss his options until after the KHL playoffs were over.

Fellow Lightning (overage) prospect goaltender Vasili Koshechkin's Mettalurg club won the Gagarin Cup to complete the playoffs earlier this week.

Getting the 6-3, 205-pound Vasilevskiy to North America is a huge win for the Bolts as with a standard, entry-level 2-way contract, Vasilevskiy will make under $100k in the AHL, where he is expected to begin his North American professional career. Salavat could pay him hundreds of thousands of dollars to remain in Russia.

Vasilevskiy has made it clear from the time he was drafted that he wanted to come to North America, and rumors were it was only an existing KHL contract that kept him from coming over to play for OHL Mississauga after they took him in the CHL Import Draft two years ago. He played the last two seasons with a Lightning-themed mask.

The Lightning's goaltending situation entering next season is somewhat murky with Vezina finalist Ben Bishop undergoing wrist surgery this past week with a 3- to 4-month rehabilitation timeline attached. He expected to be fully recovered by the time training camp roles around. Current backup Anders Lindback, last seen being pulled in Game 4 vs Montreal, is a restricted free agent and isn't a lock to have his contract renewed/qualified. That could open the door for Vasilevskiy or Latvian Olympic hero Kristers Gudlevskis to be the backup in Tampa, though more realistically they will be the starting tandem in AHL Syracuse and Tampa Bay will have a veteran backing up Bishop for at least one year. Developmentally, Vasilevskiy and Gudlevskis need as many games in the crease as possible. Gudlevskis took over as the starter in Syracuse late this season and finished the Lightning's playoff campaign with a stellar effort in Montreal.

For the season, Vasilevskiy, 19, finished with a 2.21 goals against average and .923 save percentage in 28 KHL games. During the playoffs, he posted a 1.99 GAA and .934 save percentage. He has never had a save percentage below .923 when he's played more than five games for any team.

We rank Vasilevskiy No. 2 among Lightning prospects, behind only Jonathan Drouin, though they could easily be 1-A and 1-B. Vasilevskiy projects as a franchise goaltender.

Update: Damian Cristodero of the Tampa Bay Times spoke to Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman about the possible contract.

"We've been in discussions with Andrey's agent and are hopeful that we can agree to a contract in the near future," Yzerman told the Times.

Note: While translated spellings of his name differ, he is registered with the NHL as "Andrey Vasilevskiy." That is the spelling the Lightning use.

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