For many in the Lightning organization, goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy essentially has been a name from a faraway place the past two seasons.
Sure, Vasilevskiy’s name carries some weight, and for more reasons than the three times the official spelling has changed since Tampa Bay selected him 19th overall in the 2012 draft.
Vasilevskiy, 19, has been among the top-ranked prospects on many lists. The Hockey News and Hockey’s Future rank him in the top 10, along with Lightning prospect Jonathan Drouin. Vasilevskiy even drew comparisons to Russian hockey royalty when a former Soviet Olympian compared him to Vladislav Tretiak, the famed goalie who backstopped the USSR during their dominant days.
“Tretiak also broke into the national championship and the national team when he was very young,” former Soviet Olympic champion Alexander Pashkov told iihf.com. “Like (Tretiak), Vasilevskiy has great natural ability and last season he was the strongest goalie in the (Kontinental Hockey League). You could also see this in the last two World Junior Championships.
“I’m sure he can become a world-class player.”
Now that Vasilevskiy is under contract with Tampa Bay — his deal with Ufa Salavat in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League expired at the end of April after he led the team to the KHL final four — many will get their first chance to see the talented goaltender.
But before coming to North America, Vasilevskiy made his debut with the Russian senior national team at the IIHF World Championships this month in Belarus. He didn’t disappoint.
In his first start, against the United States, Vasilevskiy was named player of the game for his team after stopping 39 shots in a 6-1 victory. Vasilevskiy, 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, made an impression on future Lightning teammate Tyler Johnson, who had four shots on goal for the Americans.
“I would say what stood out for me is that he is a big goaltender, but he’s just so athletic,” Johnson said. “He looks down and out on certain situations and he was still able to make the play. So, he remained very calm and that’s something as a young goaltender you don’t see too much.
“But it’s awesome to know that he’s going to be in our organization, on our team. It’s definitely going to be better to have him on our side than playing against him, that’s for sure.”
In his second start, against Germany, Vasilevskiy pitched a 27-save, 3-0 shutout.
With Sergei Bobrovsky the No. 1 goaltender for Russia in the tournament, Vasilevskiy likely has seen his last action. But there was plenty to see, as Vasilevskiy has a .985 save percentage and a 0.50 goals-against average.
“Really good rebound control, really good positioning and great body language — it just all looked really easy for him, which is a great sign,” said Lightning assistant general manager Julien BriseBois, who was in Belarus for the early part of the tournament before returning to Tampa.
Vasilevskiy already owns three medals from the World Junior Championships — one silver, two bronze — and looks in position to add a World Championship to his ever-growing résumé. The Lightning hope one day that includes a Stanley Cup championship.
“His combination of size, athleticism and technique make him a really, really effective goaltender,” BriseBois said. “We know he has great potential. Now it’s just a matter of working with him to help him realize that potential.”
CANDIDATE FOR PENS? BriseBois has been listed as a possible candidate for the vacant general manager position in Pittsburgh, which opened last week when Ray Shero was let go after the Penguins blew a 3-1 series lead for the second time in four seasons.
“My name has been linked to many spots in the past and I’ve never commented, and this one is not any different,” BriseBois said.