CALGARY, CANADA - JANUARY 3: Andrei Vasilevski #30 of Team Russia stops the puck on an attempt by Jonathan Huberdeau #11 of Team Canada during the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship Semifinal game at the Saddledome on January 3, 2012 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Team Russia defeated Team Canada 6-5. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
On Friday, the Lightning used their second pick in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft to take Russian goalie Andrei Vasilevski. Taking a goaltender 19th overall is a risk, although having the number 10 pick allowed the team some flexibility they otherwise would not have had. Still, the Lightning had to pass on a number of good players to take Vasilevski, and goaltenders have even less tendency, statistically speaking, to turn out than other drafted players.
That said, there is no question that the Lightning need good goalie prospects in the pipeline. And the buzz on Vasilevski is nothing less than positive. He's a confident, mature-seeming player known for his quickness and technical foundation. He's also only 17 years old. Anything can happen.
In any case, we are looking at about 2-3 years before he is anywhere near being ready for the NHL, and possibly longer. It is highly unusual these days for a goaltender to jump from a European league directly to the NHL, and the team has said that they would like for him to come to North America as soon as is feasible. He has said he would like to buy out his KHL contract and come to play in major juniors next season, but as of yet nothing has been decided.
As I have not watched Vasilevski very much, I collected some scouting reports that give some perspective on what this kid is like as a player.
Eliteprospects.com - Andrei Vasilevski
Vasilevski has a big frame and covers the net really well. Impressive mobility and quickness. A technically skilled goaltender as well. Consistent. (EP 2012)
The Goalie Guild's in-depth scouting report (in .pdf format) from January talks about his quickness, his upright butterfly, and his composure, among other aspects of his play.
Andrei Vasilevski - The Next Ones: 2012 NHL Draft Prospect Profile - KHL Hopper or NHL Backstopper? | The Hockey Writers
While Vasilevski probably didn't like the way his WJC run ended in 2012, the goalie was able to put his skill sets on full display and illustrate why he is ready to make the transition to North American hockey. Vasilevski is more than capable of playing the butterfly style, but the goalie prefers to stand upright and protect his nearest post until he is forced get low and protect the ice around his crease. The Russian goalie possesses great balance, flexibility, and mental composure, all elements that will allow him to be successful at an NHL level. Quick lateral movements and a very formidable glove hand allow Vasilevski to stay cool while manning his position as he can smoothly switch from the butterfly style to the upright position. One of the knocks against Vasilevski has been his stick handling, but it's safe to say that nobody is expecting the netminder to match the stick-handling abilities of goalies such as Martin Brodeur. At 6'3″, Vasilevski is a big and lengthy body to shoot at and he has the types of skills that will make him a hot commodity when the 2012 NHL Entry Draft rolls around.
Andrey Vasilevskiy - NHL - DraftSite.com
Big, long-limbed athletic goalie who is at his best when there is lots of bodies near him. Covers much of the net and challenges the shooters well. He bends over quite a lot and doesn't handle the puck terribly well, but shows good lateral quickness in post movement.
Andrei Vasilevski--Dobber Hockey
March, 2012 - Andrei Vasilevski has the potential to be something truly special. The 17-year-old has tremendously quick legs and impressive flexibility which allow him to make the most difficult saves appear routine. Technically, his game is quite refined and he always squares up to opposing shooters.
2012 NHL Draft Preview - European players - Eurohockey.com
...there is no denying that he is the best European goaltender in the draft. He relies on his very technical style in order to make stops, and his positioning and net coverage are incredible. There are still some flaws in his game, but he certainly has the potential to become an NHL starting goalie in the future.
Perhaps most important, however, is what the team is saying about him:
Bolts see bright future for first-round pick G Vasilevski | TBO.com
Vasilevski, who turns 18 this month, might surpass both [Lindback and Helenius]. Given enough time to develop, he eventually could be the long-term answer in goal. "He looks like a real goalie,'' said Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, who saw Vasilevski play at the World Junior Championships. "I got the chance to watch him live and I like him. Obviously, we have a need at the position, but we are excited. We feel he has tremendous potential.''
As of right now, this doesn't really affect Dustin Tokarski and Jaroslav Janus as immediately as the signings of Anders Lindback and Riku Helenius do. It appears that either one of these two goalies will need to be let go or loaned to another club or sent to the ECHL. One can only imagine that Janus, as the guy with the least experience, would be the one to go. On the positive side for him would be the opportunity to play more than he can now. On the negative side, if such a move were to take place, it can only be a sign that there is little room for him in the system right now.
All of this movement on the goaltender front does change the complexion of the club's depth at this position. And it raises a number of questions about how the team sees the future of all of these young goaltenders. With these new additions, the talent level among the franchise's netminders has increased, but their development path is much less clear. This is a concern for me, as haphazard development is far from ideal and the Lightning have never developed an NHL goalie in their twenty years.