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Top 25 Under 25: #17 Kristers Gudlevskis

The Latvian goaltender (and previously unknown 5th round draft pick) burst onto the scene in 2013-14, playing games in the ECHL, AHL, NHL, and Sochi Winter Olympics during his first year in North America.

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Who is Kristers Gudlevskis?

That was the question on everyone's lips when the Tampa Bay Lightning came out of nowhere with a 5th round pick in 2013, after sitting idle for nearly 100 selections, to pick the overage Latvian goaltender nobody had heard of.

After a year in the Lightning organization -- and quite a few other places -- Gudlevskis' is a name many can now spell without looking it up.

Here's how the panel ranked him:

Kyle Alexander John Fontana Clare Austin Mike Gallimore Clark Brooks
16 15 16 17 17

Consensus around the mid-teens for Gudlevskis, who was a near miss a season ago after barely sneaking onto a few ranker's lists. The reality then was, nobody (save for perhaps the Tampa Bay Lightning, and maybe Ted Nolan) in North America had properly scouted Kristers Gudlevskis. He was a total unknown -- I didn't know that I had already seen him play (at the 2013 IIHF World Championships, where he impressed with Team Latvia) at the time he was drafted with a 5th round pick (124th overall).

After coming over to North America, his adventure through cities and hockey leagues was a fun one, mapped out in this terrific infographic (used with permission, infographic created by TampaBayLightning.com):

Gudlevskis

He's the first player ever to appear in the ECHL, AHL, NHL, and Olympics in the same season, and along the way, sported at least 11 different sweaters bearing his name: ECHL Florida home, away, and blackoutAHL Syracuse home, away, and alternate home/away; NHL home/away; and Latvia home/away.

His year in Syracuse was what you might expect for someone with so much raw talent and athleticism but so little in he way of professional experience and consistent coaching. Put frankly, Gudlevskis was the picture of an inconsistent goaltender, sometimes brilliant, sometimes ... well, not. But always battling. Always capable.

Then came the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and though Kristers Gudlevskis was a name already well-known among Tampa Bay Lightning die-hards, it was a fateful game against Canada that saw him catapult to worldwide renown. People Googled him. They Youtubed him. He trended on Twitter.

No, one herculean performance against the best hockey team on planet Earth wasn't enough to propel him into the NHL. But it did show the world what Lightning goalie coach Frantz Jean calls his "best stuff". And Kristers Gudlevskis' "best stuff" is good enough to hang around with the best hockey players in the world. Nobody can dispute that.

The question, then, becomes about flattening out his range of potential outcomes -- extend his peaks, minimize his valleys.

Staff writer Clare Austin had some thoughts on that and about Gudlevskis moving forward:

Gudlevskis made good progress this past season in Syracuse, but still struggles with consistency issues. While he has games where everything goes as planned, he also has games where he looks like a young goalie trying to keep up. On July 5, Lightning goalie coach Frantz Jean summed it up very well:

[Frantz Jean:] "For him now it's about consistency, it's about bringing the same game every day, being able to give the team a real good chance to win and close games even when he doesn't have his best stuff. We know he's one of the best goalies when he's got his stuff. Now it's when you don't have your best stuff. How can you manage the game so that you end up with the 'W'?"

Playing time will be crucial for Gudlevskis as he tries to learn to manage the trademark energy & focus he brings to the net.