In spite of notable goaltending depth, the Tampa Bay Lightning will have at least one interesting invitee at training camp later this month: former Calgary Flames goaltender and first round pick Leland Irving, who will attend on a professional tryout contract (PTO).
Leland Irving is coming on a training camp invite with #tblightning, per rosters put up for physicals— Joe Smith (@TBTimes_JSmith) September 9, 2014
Irving is a career .907 SV% goaltender on nearly 5000 AHL shots, which is far from spectacular and might suggest why he never cracked the NHL on more than a part-time basis. He played 13 games in parts of two seasons with the Flames, who have cycled guys like Karri Ramo, Joey MacDonald, Reto Berra, and Joni Ortio between the pipes since letting Irving go.
He spent last year with Jokerit in the Finnish league, posting a solid .922 SV%, but Lightning fans in particular will be wary at an overage goaltender whose only good seasons have come in Finland.
Speaking of Riku Helenius, he's joined Jokerit in Finland who joined the KHL this season and he leads the very young KHL season in GAA and SV% -- ironic, given Irving played 55 games for Jokerit just a year ago.
While the PTO doesn't guarantee a spot in the organization moving forward, the invite still seems odd, with Tampa Bay's goaltending depth chart including Ben Bishop, Evgeni Nabokov, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Kristers Gudlevskis, and Allen York among guys expected to play in the professional ranks (plus Adam Wilcox in the NCAA). Perhaps prodigal executive Jay Feaster had some inside information on Irving that contributed to the invite?
Allen York was signed to an AHL contract in July, presumably to fill the 5th goaltender slot in the organization and serve as a buffer for the AHL in the event of an Andrei Vasilevskiy or Kristers Gudlevskis call-up to the NHL. It's hard to see Irving impressing enough to unseat anyone but York, who's likely slated for the ECHL, at least to start the season. The organization will certainly want both Gudlevskis and Vasilevskiy playing as many games as possible, and Ben Bishop and Evgeni Nabokov are your expected NHL tandem.
Irving would have to seriously impress at camp to turn this PTO into anything more with the Lightning, but it might still serve as a springboard to a job back in North America somewhere else. Camp is the place to sort this all out and a tryout contract is a no-risk, no-commitment option to see what Irving has to offer.