The time is now for goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis to put it all together.
The talented, 23-year old Latvian netminder has, since he was drafted in the 5th round in 2013, always drawn praise for his athleticism, size, and raw talent in net -- seemingly capable of stonewalling anyone on any given night.
Unfortunately, the ability to consistently do that -- to avoid the high highs and low lows and play a better overall game -- has so far eluded him as he enters the third year of his entry level contract.
Here's how the panel ranked Kristers Gudlevskis:
|Kyle Alexander||John Fontana||Mike Gallimore||GeoFitz4||Brett Frieman|
Previous Ranks: #17 (2014)
Perhaps it's fitting, in a season where Gudlevskis essentially seemed to stall in his development, that he has also stalled in our rankings, coming in at #17 for the second consecutive year.
He entered the 2014-15 season in seeming competition with wunderkind Andrei Vasilevskiy for playing time with the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL, and should have had the upper hand with some AHL experience already under his belt. Gudlevskis struggled more often than not, however, ending the season with just a .900 SV% in 34 games, admittedly behind an oftentimes-suspect Syracuse defense.
But Vasilesvskiy adjusted quickly behind that same defense group and posted a .917 in his 27 games, earning his call-up to the NHL. Vasya never looked back after the Lightning parted ways with ineffective veteran Evgeni Nabokov, leaving Gudlevskis to remain at #3 on the organizational depth chart, which is where he presumptively begins the 2014-15 season.
Now, with newcomer to the AHL Adam Wilcox nipping at his heels, Gudlevskis enters another AHL season as one half of a talented tandem. He'll, once again, have to show that his game has improved enough to earn the majority of the starts over Wilcox lest he be leapfrogged on the depth chart once again. The frustrating thing is occasionally watching Gudlevskis and seeing him putting it all together -- the guy who did this to Team Canada at Sochi is still in there somewhere but he does not show up often enough at all.
As Bolt Prospects notes from their Supplemental Rankings this summer, where Gudlevskis fell to #13:
Heading into his pivotal third year, it'll likely be put up or shut up time for Gudlevskis in Syracuse next year.
It's not a cliche. This is a put up or shut up year for Gudlevskis; it's tough to imagine the Lightning offering him another contract if he can't at least show some tangible improvement at the AHL level in 2014-15. It's up to him -- and Syracuse goaltending coach David Alexander -- to figure out a way to bring out the best in Gudlevskis and do so on a more regular basis or this might be his last season in the Lightning organization.