First things first - yes, I voted for Andrei Vasilevskiy as the number one player in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization under the age of 25, ahead of Nikita Kucherov. Maybe, it was a bit of a hot take - but maybe, just maybe I’ll be able to build an argument that he might be more important to the future of the Bolts than a guy who was in the Hart Trophy conversation last season.
When I put together my list, I had slots one and two open with the names Vasilevskiy and Kucherov staring me in the face. I went with the goalie over the winger after asking myself, which would hurt the team more if he missed significant time due to injury. With all things being equal, and a full roster at their disposal, I believe that the drop-off from Vasy to Budaj would be far harder to overcome than trying to fill the hole if Kucherov were out of the lineup.
That might seem like a bit of a stretch for a player who is entering his first season as an undisputed starting goaltender for the first time in his NHL career, but Vasilevskiy has the kind of talent and demeanour to embrace the role. He is a prime candidate to break out this season and it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibilities that we see him as a finalist for the Vezina next June.
After being the first goalie selected in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft - 19th overall - Vasilevskiy is likely to see his biggest workload in a long time. After taking over for Ben Bishop last season, the 23-year old spent 50 games in the crease for the Bolts - add to that another nine games at the World Championship and you’re looking at a significantly increased workload from the 36 games he had combined between Syracuse and Tampa in the 2015-16 season. In order for the Bolts to bounce back this season, you’d expect Vasilevskiy’s games to increase yet again. In a perfect world, the starter will see somewhere in the neighborhood of 62 regular season games, with veteran backup Peter Budaj getting the crease for the other 20 before a potential playoff run.
Looking at last season as a jumping off point for Vasilevskiy’s NHL career, we saw a goalie that had a lot of ups and downs but finished the season on a very high note (here is a great breakdown by Saima, of the first half of his 2016-17 season).
Using even strength play as an indicator of performance, Vasilevskiy was right around the league average of .922 sv% last season - but that includes a very rough December (.892 sv% in all situations) and January (.896) that saw coach Jon Cooper make a number of odd decisions that seemed to throw both Lightning goalies out of their normal rhythm. Those are phenomenal clues that he’s still on an upward trend and he has a very solid foundation to build on.
So why do I have so much faith in the young Russian goaltender?
When you look at Vasilevskiy’s 2016-17 numbers as a whole, they look ok but nothing to write home about. When you look a little deeper, you see a guy who took off and established himself as one of the league’s best once he was given a role to succeed in. From the time Ben Bishop was traded until the end of the season, Vasilevskiy had a .926 sv% - a number that aggregated over a full season would have put him behind Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky and ahead of Brayden Holtby as third among NHL starters.
"Physically I'm fine," Vasilevskiy said. "I'm still young, I can play many games in a row. But it's all about mentally right now. It's all in my head. I have to be better in my head and just handle my thoughts during the game."
Once he had established the role of starting goalie at the end of February, Vasilevskiy clearly became a lot more comfortable. He knew where he stood and didn’t have to worry about Coach Cooper throwing Bishop into games that he expected to be starting. Ask any goaltender - whether it be beer league or the NHL - they are creatures of habit, being able to settle into a routine is huge, and something the undisputed starter should be able to do this September. Looking at his monthly splits from a year ago, you can see a lot of inconsistency, it’s very safe to assume a lot of that will go away now that he is established in his role.
Ok, maybe being a goalie myself helped me break my own mental tie between Kucherov and Vasilevskiy, maybe Bolts fans see the superstar forward as the more valuable piece to the future of the franchise, and maybe it’s just silly for me to put so much stock into a guy that plays a position that everyone knows is voodoo. The fact that a goalie as young, talented and valuable as Vasilevskiy isn’t #1 on this T25U25 list is nothing but incredible for the Tampa Bay Lightning and their fans.
He is the future of the franchise between the pipes and having Andrei Vasilevskiy in a Bolts uniform means there shouldn’t be any questions about the team’s starting goaltender for the next decade.
Andrei Vasilevskiy Career Statistics
|2009-2010||Salavat Yulaev Ufa U16||Russia U16||26||-||-|
|Salavat Yulaev Ufa U16||Russia U16 Finals||5||-||-|
|Russia U16 (all)||International-Jr||3||-||-|
|2010-2011||Salavat Yulaev Ufa U17||Russia U17||16||-||-|
|Salavat Yulaev Ufa U17||Russia U17 Finals||5||-||-|
|Russia U18||Hlinka Memorial||4||3.14||0.906|
|Russia U18 |WJAC-19|||WJAC-19||3||3.29||0.926|
|2012-2013||Salavat Yulaev Ufa||KHL||8||2.22||0.924|
|Russian Selects U20||Jr Super Series||3||3.01||0.904|
|Russia U20||CAN-RUS Challenge||2||3.42||-|
|2013-2014||Salavat Yulaev Ufa||KHL||28||2.21||0.923|
|2014-2015||Tampa Bay Lightning||NHL||16||2.36||0.918|
|2015-2016||Tampa Bay Lightning||NHL||24||2.76||0.91|
|2016-2017||Tampa Bay Lightning||NHL||50||2.61||0.917|
|2017-2018||Tampa Bay Lightning||NHL||-||-||-|