Since Steve Yzerman and Al Murray took over at the top for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2010, there have been two developmental areas that the Lightning have not done great on: defensemen and goaltenders. The defensemen is a rant for another day so we’ll focus on the goaltending today. Before we get to the current goaltenders on the farm, we should look at the other goaltenders and how they turned out.
The first goaltender that the Lightning drafted in the Yzerman-Murray Era was Adam Wilcox in the sixth round in 2011. He was an NCAA bound goaltender and put up good numbers over three seasons with the University of Minnesota before turning pro. He spent two years in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch and failed to put up a save percentage over .900. He found himself out of the system at the 2017 trade deadline and has bounced around the AHL since then with just one full season with a better than .900 SV%, which was a .903 in 2017-18.
The Lightning followed that up with drafting Andrei Vasilevskiy in the first round in 2012. I won’t spend too much time here as we should all be familiar with what Vasy has done. But in a quick recap, he’s been good. He’s won the Vezina trophy and was a finalist one other time. He’s easily one of, if not the best, goaltenders to ever wear a Lightning uniform. He is certainly a goaltender success story for the Lightning’s development staff.
Kristers Gudlevskis followed up Vasilevskiy in the fifth round in 2013. He famously appeared in the ECHL, AHL, NHL, Olympics, and World Championships all in one season and is the only player to ever have done so. He played three games in the NHL, but inconsistencies in the AHL led to him being shipped out to the New York Islanders for Carter Verhaeghe and he has since returned to Latvia to play in the KHL and was released from his contract by Dinamo Riga early last month. He is currently not signed.
Connor Ingram was selected in the third round in 2016. He was viewed as being a potential NHL back-up as an overage draft pick. He spent another season in the WHL before turning pro. He spent two professional seasons with the Lightning and then had a messy falling out with the organization that led to him being traded to the Nashville Predators over the summer.
So at this point, you can look at this list and see three development failures and one success. The counter argument to that discussion is that Gudlevskis and Wilcox were later round selections going in the 5th and 6th rounds so they were already long shots. Ingram was taken in the 3rd round, but his failure as a prospect can be put down to reasons that aren’t purely about skill development.
On The Farm
Oldham was a 6th round selection by the Lightning in 2015 out of the USHL. He spent another season in the USHL and then went to play NCAA hockey with the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He was stuck behind a clear starter that was only a year ahead of him. He sat out the 2018-19 season after only playing 16 games combined in his first two seasons and has moved to Clarkson University. He has yet to play a game this season and will have one year remaining on his eligibility.
At this point, it’s hard to view Oldham as being much of a prospect. He hasn’t been able to break into a starters role at the NCAA level. He’ll likely be 24 years old by the time he finishes college hockey. If he can somehow win the starters role as a senior and put up some good numbers, he could earn himself a contract. At the moment though, he’s unlikely to be more than an ECHL or even SPHL goalie or headed to a lower league in Europe to find playing time.
Chrona is a Swedish goaltender the Lightning used a 5th round draft pick on in 2018. He was so unknown that the Lightning had to check with the NHL before making the draft pick to verify he was on the eligible players list. He made the move up to the SuperElit league in Sweden last year which is the top U20 Junior league in Sweden. Skelleftea AIK however was not a great team and both goaltenders struggled. Chrona put up just an .889 SV%, but their other goalie had an .868 SV%.
This year has been a big turnaround for the Swede though as he came over to play NCAA hockey for the University of Denver. He started the year really hot and has posted a .917 SV%. I was a little concerned with his development after last season, but seeing him put up good numbers in NCAA has encouraged me to think more highly of his potential.
As a piece of trivia, Chrona is the first Swedish player drafted by the Lightning in the Murray Era and the first for the organization as a whole since Victor Hedman was taken 2nd overall in 2009.
Taken in the 7th round after Chrona, Taylor is a Canadian goaltender who posted a .931 SV% in the BCHL in his draft season. He began his NCAA career last season with the University of New Hampshire as the back-up. He posted an .855 SV% in eight games. So far this season, he has played just two games with an .872 SV%. Taylor will need to improve his game further to make it to the pros and earn an entry level contract. He’ll have two more years of eligibilty to make that progression.
Dipping back into the Swedish goaltending well, the Lightning took Alnefelt in the third round this summer. Alnefelt is a young member of his draft class having turned 18 just a few weeks before the NHL Entry Draft. He posted a .905 SV% in the SuperElit league in 2018-19. He also had a strong U18 WJC tournament posting a .921 SV% in five games to win the Gold Medal. He also posted a .922 SV% in three games at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup to win a Silver Medal.
Alnefelt has had an interesting start to the 2019-20 season. He’s posted a .925 SV% for HV71 in the SHL in six games. But in three games in SuperElit, he has just an .895 SV%. HV71 is currently 6th in the SHL standings and third in their division in SuperElit. It’s interesting that he’s had a wide gulf between his performance in both leagues. It could be that he’s playing better on a team that’s playing with more structure in front of him in the SHL? Any which way, he’s looking good and is in consideration for Team Sweden for the U20 World Junior Championships.
Where are we?
I can’t say that the farm has never looked better for goaltending, but I think it’s pretty close. At least not since the team had Vasilevskiy still as a prospect and Gudlevskis and Wilcox both looking like they could make a mark in the NHL at least as a back-up. Oldham and Taylor are still very long shots to make the NHL. Chrona and Alnefelt though feel like they have more of a chance of making it to the show. The Lightning could also set themselves up for Alnefelt to come over in 2021 and have a year or two of development in Syracuse before Chrona turns professional. If both were in Syracuse at the same time, it could turn into a pretty strong one-two punch in net for the Crunch.