Goalie-go-round: Kristers Gudlevskis, Andrey Vasilevskiy need development time

One of the biggest topics of discussion these days in the Boltosphere is where prospect goaltenders Kristers Gudlevskis and Andrey Vasilevskiy will be playing next season. There seems to be a lot of speculation that either one of these guys could end up behind Ben Bishop on the Tampa Bay roster. Anders Lindback was terrible, the argument goes, so let's get a newer, younger, and less experienced version of Anders Lindback to solve that problem.

There are a number of obstacles to this cunning plan, however.

First, Vasilevksiy is still not under contract with the Lightning. His KHL contract ended yesterday (April 30) and there is one report that he has indeed chosen to sign with the Lightning and take a lower salary in hopes of making it to the NHL in the near future. As yet, this is unconfirmed, and without a contract, Vasya's not playing anywhere in the Lightning system.

[UPDATE: just some further information via Damian Cristodero of the Tampa Bay Times. In a way this is what we all knew was happening, but there's a somewhat more definitive tone here than previously statements.:]

Second, Vasilevskiy will be 20 years old during the 2014-15 season, with only one year of professional hockey experience. And I cannot stress this enough: outside of one rookie tournament, he has never played a single game on North American ice. Not against teenagers, not against AHL-level talent, and certainly not against NHL-level talent. It is a huge mistake to assume that because he's talented he will not need an adjustment period.

Even goalies who grow up in North America and who know only the North American game need development time. It is to the benefit of the franchise to let them have it. Goalies who skip development steps tend to falter and have short, uninspiring careers.

This is true of Gudlevskis as well. We simply cannot judge his readiness for the NHL based on three games, even when one of those was an Olympic near-miracle. Taken as a whole, his year in the AHL was pedestrian, but the 1900 minutes he played for Syracuse (.901/2.88) are much more indicative of his overall development level at the moment than the 100 minutes (.931/2.40) he's played in the NHL.

Most significant, however, is this franchise's general attitude toward development under Steve Yzerman. This club is committed to a process that allows prospects to grow into their NHL roles rather than hurry them into positions they aren't ready for. They did it with the #Tampacuse kids who made such an impact this season. They did it with Jonathan Drouin. They should do it with their goaltending prospects, as well. In fact, given how long it takes for goalies to develop, there ought to be a greater emphasis on AHL time for goalies than for other positions.

In September 2013, after looking closely at ten years of drafting and development for goalies in the NHL, I concluded the following about Vasilevskiy's future. It goes no less for Kristers Gudlevskis:

  • He'll play in both the KHL and the MHL at some point this season (season 2)
  • He'll play in the AHL next season and it is possible that he'll get a handful of NHL games in 2014-15. (season 3)
  • He'll continue to play in the AHL in 2015-16, but should be getting NHL games (season 4).
  • He'll play less than 20 games his first year in the NHL.
  • Hell get about 85 AHL games plus 50 NHL games before becoming an NHL starter.
  • He'll play in about two or three AHL seasons total before becoming an NHL starter and in most of those years he'll play NHL games as well.
  • He'll play two or three NHL seasons before becoming an NHL starter, which happens more than 5 years after his draft, or sometime in the 2016-17 or 2017-18 season. (season 5 or season 6).

Please remember, fans. When you are calling for either Vasilevski or Gudlevskis in the NHL right now because Lindback was terrible--Anders Lindback never got AHL development time. He went straight from the Swedish Hockey League to the NHL as Pekka Rinne's backup. With that time, any problems he has might have been detected and corrected as he matured. The road to Tampa Bay must lead through Syracuse. For everyone's sake.