Bolt Prospect of the Week: February 25, 2014

We continue our Bolt Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for their recent contributions on and off the ice.

The Prospect of the Week for February 25, 2014 is … Kristers Gudlevskis, G, Team Latvia (IIHF).

Kristers Gudlevskis cemented his place as our Bolt Prospect of the Week about halfway through the second period of Latvia’s Olympic quarterfinal game against the eventual Gold medalist, Canada.

When a goalie is “on,” he is said to be “standing on his head.” Gudlevskis was running a marathon on his head while juggling rusty chainsaws. His 55-save performance in a 2-1 loss was the talk of the latter half of the Olympics and the Lightning’s 2013 fifth round pick provided Canada its biggest scare of the medal round. Canadiens’ All-Star goalie Carey Price, who opposed Gudlevskis in net for Team Canada, called Gudlevskis’ performance the best he’d ever seen.

Compliments don’t come better than that.

A first-year pro, Gudlevskis has played in the ECHL (Florida), AHL (Syracuse), Olympics, and been called up to the NHL this season (per TSN’s Bob McKenzie, he was a late Ben Bishop decision away from starting against Detroit). He’s currently with the Lightning as Bishop’s backup with Anders Lindback is still nursing an injury.

While many Lightning fans wanted to put Gudlevskis in a full-time NHL spot after he scared Canada, he’s simply not ready. He did pass Cedrick Desjardins on the depth chart, however. Desjardins remains with Syracuse as the organization’s current No. 4 goalie.

The Lightning signed Gudlevskis last summer after the draft, inking him to a standard 3-year contract. It’s probably a good thing, because his former club, the KHL’s Dinamo Riga, would be sending stainless steel suitcases of money delivered by supermodels to get him to come home if he had an expiring contract.

As it stands now, Gudlevskis will back-up Bishop and may get a start if needed before Lindback returns. He’ll then get re-assigned to Syracuse to play out the Crunch’s string before their season ends. With Desjardins an unrestricted free agent, it makes sense for Syracuse to play Gudlevskis as much as possible in preparation for next season when Gudlevskis projects as Syracuse’s starter or split-tandem goalie with Andrey Vasilevskiy. If the Lightning hold onto their playoff spot, Gudlevskis gets to be the Lightning’s No. 3 for the NHL post-season. If the Lightning fail to make the playoffs, Gudlevskis likely goes back to the World Championships for Latvia where he caught the Lightning’s eye in 2013.

That began a year Gudlevskis won’t soon forget.

Gudlevskis projects as at least an NHL back-up, but has the athleticism, size, and mental intangibles to be an impact starter someday… when he’s ready. Stay patient.

Honorable Mention: Jonathan Drouin, C, Halifax (QMJHL)

2013-2014 Prospect of the Week winners:

February 17: Brian Hart, W, (Harvard Crimson, NCAA, USA).
February 10: Matt Peca, C, (Quinnipiac Bobcats, NCAA, USA).
February 3: Adam Wilcox, G, (Minnesota Golden Gophers, NCAA, USA).
January 27: Dylan Blujus, D, (North Bay Battalion, OHL, Canada).
January 20: Mark Barberio, D, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
January 13: Kristers Gudlevskis, G, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
January 6: Ondrej Palat, LW, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
December 17: Tyler Johnson, C, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
December 10: Ondrej Palat, W, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
December 3: Cedric Paquette, C, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
November 26: Tyler Johnson, C, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
November 19: Jonathan Drouin, C/W, (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL, Canada).
November 13: Jonathan Drouin, C/W, (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL, Canada).
November 4: Nikita Kucherov, W, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
October 29: Kristers Gudlevskis, G, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
October 24: Henri Ikonen, W, (Kingston Frontenacs, OHL, Canada).
October 16: Nikita Kucherov, W, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
October 9: Henri Ikonen, W, (Kingston Frontenacs, OHL, Canada).
October 1: Andrey Vasilevskiy, G, (Salavat Yulaev, KHL, Russia).
September 24: Adam Erne, W, Tampa Bay (NHL) and Quebec (QMJHL)