Bolt Prospect of the Week: March 24, 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 Bolt Prospect of the Week for March 24, 2014 is … Andrey Vasilevskiy, G, Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL – Russia).

If playoff experience is instrumental in a prospect’s development, Andrey Vasilevskiy is being subject to a symphony.

Ufa’s teenage goaltender has been in net for all of the club’s playoff games so far, including a pressure-packed Game 7 against Novgorod last Tuesday. Down 2-0 in the series, he turned in a triple-overtime gem in Game 3, and allowed just two goals in each of Games 4 and 5 before a Game 6 loss.

His team was outplayed in Game 7, being outshot 35-21, but Vasilevskiy turned aside all but one shot en route to a 2-1 win. Ufa had a 2-0 lead in the game and survived with Vasilevskiy under siege in the third period.

The win propelled Vasilevskiy and fourth-seeded Ufa to the conference semifinals against second-seeded Astana. Vasilevskiy kept up his strong play in Game 1, winning 3-2 in overtime. The Lightning’s No. 20 overall pick from 2012 stopped 35 of 37 shots in the game. Astana got revenge in Game 2, winning 5-2, before Ufa won Game 3, 5-2 (Vasilevskiy 15/17).

Vasilevskiy’s heroics throughout the playoffs – and especially Game 7 – earned him our Bolt Prospect of the Week award.

For the playoffs, the 6-3 ‘tender is 5-4 with a 2.27 GAA and .923 save percentage. He finished the regular season 14-8-5, with a 2.21 GAA and .923 save percentage. Vasilevskiy has never had a goals against average over 2.27 for any team he’s ever backstopped for more than seven games. Similarly, he’s never had a save percentage under .923.

Vasilevskiy projects as a franchise goaltender at the NHL level as he has the size, athleticism, and mental approach to dominate at the professional level. Goalies are the hardest to project, so whether or not he reaches his ceiling is a gamble, but one the Lightning will gladly take.

The emergence of Ben Bishop means the Bolts can take their time with Vasilevskiy, and all signs point to the Russian playing next season in Syracuse of the AHL. He’s at least one more full year away from NHL split-time duty. How soon he can be Tampa Bay’s No. 1 depends on Bishop’s contract status after next year and which prospect – Gudlevskis or Vasilevskiy – emerges as the first NHL option.

And to think it wasn’t too long ago when the goaltender cupboard was bare (and we haven’t even mentioned Hobey Baker finalist Adam Wilcox).

Honorable Mention: Jonathan Drouin, C (Halifax, QMJHL); Luke Witkowski, D (Syracuse, AHL).

2013-2014 Prospect of the Week winners:

March 17: Jonathan Drouin, C, (Halifax Mooseheads, NCAA).
March 10: Jonathan Drouin, C, (Halifax Mooseheads, NCAA).
March 3: Matt Peca, C, (Quinnipiac Bobcats, NCAA).
February 25: Kristers Gudlevskis, G, (Team Latvia, IIHF).
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 Ufa, KHL, Russia).
September 24: Adam Erne, W, Tampa Bay (NHL) and Quebec (QMJHL)