Andrei Vasilevskiy Is Ready to Be the Tampa Bay Lightning Starting Goaltender

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TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 10: Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) in the second period of the NHL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning on December 08, 2016, at Amalie Arena in Tampa Florida. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)

After the blockbuster trade that sent Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Peter Budaj, backup netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy had a chance to prove he was ready for the starting spot.

Andrei Vasilevskiy Is Ready to Be the Tampa Bay Lightning Starting Goaltender

The king of Tampa has been named, and it’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. However, he may be the most criticized player on the roster. He started as the understudy to Bishop, who holds almost every single goaltending record in Lightning history. Following Bishop’ trade to Los Angeles, Vasilevskiy and Budaj rotated in and out to finish the 2016-17 season.

Vasilevskiy was drafted 19th overall in the 2012 NHL draft. Despite being second on the roster, the chance to step up became a reality when the Bolts wouldn’t have enough cap space to re-sign Bishop.

I already know this season it’s going to be more on me. It’s going to be more responsible for me,” Vasilevskiy said in a statement. “I’m ready.” 

He got a brief exposure to the starting role midseason, after Bishop was sidelined with a lower body injury, but the run didn’t go too well. Vasilevskiy was on the losing end of four straight results to finish the stretch.

Strong Finish to Season

From the point in time when Bishop was traded, to the moment when Vasilevskiy got the green light to start, he had a strong finish to the regular season. He went 12-4-2, tying for the most wins in the league over that final stretch and posting up a .930 save percentage and 2.27 goals-against average. Unfortunately, that stellar performance couldn’t get the Lightning into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

I’ve got to me more consistent this season. With more games, I’ve got to continue working hard and smart.” 

Following the Lightning’s season, Vasilevskiy helped lead Russia to the Bronze Medal match at the 2017 IIHF World Championships. In Cologne, he led the tournament in games (9), minutes (522), saves (218), and shutouts (3). He did all this while recording a 1.72 GAA and a .936 SV%.

Why Should Vasilevskiy Be the Starter?

This upcoming season will be the first full season for Andrei Vasilevskiy as the starter, which he so rightfully deserves.

He knows the team better than Budaj and the conference foes they will face. Yes, Budaj is a seasoned veteran, but when it comes down to it, Vasilevskiy will be the main go-to in order carry the Bolts back to the Stanley Cup playoffs. If the team believes, head coach Jon Cooper does too. Nothing against Budaj, but Vasilevskiy simply has more experience in Tampa.

It’s worth noting that, yes, this will be his first season as a full starter, but if Vasilevskiy can pick up where he left off last season, he could be on track to being one of the top goaltenders in the league next to Corey Crawford, Matt Murray, and Sergei Bobrovsky, just to name a few.

Is Vasilevskiy ready to be the starter full time? He certainly believes so. This season will put a lot of pressure on him as he tries fills the skates left behind by Ben Bishop. The 2017-18 year will determine whether or not Vasilevskiy, or Budaj, will be the full-term starting goaltender for the Bolts.

Why Is He Better Than Budaj?

Well, technically speaking, Andrei Vasilevskiy isn’t better than Peter Budaj. Budaj has been in the league longer than he has. The career totals speak for itself. However, Vasilevskiy is the best choice for the Lightning as he has more experience with the team and organization.

If Cooper wants to experiment to see who’s ready for the starter role, expect a rotation during the first few games of the regular season. This will give each netminder a stress test and will see who is up for the challenge.

Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images

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