Kristers Gudlevskis highlights glut of good goalies in Tampa Bay’s system

Kristers Gudlevskis made a name for himself on the world stage in Sochi and he’s one of several great young goalies emerging in Tampa Bay’s system.

Kristers Gudlevskis stopped a jaw-dropping 55 Canadian shots in Latvia’s 2-1 defeat in the Olympic quarterfinal. His counterpart, Carey Price, called the effort “one of the best goaltending performances I’ve ever seen.”

Not bad for a guy who started 2013-14 as a Florida Everblade. It sure seems like Gudlevskis came out of nowhere, but a closer look at his development suggests we’ll hear his name in the NHL one day – and that the Tampa Bay Lightning will have some tough decisions to make.

The Bolts took Gudlevskis, then 20 years old, 124th overall in last June’s draft. The 6-foot-4 netminder impressed in camp and started his pro career with Florida of the ECHL. A 1.83 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in 11 appearances were enough to earn him a promotion to Syracuse of the American League.

To realize he’s just 21 today makes his folk-hero showing against Canada all-the-more impressive. At 21, he’s quite young for a goalie. Including two appearances with Dinamo Riga of the Kontinental League and his 22 AHL games, he already has 35 pro games scribbled onto his resume, not to mention “Team Canada onslaught.” It’s not insane to think a relative unknown, picked in the mid to late rounds of the draft, emerging from the ECHL, could make a big splash one day (read: Quick, Jonathan; Thomas, Tim).

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Our annual Future Watch edition comes out in a few weeks, with each NHL organization ranking its top 10 prospects, and (spoiler alert) Gudlevskis was tentatively slated to crack Tampa’s list – before he played in the Olympics. That’s where things get really interesting for Tampa Bay. Ahead of Gudlevskis is an even higher-regarded prospect. Andrey Vasilevskiy of Russia. And topping the entire depth chart is Ben Bishop, a man who may well take home the 2013-14 Vezina Trophy and is just 27.

Zoom out and we see GM Steve Yzerman has drafted Vasilevskiy and Gudlevskis and traded for Bishop during his tenure. It’s a notable boost for a team that turned to a 42-year-old Dwayne Roloson for playoff help just three years ago.

Breathe easy, Lightning fans. You’re set in net for years to come.

Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the Post-To-Post blogFor more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazineFollow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin