BRANDON - In a flash, Andrey Vasilevskiy, sprawled face down on the ice, raised the back of his left leg, preventing a puck from entering what briefly appeared to be a wide-open net. The play happened during Tuesday's 3-on-3 tournament as part of the Lightning's summer prospect camp and provided a glimpse of why Tampa Bay selected the talented 6-foot-3 goaltender with the 19th overall pick in the 2012 draft. And why the future in goal for the franchise looks so bright. "When you look at the combination of the size that he has with the agility and quickness that he has, and with the mental makeup he has, I think it just gets you pretty excited,'' Lightning director of amateur scouting Al Murray said. Many top scouting services and websites that follow prospect development consider Vasilevskiy the top goaltending prospect not currently in the NHL. But it could be a couple of more years before the talented Russian goaltender makes his mark on the franchise.
Vasilevskiy has one more year remaining on a contract with Ufa in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League, and despite his willingness to come over and play in North America, all signs point to the 18-year-old remaining in Russia this season. The only way out of the deal would be if the contract was bought out by Mississauga, which holds his junior rights after selecting Vasilevskiy in the 2012 CHL Import Draft. "I'm under the impression that he is going to be back playing in Ufa this year,'' Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. When Vasilevskiy was drafted, he made his wishes to play in North American known and hoped to find a way out of his contract back home. Though it appears that is not going to happen, he continues to show that his desire to come across the ocean has not waned, as he has been working out this summer in Ottawa and also has been taking English lessons, though he still requires an interpreter to conduct interviews with the media. "I still want to move here, pretty bad, 100 percent,'' Vasilevskiy said with defenseman Artem Sergeev providing the translation. "The hockey is better here than it is the KHL, so I want to be here and do more. I love everything back in Russia, I love the city, I love the fans and I will enjoy it there, but I want to play here.'' The question will be whether Vasilevskiy's development will remain on the right track back home. He played most of last season with Ufa's junior team, posting a 1.93 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage in 27 games. His play earned him some time with the KHL team, and he appeared in eight games with a 4-1 record, 2.22 GAA and .924 save percentage. The hope is that Vasilevskiy will earn a regular spot with the big team and get more than just spot starts, which would be the next step in his progression. "If he's playing regular at the (KHL) level there is no problem with his development,'' Murray said. Tampa Bay's European scouts kept a close eye on Vasilevskiy last season, and nothing they have seen - including Vasilevskiy's strong play at the World Junior Championships, with a .950 save percentage and 1.81 GAA - has altered the team's thinking about the impact the goaltender will have on the Lightning in the near future. "He has to continue to prove he can do all those things as he moves from level to level,'' Murray said. "With a small window of opportunity in the KHL, he did a pretty good job, and now he needs to hopefully grab a regular spot at that level. Then he'll move on to pro hockey next year after his (Ufa) contract is expired, then likely in the American Hockey League he'll have to make the same kind of adjustments and be mentally strong enough to play an increased schedule with different kinds of travel against older guys and better shooters. "It's always just one step at a time and keep getting a little better doing everything you do and keep proving you can do it at a higher level.'' 3-on-3 Tournament The first day of the 3-on-3 tournament kicked off with Cedric Paquette leading all scorers with 13 points, five more than any other player. Paquette also led all players with nine assists and tied for the lead with four goals, along with Team Hedman teammate Nikita Nesterov. First-round pick Jonathan Drouin had a goal and two assists for Team Brewer. The tournament continues today at 10:30 a.m. at the Ice Sports Forum with more round-robin games. The playoffs of the tournament will be streamed live on the tampabaylightning.com website beginning with the quarterfinals at approximately 11:15 a.m., with radio voice Dave Mishkin providing the play-by-play.