Latvian Jesus. Well, his real name is Kristers Gudlevskis and he’s one of those mystical creatures known by the name ‘Goaltender’ or ‘Goalie.’ These magical, mystical creatures are strange and weird and they’re really only understood by their own kind. If you’ve never played goalie in hockey, you probably have no idea what goes on in their heads. And anyone that has ever watched Gudlevskis get ready to play in net, you surely know how crazy he is.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t think about them, wonder about them, attempt to understand them in some small way. And so I ask… what does the future hold for Gudlevskis?
Perhaps before we look to the future, let’s look at his past. Gudlevskis was drafted in the fifth round in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. He was an overage prospect that was playing for Dynamo Riga of the KHL. The Lightning’s European scouts caught wind of him and took a look. What they saw was a goalie that had raw skills, but was gifted athletically. The team took a chance on him and he made his way to the United States.
After training camp, he was assigned to the Florida Everblades of the ECHL. After having a hot start, he moved up to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL and in the process created something of a goalie controversy with Riku Helenius. Helenius eventually moved back to Finland and Gudlevskis settled into a tandem in the Syracuse.
His name was called when the Latvian Olympic team named their men’s hockey roster for Sochi. He made his way there and had ups and downs in his starts. That included a phenomenal start against Team Canada where he nearly stole the game for Latvia. Team Canada would go on to win the Gold Medal. His performance against Team Canada was a highlight reel show and put his name on the map.
Towards the end of the NHL season, with Ben Bishop out with a dislocated elbow, Gudlevskis was called upon to back up Anders Lindback and made his NHL debut. He also appeared in a couple playoff games as the Lightning were swept by the Montreal Canadiens. He finished his season by playing for Latvia in the World Championships. He became the first player to play in the ECHL, AHL, NHL, Olympics, and World Championships all in one season.
Since then, Gudlevskis has had declining performances in the AHL year over year. He’s had a couple cup of coffees in the NHL and has performed well in a small sample size. However, in Syracuse, his play has been marked by almost maddening inconsistency. He has the ability to go on amazing runs of play where he can carry a team on a long winning streak. Then he’ll turn around and give you awful play for a long losing streak. His mental game his the biggest thing holding him back from being a starting goaltender in the NHL.
And that gets us to the present and looking ahead into the future.
With Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy apparently set to be the goalie tandem in Tampa this season, Gudlevskis will start in Syracuse again. He is going to need to show the team that he can put together a consistent game over the long term and limit his ups and downs. Even if his highs aren’t as high, it would be better if his lows didn’t go nearly as low as they have in the past several seasons.
For 2017-18, if he’s still with the organization, Gudlevskis will have a good opportunity to become the back up to Andrei Vasilevskiy. The 2016-17 season will be a barometer to if he will earn that spot or not. We know he can be good, but can he be good enough to be a good back up for Vasilevskiy. Or, will the team decide that he can’t be counted on and seek a veteran to be the NHL back up.
Only time will tell.