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Lightning goalie Kristers Gudlevskis not ready for NHL yet

Kristers Gudlevskis' stupendous 55-save effort for Latvia on Wednesday in a 2-1 loss to Canada in the Olympic quarterfinals made him the talk of the hockey world.

What it did not do — despite the Twitter chatter — is make the Lightning prospect an NHL-ready goalie.

Gudlevskis, 21, is a great story. Drafted last summer without anyone really noticing with the 124th overall pick (fifth round), Gudlevskis went from ECHL Florida to AHL Syracuse to nearly pulling off one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history.

But to think that one game automatically opens a spot for him on Tampa Bay's roster — especially considering he has played just 33 games as a North American pro — is shortsighted.

As Lightning goaltenders coach Frantz Jean explained: "You hear me often talk about the process. It's not because it's a cliche. It's because it's a reality. There is a process for goaltenders. There's a number of games a guy has to play before getting to the NHL. There's a number of games a guy has to play before becoming a bona fide NHL goaltender, a guy who can stick.

"We have to keep with the process and make sure we're building him in the right direction."

Gudlevskis will begin the post-Olympic break with the Lightning, but that is just insurance in case backup Anders Lindback, rehabbing a sprained left ankle, isn't ready when games resume Thursday at Nashville.

Ultimately, though, Gudlevskis will return to Syracuse, and he likely will be there next season.

Gudlevskis is wildly competitive, fearless and has explosive athleticism that gets him quickly from point A to point B. But he has a lot to learn.

His stats for Syracuse are just okay: 11-8-2 in 22 games with a 2.69 goals-against average and .900 save percentage. In his past five games he is 1-3-0 with a 3.95 goals-against average and .838 save percentage.

He also needs to improve at stick-handling the puck.

Not that the game against Canada should be dismissed.

"(Wednesday) was probably a revelation for him to realize, 'I'm not that far away,' " Jean said. "Kind of getting that extra jump for the last stretch of the season (at Syracuse), knowing, 'I'm a difference-maker here.' "

Just not with the Lightning — not yet.

A BUST: Goalie Riku Helenius, the No. 15 overall pick of the 2006 draft, is on unconditional waivers in order to terminate his contract.

Helenius, 25, who has played just seven NHL minutes, is 2-5-0 with a 4.31 goals-against average and a .848 save percentage in nine games this season with Syracuse and Florida. Lightning assistant GM Julien BriseBois described efforts to trade Helenius as "aggressive."

Helenius is in the final year of a two-year deal that this season pays $650,000. Terminating it will save about $160,000.

PRACTICE: On Saturday the team wrapped up three days of workouts in Orlando. Practice resumes Monday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@tampabay.com.

Lightning goalie Kristers Gudlevskis not ready for NHL yet 02/22/14 [Last modified: Saturday, February 22, 2014 11:55pm]
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