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Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy aims for late October return

ESTERO — It sounds like whomever the Lightning picks to be the temporary backup goaltender might not be needed very long.

That's because Andrei Vasilevskiy, 21, is encouraged in his recovery from early-September vascular surgery, hoping to return to practice in a couple weeks and the NHL by the end of October.

"I'm feeling great," he said. "Almost ready to go."

Vasilevskiy was expected to miss 2-3 months after surgery to remove a blood clot from his left collarbone area Sept. 3. But Vasilevskiy has progressed into doing on-ice workouts with goalie coach Frantz Jean, simulating movements and facing controlled shots.

"I can do almost everything I want," Vasilevskiy said. "Every move."

The only thing holding Vasilevskiy back is the fact he's still on blood thinners, which restricts him from returning to practice, where he'd risk taking shots off the left shoulder area. Vasilevskiy has an appointment Oct. 21 with Dr. Karl Illig, who performed the surgery, and might be cleared then.

Vasilevskiy figures he'll need a couple games with AHL Syracuse for a conditioning assignment before returning to his expected role as Ben Bishop's backup.

"That's it," he said. "Season starts for me."

Vasilevskiy said he's had to take it easy on his left shoulder in off-ice workouts, but has had no issues, and needs no extra padding. And his previous followup appointment, in late September, went well.

"Doctor said, 'Everything looks good, we just need another extra four weeks to make sure everything is okay,' " Vasilevskiy said.

The Lightning only has one back-to-back in October, a day game Oct. 12 in Boston followed by a night game Oct. 13 in Detroit. Bishop is expected to carry a large load, as usual, and with 14 practice days/days off in the first 14 games, there might not be a huge need for a lot of games from the backup until Vasilevskiy is ready.

The two candidates — Kevin Poulin, claimed off waivers last week from the Islanders, and Kristers Gudlevskis — were at practice Monday. But with Poulin not put on waivers, it would appear he'd likely make the opening night roster, and Gudlevskis would go to Syracuse. The Lightning could also claim another player, such as former Tampa Bay prospect Dustin Tokarski, who was placed on waivers by Montreal on Monday.

Tampa Bay doesn't have to file its roster with the league until today at 5 p.m., so general manager Steve Yzerman said he doesn't plan to finalize it until then. But there were some clues, with forwards Jonathan Marchessault and Mike Angelidis put on waivers Monday, with hopes they both clear and end up in Syracuse.

With coach Jon Cooper indicating the team was leaning on carrying seven defensemen, that's where the remaining roster decisions come into play. Luke Witkowski was not put on waivers Monday, so it would appear he's going to make the team as the seventh or eighth defenseman.

Prospect Slater Koekkoek, while impressive in camp, is likely headed to Syracuse, the Lightning preferring he play 20-plus minutes in the AHL than sit in the press box in the NHL.

If Tampa Bay does keep just seven defensemen, Nikita Nesterov, who impressed as a rookie and often was a seventh defensemen in the playoffs, goes to Syracuse too as he doesn't have to clear waivers.

The Lightning, at the very least, is closer to full strength. Alex Killorn, who suffered an undisclosed injury Saturday, was back at practice, as was Nikita Kucherov (lower body), who was held out Saturday as a precaution. Center Cedric Paquette (left foot) participated in his first team practice since getting hurt Sept. 26 in Dallas, though he wasn't part of the line rushes.

The only player missing was All-Star center Tyler Johnson (undisclosed), who remains day-to-day and hopeful for Thursday's season opener.

Nuts And Bolts: Former Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier is expected to be a healthy scratch for the Flyers on Thursday in Tampa.

Contact Joe Smith at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy aims for late October return 10/05/15 [Last modified: Monday, October 5, 2015 10:42pm]
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