Kristers Gudlevskis’ claim to fame has been his performance in the 2014 Winter Olympics. Can he be more than a one-hit wonder?While the masses were bickering about John Tavares’ future and Belmont Park, the Islanders signed Kristers Gudlevskis to a one-year, two-way deal on Tuesday.
Gudlevskis, 24, was drafted in the fifth round (124th overall) of the 2013 Draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning. He made his AHL debut that same year, recording a shutout (incidentally) against the Islanders’ affiliate, the Sound Tigers.
With the Syracuse Crunch in 2013, he posted a 2.68 goals-against average over a span of 34 games. He earned notoriety as the first netminder in the history of the sport to play in the ECHL, AHL, NHL and Olympics in the same season.
He also holds the distinction of being only the second Latvian goalie to be selected in an NHL Draft, after Artūrs Irbe. Born in Aizkraukle, Latvia, he has competed for his home country in both the IIHF World Championship and Winter Olympics.
It was at the 2014 Sochi Olympics where Gudlevskis made his mark. As the backup goalie for the lowest ranked team in the tournament, he saw action in the second round against the reigning champions, Team Canada.
In what turned out to be one of the better performances in tourney history, Gudlevskis stopped 55 out of the 57 shots he faced, and the Latvians almost pulled off a historic upset. He received wide acclaim in the media. (This was the game when the Isles lost John Tavares to injury.)
After bouncing around from the AHL to the NHL these last two seasons, Gudlevskis finally has the change in scenery the media has clamored for. Wrote Brandon M. Curtis and Allokago of Raw Charge, Tampa Bay’s SB Nation blog, Gudlevskis seemed poised to be the backup goaltender of the future, but the club simply didn’t give him a fair chance:
“Gudlevskis has not been given a fair shake in the organization. Take last season for example: Gudlevskis assumed the role of a backup yo-yo, bouncing back and forth between Syracuse and Tampa to ensure that [Andrei] Vasilevskiy got to play. It was necessary to get a young goaltender in as many games as possible, but it was also unfair to expect Kristers to be able to maintain confidence and consistency in net while being used as a placeholder for someone else.”
Whether it was because of a lack of confidence or an unfortunate situation, Gudlevskis struggled at points last season. While he ended up posting a 2.83 GAA, he was giving up poor goals and failing to record victories. The Isles are hoping that he will improve in different circumstances.
So much so that they traded former second-round pick Carter Verhaeghe for him. While Verhaeghe hasn’t shown much by way of NHL promise, he’s still a mid-level prospect. Even more telling, the Isles have plenty of minor league goalie depth (Eamon McAdam, Christopher Gibson and Linus Söderstrom, to name a few).
They clearly believe in Gudlevskis enough to put him into the conversation for the Sound Tigers’ starting job. He’ll likely provide insurance to the team if/when Thomas Greiss or Jaroslav Hálak go down with injuries.
On Tuesday, the Islanders also confirmed the hiring of Kelly Buchberger to the coaching staff. During his playing career, his claim to fame was racking up 238 penalty minutes during the 1990-91 season. He has since served as a head coach and director of player personnel for the Oilers’ AHL affiliate.
“Kelly adds years and years of NHL coaching and management experience to our staff,” head coach Doug Weight said. “He is a tireless worker who commands respect behind the bench and in the locker room. I’m thrilled to welcome him to the organization.”