logo

It was going to take some player for Tampa Bay Lighting fans to forget about veteran goalie Evgeni Nabokov but rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy has gone some way to making himself an instant hit with those supporters after an impressive start to life in the NHL. The Lighting took the seemingly risky decision to waive Nabokov in order to promote Vasilevskiy in February, handing the youngster the task of providing back-up and competition for starter Ben Bishop at a time of the season when the franchise are preparing for a real charge for honours.

Tampa Bay recalled Vasilevskiy from the AHL in December. They threw the Russian right into the action against the Philadelphia Flyers. Since his debut, the 20-year-old has established himself as one of the best young goalies in the league, producing some eye-catching performances and handing Jon Cooper a massive boost ahead of the playoffs. But not many Lighting fans are able to say they were always confident the Tampa Bay management had done the right thing when they allowed 'Nabby' to leave at the start of February.

With almost 700 NHL appearances to his name, Nabokov boasted an incredible amount of experience and his leadership and calming influence made him a crucial part of the team during his brief stay in Tampa Bay. But the decision to let the 39-year-old leave looks to have been a very smart piece of business for the Lighting, with Vasilevskiy taking his chance and proving he is more than capable of stepping onto the ice when called upon. In the 5-3 victory over the Dallas Stars, Vasilevskiy was responsible for 33 saves in a performance that showed that the Lighting are well stocked for goalies heading into a crucial part of the season. 

For everything Nabokov brought to the Lighting during his time in Tampa Bay, the veteran's displays this season indicated that the goalie might not be the same player he was during his San Jose Sharks days, going 3-6-2 with a below-par 3.15 goals-against average in 11 appearances for the Lighting this season. With one eye on a gruelling few months, including plenty of time on the road, Tampa Bay made the call to go with the younger option and the management will be feeling pretty good about themselves. In his first five appearances for the Lighting, four of which came away from home, Vasilevskiy looked sensational on his way to a 4-1-0 record with a 2.01 goals-against average. 

Being used as a back-up was always going to be tough for Nabokov to adapt to after such a long career as an immediate starter. For Vasilevskiy, however, having the chance to get a decent run on the ice, even in a back-up role, was always going to be a fantastic opportunity to show what he can do. While there is no doubt the early signs suggest the Russian rookie has all the tools to be a future starter for the Lighting, sporadic involvement between now and the end of the season as Bishop's back-up could be the best thing for Vasilevskiy's development.