The Tampa Bay Lightning already have two extremely good netminders.
Ben Bishop, who was almost a lucky break when they decided to try him out, has been the team’s uncontested number one for a handful of seasons — and that’s not likely to change any time soon. He’s now being backed up by Russian prospect Andrei Vasilevskiy, who stepped up when former backup Evgeni Nabokov struggled to start out the year.
A team can never have to much goaltending depth, though — so the signing of University of Minnesota netminder Adam Wilcox to a two-year entry level deal and an ATO with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL is exciting news for the Bolts moving forward.
Wilcox, who was drafted in the sixth round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Lightning, is opting out of his fourth and final year of NCAA eligibility to go pro — but after tearing up college hockey goaltending, he looks ready to try his hand at the big leagues.
Standing at six foot even, Wilcox is on the short side for modern-day netminders — but his ‘aggressive’ style of play compensates for that. While he fell to later rounds due to uncertainties about whether he’d be able to adapt against a higher quality of competition than he faced in high school and the USHL — Wilcox is known for attacking shots, rather than staying back and spreading across the crease — the Minnesota native has made it more than clear that he’s capable. He was a Hobey Baker finalist during the 2013-2014 season, while his play this year saw him nominated for the Mike Richter award — which the best netminder in the NCAA is awarded each season. He was both the inaugural Big Ten Player of the Year his sophomore season and the Goaltender of the Year, posting a University of Minnesota Golden Gopher single-season record with a .932 SV% throughout the regular season and averaging only 1.97 GAA en route to a 26-6-6 record. His freshman year was no different, as he burst onto the scene with Minnesota by breaking the team’s rookie season record with a 25-8-5 NCAA debut.
A cousin of San Jose Sharks backup Alex Stalock, Hockey’s Future drew strong parallels between Wilcox and his west coast relative — if he can reach that talent ceiling, he’ll at least see a clear backup role in his future. As yet another netminder who has never fallen below a .900 regular season SV% (the first signed this spring who can boast that accolade is Carolina Hurricanes prospect Alex Nedeljkovic), the Lightning could shuffle him up their goaltending depth chart quickly due to a history of consistency from one level of play to the next. The Crunch, with whom he’ll play for the remainder of the spring, have strength in net — but not a ton of depth. Kristers Gudlevskis has manned the starting job in Vasilevskiy’s absence, but the Latvian prospect (drafted in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft) is largely left alone for next year at the AHL level. The starting netminder for Tampa Bay’s ECHL team, Trevor Cann, has never panned out in the upper level minors — Allen York is much the same way.
The team confirmed Wilcox’s contract on Wednesday night, so he could be in net for Tampa as early as this weekend.