Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Kristers Gudlevskis has appeared in one regular-season NHL game during his career. But after spending last season with the Syracuse Crunch, the Lightning's American Hockey League affiliate, Gudlevskis could be the backup goalie with Tampa Bay to start the season.
"I think I always have a chance no matter who is here and who is not here," Gudlevskis told the Tampa Tribune on Friday. "The main thing is to just work hard. This organization is really fair, and if you prove yourself you are going to get the chance anyway."
With Andrei Vasilevskiy out 2-3 months with a vascular injury, Syracuse coach Rob Zettler said Gudlevskis, who was 24-14-4 with a 2.81 goals-against average in the AHL last season, could earn the backup job.
Gudlevskis' lone NHL start was during the 2013-14 season when he made 36 saves in a 3-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He also appeared in two Stanley Cup Playoff games in relief that spring as the Lightning were swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference First Round.
"With the injury to [Vasilevskiy], there is a potential opportunity here for him to stick around, so he has to show what he can do," Zettler said. "So it's a huge year, one, for his personal development and, two, for the opportunity he has in front of him immediately in training camp and, three, just to kind of be the guy that you lean on as a staff and as a team.
"He's had a great opportunity with this organization to play lots of minutes, and he's kind of worked his way through. He's had a fair amount of minutes down in the American League, and that's helped his development."
Gudlevskis, 23, was selected in the fifth round (No. 124) in the 2013 NHL Draft. He likely will compete with Ray Emery, who signed a professional tryout contract with the Lightning last week to be Ben Bishop's backup this season.
Bishop has recovered from a torn groin muscle he sustained during the Stanley Cup Final and is skating.
"Everything feels good," he said Tuesday. "I'm just trying to loosen up. And it was good to be back out there with the guys."