BRANDON, Fla. -- After three years with the University of Minnesota, it appears Tampa Bay Lightning goalie prospect Adam Wilcox will take the next step.
With his fifth development camp under his belt, Wilcox will stay within the professional ranks and likely split time with Kristers Gudlevskis for the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League this season.
Wilcox got a quick initiation to pro life shortly after leading Minnesota to the Big Ten Tournament championship. A sixth-round pick (No. 178) of the Lightning at the 2011 NHL Draft, he signed a two-year, two-way contract with Tampa Bay in April and headed to Syracuse, where he played in two regular-season games (3.18 goals-against-average, .875 save percentage) and one Calder Cup Playoff game (1.86 GAA, .933 save percentage).
Lightning goalie prospect Adam Wilcox will try to emerge on a team strong in goaltender depth. (Photo: Getty Images)
"I felt like it was time to make the move," Wilcox said. "I accomplished everything I wanted to do at Minnesota. We won the conference tournament. I had a lot of good moments and also had to fight through some adversity."
Wilcox, 22, will try to emerge in an organization strong on goaltender depth. With Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy established on the main roster, Wilcox will have an opportunity to impress in training camp and during the preseason, but he understands he'll have to make his biggest impression with the Crunch.
However, if this season is anything like 2014-15, a new goalie situation could emerge.
"You look at Vasilevskiy last season and he's playing in the AHL at first, but by the end of the season, he's starting in a Stanley Cup (Final) game," Wilcox said. "That was a major step in the course of the season, and it shows that you have to stay prepared at all times because you never know when your shot is going to come."
In order for Wilcox to earn that shot, he is aware he'll have to prove he can deal with the speed and physicality of the pro game over a period of time. At 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, he is the smallest of the goalies who are expected at training camp.
"My game is a little different than someone like Bishop because he's probably got six or seven inches on me," Wilcox said. "And right away in Syracuse I could see the speed of the game changing and I had to deal with bigger bodies in front of me. They get in your way, they are hard to move. It's something that I'm going to have to fight through."
The one thing that doesn't bother Wilcox is the competition he'll face from the other goalies. The way he sees it, there's no way to avoid competing against top goalies if he wants to succeed in the NHL.
"Every organization has strong goaltenders and it's a good situation in Tampa because all of these guys are getting better," Wilcox said. "The player development is top-notch here and they are winning at every level of hockey, so you are getting better and playing in big games in the minor leagues and in the NHL."
Wilcox expects he'll build his body up and take full advantage of the development system now that he's a full-time pro. That means regular weight-training sessions and a more stable meal plan than the one he had at Minnesota.
"It's hard to train like a pro while you're in college," Wilcox said. "I did what I could do, but you have academic responsibilities beyond the ice and your time is limited. The living situation in college wasn't always the best and you don't always eat the right things. But now I can get on a regimen and really train like a pro."
Wilcox proved to be one of the best college goalies in the nation; he led the Golden Gophers to the NCAA championship game in 2014 and finished his collegiate career with a 73-26-14 record. He had 13 shutouts at Minnesota, tying a school record.
Lightning director of player development Stacy Roest said it was a coup for the Lightning to re-sign Wilcox in April when they could have lost him as an unrestricted free agent.
"I think he was one of the best goalies, if not the best goalie, in college," Roest said. "He is someone that we remain high on and he's a guy that will continue to get better now that he's with us full-time."
Roest expects Wilcox will be invited to training camp and said that while he is likely ticketed for Syracuse, there's the expectation he will work hard to make an impression on the coaching staff.
"He will come back here with a chance to make the Lightning like everyone else invited to training camp," Roest said. "That's the mentality we want. I don't want someone to get an invite here and just settle for going to Syracuse. We want the guys to fight to make the main roster and I expect we'll see Adam to take advantage of the opportunities he will be given."