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Russian goaltender makes history at NHL Draft

by Mike G. Morreale

-- Perhaps it's fitting that in the 50th NHL Draft, a little history was made in the opening round.

When Andrei Vasilevski became the first goalie taken during Friday's opening round at Consol Energy Center, it marked the first time in draft history that a Russian goalie was the first off the board at his position. The Tampa Bay Lightning took him with the 19th pick.


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The last time a Russian goalie was drafted in the opening round was in 2006 when the Washington Capitals selected Semyon Varlamov with the 23rd pick.

"My feelings are only positive," Vasilevski, who sported a Lightning cap and jersey, told reporters through an interpreter. "I am very, very happy and I want to thank Tampa. It was not even my dreams to be the first goalie chosen."

Vasilevski, who spent much of the 2011-12 season playing in the Russian Minor Hockey League with Tolpar Ufa, was the first of two goalies chosen in the first round. Malcolm Subban of the Belleville Bulls in the Ontario Hockey League was selected 24th by the Boston Bruins. The first goalie off the board last year at Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota was 6-foot-5, 185-pound Swede Magnus Hellberg, who went to the Nashville Predators in the second round (No. 38).

"I was 100 percent sure I would be chosen in the first round," Vasilevski said.

Vasilevski, NHL Central Scouting's top-ranked European goalie, burst upon the scene at the 2010 World Under-18 Championship when he guided his country to a fourth-place finish as a 15-year-old.

When asked if he was familiar with the Lightning, Vasilevski smiled.

"I know they're great players, I know more about [Steven] Stamkos than [Martin] St. Louis and I've followed him a lot," Vasilevski said. "I'm very happy to be on the same team with a guy who scores 60 goals. He can get me good and ready for games during practice."

Vasilevski opened some eyes with his remarkable play at the 2012 World Junior Championship for silver medal-winning Russia, going 4-1 with a 2.01 goals-against average and tournament-high .953 save percentage. The only thing that might have swayed teams from drafting Vasilevski early is the "Russian factor," but his talent and size (6-foot-3 1/4, 204 pounds) are hard to ignore.

"I'd love to buy myself out, but where am I going to get the money?" Vasilevski asked. "I still have two years in my deal with Ufa, but I cannot tell you for sure that I will be there for two years. I know [Tampa Bay] is a great organization with even greater players, and I know they have good goalies. It probably won't be boring for me once I get there.

"The only thing I can tell you for sure is that I really want to play in the NHL."

Goalies took the top six spots in the wingspan measurement at the 2012 NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto. Anthony Stolarz of Corpus Christi in the North American Hockey League had an 81-inch wingspan that was three-quarters of an inch longer than Jon Gillies of Indiana (USHL). Subban, Central Scouting's top-rated North American goalie, was third at 79.5 inches. Vasilevski was sixth at 78 inches.

"My feelings are only positive. I am very, very happy and I want to thank Tampa. It was not even my dreams to be the first goalie chosen."
-- Goalie Andrei Vasilevski, 19th pick overall in the 2012 Draft

Subban finished 25-14-0 in 39 regular-season appearance with a 2.50 goals-against average, three shutouts and a .923 save percentage for the Bulls this season. He switched to goaltender at the age of 12 after previously playing defense like his older brother P.K., who plays for the Montreal Canadiens.

"I was pretty comfortable … my goal was to go in the first round no matter where it was," Subban said. "Whether it was top five or last five, that wasn't a big deal for me. My goal from the start of the year was to go in the first round and it never changed. I had my path and had my goal and I achieved it and I'm happy right now and happy to be with an Original Six team."

Of course, Subban was asked to discuss the rivalry between the Bruins and Canadiens. He admitted it should make for some fun time and that the holidays in the Subban household would probably be highlighted by a lot of gag gifts.

"When I was picked, my brother said to me that this was only the beginning and to just enjoy it," Subban said.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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