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Young Russian goalie Vasilevski is the great unknown

by Mike G. Morreale /
It's amazing to think how much differently Russian goalie Andrei Vasilevski might have been viewed had he not pulled himself from the semifinal round game of the 2012 World Junior Championship in Calgary with just six minutes remaining in the third period.

Some may look at Vasilevski's decision to take himself out of the game at the 14:17 mark, and his country clinging to a 6-5 lead over Canada, as a move to help a seemingly winded Russian squad.

Others may view it as a sign of giving up or quitting. Either way, Vasilevski, who made 44 saves in the game, was replaced by Andrei Makarov, who closed out the victory in splendid fashion with seven saves.

Both Vasilevski and Makarov participated in the NHL Combine and are both eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft in June. But Vasilevski is the one viewed by many as a potential first-round selection.

Vasilevski had 28 team interviews over four days during the NHL Scouting Combine this week before closing it out with his fitness test on Saturday at the Toronto International Centre. He is considered by some to be the best "future" goalie prospect on the board at this draft. But on almost every occasion during those team interviews, he was asked about pulling himself from that game against the Canadians. Makarov would ultimately get the start in an overtime loss to Team Sweden in the gold-medal game.

"I wasn't injured but just very exhausted, emotionally and physically, and it was the right decision that the coach [Valeri Bragin] made to put in Andrei Makarov," Vasilevski told through an interpreter. "I'm a young player and I need to improve, especially my physical condition. I'm becoming more mentally tough, too, so it's something I need to continue to work on this off-season."

Keep in mind, this is a goalie who had an unbelievable run at the WJC and was a big reason Russia was even in the semifinal round of the tournament. The native of Tyumen, Rus., finished with a 4-1 record, 2.01 goals-against average and tournament-high .953 save percentage.

Fellow Russian countryman Mikhail Grigorenko feels as though his WJC teammate has a bright future, but might still need some grooming back home in Russia.

"He has everything, he's very big," Grigorenko told "Sometimes, maybe because he's young, everyone expects greatness from him. Maybe he's not so strong mentally in some games, but I think that's normal for a young goalie."

The 17-year-old left-hander is very raw. He may have been judged unfairly, but he does possess size (6-foot-3 1/4, 204 pounds) and covers a lot of the net even in the butterfly position. He also has a fantastic glove hand.

He's enjoyed his experience at the Combine this week.

"I like it a lot," he said. "The NHL is out of question the best organization in everything they do. I just wanted to make a good impression for the teams that interview me and also to pass the tests because I've been preparing really hard for the tests."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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