TAMPA, Fla. — Being a goaltender in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization might not be the best way to see playing time in the NHL anytime soon. Andrei Vasilevskiy has established himself as arguably the best goalie in the world. But there was a time when the man they call "The Big Cat" was a young player learning behind veteran Ben Bishop.
This week, the Bolts get their first look up close at their top prospects during a week-long training camp. Two of those players are goaltenders, and despite the fact that the Stanley Cup champs already have a number one, they think Tampa Bay is the perfect fit.
"It’s super cool," said goaltender Hugh Alnefelt. "They have the winning mentality here. That’s something I really love, and I want to be a part of it."
Sweden-native Alnefelt, 20, joins 21-year-old Russian goaltender Amir Miftakhov as the two goalies at camp.
"I'm happy to be here," Miftakhov said after Wednesday's workout. "I’m trying for my dream. I want to play in the NHL and win the Stanley Cup."
It seems like Vasilevskiy's the perfect goalie to model your game after.
"He's a legend," Miftakhov said of his fellow countryman.
There is a lot to like about Vasilevskiy's game, but Alnefelt is equally impressed with how consistently he's played at a high level.
"He’s been so good over a long time. Being able to play that many games in two years and win two cups… I mean, that’s the biggest part."
The pandemic put the brakes on last year's prospect camp, so the players are just happy to be able to work together and get some ice time in Tampa.
"It’s just super fun to be back here, almost like normal," Hugo said. "Just see everyone, start competing again."
Practices will run through Friday, then the prospects will play exhibitions against Nashville, Carolina, and Florida on Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday.
Details are still being finalized regarding the start of the Lightning training camp. Their first preseason game is set for Sept. 28 at Carolina.
The two-time defending Stanley Cup champs open the regular season on Oct. 12 when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins.