TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — The plan last year was never for Matiss Kivlenieks to play 43 games during his first professional season. Fresh off a year in the United States Hockey League, the Latvia native was brought to Cleveland to spell veteran starter Brad Thiessen and get acclimated to the level of play in the American Hockey League.

That plan went out the window when Thiessen was placed on injured reserve after playing in only nine games. He would not return for the remainder of the season, in effect handing the reins over to the 21-year-old Kivlenieks.

It caught everyone by surprise.

“I definitely did not expect to play that many games, but Brad Thiessen got injured and I had to step up and do everything I could,” Kivlenieks said after Monday’s morning skate on David’s Rink at Centre Ice Arena. “Of course I had ups and downs, but it was a good experience for me. It definitely was a little bit different, right? You’ve just got to show up and do everything you can every day and try to win some games.”

Thrust into action, Kivlenieks posted a .891 save percentage while allowing 3.21 goals per game in 43 appearances. If not for the injury to Thiessen, he was likely in line for about 15 starts. Given how things started, Monsters coach John Madden said Kivlenieks improved as time went on.

“I don’t think he was ready for it mentally,” said Madden, who is coaching the Blue Jackets’ team at the NHL Prospects Tournament. “I don’t think that’s what we brought him in to be, a starter. He played well, and especially down the stretch he played well for us.”

That experience required Kivlenieks to make a step forward in his development, Madden said. The same will be required of him this season when he is expected to be the primary goaltender for the Monsters, and it’s as much a mental as it is a physical challenge.

Madden said he wants Kivlenieks to approach the year with the mindset of a starting goaltender. He opened the prospects tournament by stopping 18 of 21 shots in a 4-3 win against Chicago, and after sitting out Saturday’s game against St. Louis, he stopped 16 of 17 shots to lead the Jackets to the championship game of the tournament with a 4-1 win over Carolina on Monday night. Included in there was a spectacular save as Andrei Svechnikov, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, skated in alone with the puck.

“I would say it’s another jump for me now (this year),” Kivlenieks said. “I’ve got to be better than last year, definitely. At least now I’m feeling a little bit more comfortable and I know what to expect.”

While all goaltenders in the organization are at least somewhat affected by the uncertainty of Sergei Bobrovsky’s future as he enters the final year of his contract, Kivlenieks doesn’t have the luxury of thinking of that big of a picture.

“We know he’s going to be at least another two- or three-year guy before he gets the chance to play in the NHL,” Madden said. “I think when he gets into net he should think, ‘This is mine, and mine to lose.’”