By Dan Charlton (@Dan_Charlton48)
Picture via Hockey’s Future
The Flyers have one of the best goaltending pools in the league, not something that you’d usually associate with the Flyers, but nevertheless, we are put into yet another good situation for the future of this team. Goalies are extremely difficult to predict and take the longest time to develop, so taking one is basically going on chance and hoping that they hit. The Flyers have a surplus of very good goalies that are all looking very likely to hit. I will be examining the likelihood of these goalies developing and becoming one of the two goalies that the team carries at the professional level.
PROSPECT 1: ANTHONY STOLARZ – LEHIGH VALLEY (AHL)
AHL: 29 GP, 18 W, 9 L, 0 OTL, 2.92 GAA, .911 S%, 1 SO
NHL: 7 GP, 2 W, 1 L, 1 OTL, 2.07 GAA, .928 S%, 1 SO
Flyers fans got the long-awaited NHL debut of Anthony Stolarz due to an injury to Michal Neuvirth in late November this past season. Stolarz played his first game against the Calgary Flames and performed admirably, earning a 5-3 win. He didn’t get much playing time over the rest of the year, but started and helped to continue the 10-game winning streak — one of the few high points of this past year. He followed that performance with his first shutout against the Detroit Red Wings in Joe Louis Arena, and also came in relief a few other times. In another solid outing, the New Jersey native pitched a shutout in relief of a collapsed Michal Neuvirth after Mason was unavailable due to an illness. In short, Stolie has already shown that he can perform as a backup in the NHL. Only time will tell if he can do more.
PROSPECT 2: ALEX LYON- LEHIGH VALLEY (AHL)
AHL: 47 GP, 27 W, 14 L, 0 OTL, 2.74 GAA, .912 S%, 4 SO
AHL (Playoffs): 2 GP, 0 W, 1 L, 0 OTL, 2.07 GAA, .882 S%, 0 SO
Ron Hextall pursued another high-end NCAA free agent in Alex Lyon last April. The rookie goaltender did not disappoint. Due to Stolie being in the NHL for long stretches of time because of Neuvirth’s injury, Lyon became the starter for Lehigh Valley and he took off. Lyon was stellar for the Phantoms who had one of their best seasons in years. The play of him and Stolarz led the team into the playoffs where, unfortunately, both him and Stolarz were injured leading to a heart-breaking five-game elimination (the first round of the AHL playoffs are played in series of five). Lyon and Stolie are going to be in heavy competition next season for the backup goalie opening or whichever one of them is the first call-up depending on what Hexy decides to do in free agency. Lyon is a bit older, so it may come time for sink or swim with him in regards to his NHL debut.
PROSPECT 3: FELIX SANDSTRÖM- BRYNÄS IF (SHL)
SHL: 22 GP, 14 W. 7 L, 0 OTL, 2.25 GAA, .908 S%, 2 SO
WJC: 6 GP, 4 W, 2 L, 0 OTL, 2.17 GAA, .915 S%, 0 SO
*Unfortunately, the Brynäs website does not list the stats for goalies (GAA, S%)
The 20-year-old goalie plays in Sweden with fellow prospect Oskar Lindblom. Although Lindblom has made the commitment to head over, Felix decided to ink a one-year extension with Brynäs. He performed admirably in the SHL regular season, playing against older men as a young goalie and that’s very promising for when he jumps over the pond to North America. He stood on his head in the SHL playoffs helping lead his team to a Game 7 for the SHL championship. Unfortunately for Sandstrom and the team, it lost after battling that hard but Brynäs wouldn’t have made it nearly as far as they did, if not for Sandström in net. He also won Goaltender of the Tournament in the World Junior Championships this year. When he comes over, the Phantoms’ goalie situation should be more clear than it is right now. Placing one of your prized goalie prospects in the ECHL would be a waste when they could be playing against men in one of the best pro leagues in the world as Sandstrom is doing.
PROSPECT 4: MERRICK MADSEN- HARVARD (NCAA)
NCAA: 36 GP, 28 W, 6 L, 2 T, 2.11 GAA, .923 S%, 0 SO
Madsen is turning into the perfect example of “it’s never too late to pick a goalie”, as the 2013 sixth round pick has become a starter for the Harvard Crimson. He’s helped lead them to the Beanpot Championship, as well as continuing to post stellar stats over his past two years. Now it’d be wrong to lump him in with Henrik Lundqvist and Pekka Rinne as goalies who were selected in late rounds who have gone on to become amazing, but these past two seasons leave nothing but promising remarks about the goalie. However, there were rumors circulating that he might test the waters in free agency rather than sign with the Flyers, which is understandable due to the goaltending depth they have. It’d be a shame to lose him, but hopefully he signs with the Flyers. If not this is why you have goaltending depth?
PROSPECT 5: MATEJ TOMEK -NORTH DAKOTA (NCAA)
NCAA: 2 GP, 0 W, 0 L, 0 OTL-T/ 7.46 GAA, .692 S%, 0 SO
WJC: 2 GP, 0 W, 0 L, 0 OTl-T/ 3.50 GAA, .913 S%, 0 SO
To say Tomek had a bad year, would be a massive understatement. None of it however was due to his play, as evidenced by his performance at the World Junior Championships for Slovakia. It was, however, due to bad luck and seniority. Tomek was constantly scratched by UND because of his younger status. Instead, he was rotated as the backup but mostly was the third-string goalie. Barely seeing any action would frustrate any player, so Tomek did the wise thing. He left UND, and returned to the USHL draft, where he was drafted by the Waterloo Black Hawks, and should hopefully receive playing time. Things haven’t looked good for Tomek in a while, but they seem to be looking up. Hopefully he can get his career back on track and see what we truly have in him rather than seeing him buried in the press box for a senior goalie.
PROSPECT 6: CARTER HART -EVERETT (WHL)
WHL: 54 GP, 32 W, 11 L, 8 OTL, 1.99 GAA, .927 S%, 9 SO
WHL (Playoffs): 10 GP, 4 W, 5 L, 1 OTL, 2.43 GAA, .908 S%, 1 SO
The newest and youngest goalie on this list is perhaps the most promising. Hart put on a show for Everett again this year in an attempt to defend his CHL Goalie of the Year status. He ended up winning WHL Goalie of the Year, but was snubbed of the CHL Goalie of the Year to Michael McNiven, a goalie who played on a better, higher scoring team than Hart and had worse statistics. Besides that, Hart was a monster this year, posting a shutout streak of monster proportions with three shutouts in one month. Although his games-played went down, (63 two seasons ago to 54 this year) Hart still played the majority of his team’s games and performed outstanding. He was able to maintain a sub-2.00 GAA and almost a .930 save percentage for over 50 games. Although goalie prospects are hard to predict, and you never truly know, with each passing year Hart is looking more and more like a sure thing when he eventually reaches the NHL. Hart was one of a few Flyers prospects to spend time with the Phantoms following an elimination from the CHL playoffs this past year.
The Flyers goaltending situation, excluding the current mystery, has never looked better for the future. It’s not a guarantee that any of these kids hit and become elite goalies, let alone backup goalies in the NHL. However the sheer number of goalies that the Flyers have coming up gives them a cushion to sit on. Help is on the way for the crease. All we need to do is one thing that has been preached up and down by general manager Ron Hextall. Patience. We have to be patient. Patience is the key word when it comes to goalie prospects, and now all we can do is wait, and the golden age is just on the horizon. There’s going to be struggles, that’s inevitable, every goalie has an off night or two. We just can’t run them out of town. They need time, let them struggle, let them grow into the goalies the Flyers need.