VOORHEES, N.J. – Some say the Flyers haven’t had an impact goaltender since Ron Hextall left his mark some 30 years ago.
Now, ironically, he’s the guy in charge of finding the next phenom.
The general manager believes he has not one but two legitimate candidates, namely Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom.
Both were on hand at the Skate Zone on Thursday as the team opened it annual development camp.
Hart, 20, is coming off an excellent season with his junior team, the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, who made it to the conference finals for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
He’s projected to start next season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the AHL.
That is, if the Flyers don’t somehow swing a trade to unload the oft-injured Michal Neuvirth, who has one year remaining on a contract which pays him $2.5 million, leaving a possible opening on the Flyers’ roster.
Either way, Hart has his sights set high.
“My goal is to play in the NHL next year,’’ he says. “I don’t know what their (the Flyers) plans are. Whatever happens, happens.
“I just have to control what I can control. I have a big summer of training ahead of me to get ready for training camp in September.’’
Meanwhile, Sandstrom plans to go back to Sweden to play one more year. If not for a long-lasting stomach ailment – believed to be a byproduct of a previous case of mononucleosis – he might be vying for a job with the Phantoms, too.
In Philadelphia, all the talk is about these two promising players and how quickly they can make it to the NHL.
But with goaltenders, the process is always about patience. Yes, there is the occasional 20-year-old hotshot like Matt Murray who makes it
early on but generally it takes awhile.
Hart has already made a name for himself by winning gold and silver medals at the World Junior Championships. Experiencing elite competition has helped accelerate his progress toward pro hockey.
“Having gone through a couple different situations, for example through two World Juniors, playing in an outdoor game, going up (briefly for two days last spring) with the Phantoms, I’ve matured a lot,’’ Hart says.
“When you move from home at 16 (to stay with a billet family in Everett, Wash.), you grow up quick. You’re kind of on your own, away from your parents. When you’re pro, you’re really on your own – groceries, laundry and stuff. It will be different, that’s the biggest transition from junior to pro.’’
The Flyers’ development system is ranked second in the NHL and Hart is ranked No. 1 on the Flyers. Expectations are high.
“I try to stay away from that stuff,’’ Hart says. “I just deleted Twitter the other day because there’s no point in all that. You just don’t want to hear that stuff.
“I just worry about what I’m doing and where I’m at right now. I just worry about doing my job. The only thing that matters is what I think of myself.’’
There are some who believe Hart could be ready sooner than later.
“Obviously I want to play here,’’ he says. “I will love coming to Philly, whenever that is. I want to be a Philadelphia Flyer next year and that’s my goal.’’
As for Sandstrom, he endured a rough season because of the stomach ailment but looks to get back on course.
He says he’s pretty much recovered now.
“It was kind of tough but I learned a lot,’’ he says. “You get stronger (facing adversity). I had the stomach issues. I think it was because of the ‘mono’ I had a couple years ago.’’
The Gavle, Sweden native wound up playing a total of only 19 games for three different teams.
“Of course I wanted to play more,’’ he says. “You never want to be out. I learned a lot from it. I think I grew as a person. I finished stronger. I learned how to handle stuff, now I know how to handle the tough parts of it.’’
Both young men are somewhat anxious to make it to the top but they realize there has to be some patience in the process.
“You can’t think too much ahead,’’ Sandstrom says. “You have to be ‘here’ now. Stay in the development. I’m trying to stay healthy, trying to be better everyday.’’