VOORHEES, N.J. – Well, so much for bringing the kid along slowly.
Coming into training camp, it looked like goaltender Carter Hart was a sure thing to play his entire rookie season with the AHL Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
After all, veterans Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth figured to share the load with the Flyers and Alex Lyon, who appeared in a dozen games with Philadelphia last season and put together a spectacular 94-save (five-overtime) performance in a Phantoms playoff game, was expected to be first in line should a call-up be necessary.
Then things changed.
Lyon went down with a lower-body injury before last Tuesday night’s game in Brooklyn against the Islanders and he looks to be out a month.
Elliott is coming off a pair of surgeries (core muscle, hip clean-out) and has seen only limited action so far in the preseason.
And while New Jersey native Anthony Stolarz has looked pretty good in exhibition game action, he’s also coming off a pair of knee operations that cost him almost the entire 2017-18 season.
Also, let’s not forget the state of the fragile Neuvirth, who is currently nursing a groin injury (what’s new?) and is listed as questionable for the season opener in Vegas on Oct. 4.
So. . .the bottom line is, Hart, all of 20 years old, could be appearing in a National Hockey League game (at some point) a bit quicker than people thought.
Is he ready?
General manager Ron Hextall always preaches patience with his young prospects, so one wouldn’t expect him to start touting Hart for an apartment rental in South Jersey just yet.
“He’s been good,’’ Hextall said. “I think there are still some steps to go before that (NHL action). But he certainly has looked solid when he’s played.’’
Hart has seen 100 minutes of preseason action so far and sports a sparkling 1.20 goals-against average.
As it looks now, Elliott should be ready for the season opener and if Neuvirth can’t go, then Stolarz is the likely choice to back up. But Hart looks ready if he gets the call.
“I mean I can’t really think about that now,’’ he said. “I’m just focusing on the day-to-day process. Coming to the rink every day and competing. We still have a few preseason games left, I’ve been in a few already, maybe get in a couple more. Just have to keep working.
“I feel good. It’s just good to get in and play with some of the older guys – experience that pace and speed. Adjust to the differences from junior to pro. It’s definitely faster, the guys shoot harder. The execution level is a lot higher.’’
Shayne Gostisbehere said Hart is handling this camp in a mature fashion. This first year is all about a learning experience.
Gostisbehere’s rookie year saw him called up early because of injuries on the Flyers and that could wind up being the case with Hart.
“Play your game,’’ Gostisbehere said. “Do your thing. It’s you against the world. If you do bad, it’s not the worst thing in the world. He’s a young guy but he will kill it, he’s such a good goaltender. When he gets a chance, I know he will be ready.’’
Gostisbehere went on to set several rookie records, including point-scoring streaks and overtime goals.
“When all that stuff was happening to me and everything going so well at the same time, I think the most important thing is the guys in here (the locker room) will keep you on earth,’’ Ghost said. “Your family, your support system don’t let you get too big of a head.
“Just take everything in stride. It was crazy, it was a fun ride. If it happens to ‘Hartsy,’ if he gets the opportunity, don’t be surprised if he runs away with it.’’
Technically, Hart looks quite sound.
“He’s a very confident guy, he’s quiet back there,’’ Gostisbehere said. “He makes good reads. Maybe he could play the puck a little bit more. He’s going to be a great goalie. He’s got a great head on his shoulders, that’s the most important thing.’’
Based on his work in the preseason, he certainly doesn’t look out of place. Positionally, he appears sound. That, and he doesn’t seem intimidated by the moment. No deer-in-the-headlights look in front of the media, either.
Maybe that has something to do with appearing in two World Junior Championships, in which he helped Canada win a gold and a silver medal.
“The media is very intense on Team Canada,’’ he said. “I’ve definitely experienced this kind of media before, even more. It was good to get that experience and know what it’s about.’’