VOORHEES – Discussing possibilities for the fourth goaltender on the Flyers’ depth chart might not seem like a very big deal, unless you consider the injury histories of No. 2 Brian Elliott and No. 3 Alex Lyon.
Both Elliott, just re-signed as Carter Hart’s backup for the 2019-20 season, and Lyon, favored to be the starter for the Phantoms, have missed considerable amounts of time over the last couple seasons.
So that’s why a little bit more attention is being given to Swedish prospect Felix Sandstrom (who’s had some medical issues of his own) and Belarus backstop Kyrill Ustimenko at this year’s development camp at the Skate Zone.
A couple months back, general manager Chuck Fletcher had raised the possibility that he might add two goaltenders to his roster. So far he’s only signed Elliott, possibly waiting to see what progress the two aforementioned goalies have made.
Fletcher does have the option of seeing what’s available when the NHL free-agent signing period opens on Monday. But it would be nice if he could get some home-grown talent in there to fill a slot.
“I guess it may depend on the market a little bit,’’ Fletcher agreed. “We’ll see what’s there in a few days, what’s left.
“But young Sandstrom and Ustimenko are quality goalies in their own right. Sandstrom’s played some professional hockey, went in and won a big game in Providence at the end of the season (his first game as a professional with the Phantoms). So we’re just going to try to weigh everything and balance everything, look at the opportunity of who may be available versus what we have here, but we’re certainly comfortable with Alex.’’
Lyon has shown flashes of brilliance, including some impressive wins with the Flyers and especially that record five-overtime playoff win a couple years back when he stopped an incredible 94 of 95 shots.
“We have a lot of confidence in Alex as well,’’ Fletcher said. “I think Alex is a good goaltender. A couple seasons ago I know he came in and I think he won five or six hockey games for the Flyers. Last season he was battling a couple things early, but the second half he played really well down in Lehigh Valley. So we have a lot of confidence in Alex as a [third goaltender].’’
For Sandstrom, it’s a case of keeping himself healthy for a full season. He’s dealt with a sports hernia and knee problem, limiting his action to about 20 games a season over the past four years since he was selected by the Flyers in the third round (70th overall) in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
The Flyers have remained patient with the 22-year-old Sandstrom but this could shape up to be a make-it-or-break-it year.
No doubt overcoming adversity has toughened him mentally. Now if his knee just holds up. . .
“It was tough to not get that many games,’’ he acknowledged. “The only thing I can do is try to go my best and be my best to help the team as much as I can when I get the chance.
“If I be negative, maybe in the long run it will affect me negatively. I won’t be able to help the team win when I get the chance. That’s one thing I learned. Always stay on top and always have fun even when it’s tough on you.’’
Ustimenko, taken in the third round (80th overall) of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, posted a record of 30-12-3 in Russia last season (with a Russian Junior League record 12 shutouts) and doesn’t sound fazed about playing North American pro. He signed an entry-level contract with the Flyers on May 1.
“No, I don’t think so,’’ he said of his new environment. “Part of the job I think is to do the best you can and that’s what you got to deal with, is that pressure. So, I don’t think that should be a problem or affect any part of my game.’’