Flyers Prospect Watch: Goalie Prospects Aplenty

Alexander Polunin, Felix Sandstrom
Russia’s Alexander Polunin (10) is stopped by Sweden’s goaltender Felix Sandstrom (1) during the second period of the bronze medal game at the World Junior ice hockey championships, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)

You can never have enough quality goaltending. Though reliable NHL netminding begins and ends with Carter Hart, Philadelphia has an abundance of goalie prospects that can potentially transform into quality professional hockey players. Former Flyers General Manager, Ron Hextall, made a point to stockpile the franchise with promising goalie prospects, hoping to make a longlasting weakness an eventual strength.

The reality is that not every young netminder is going to have a place on the Flyers roster. However, that is a problem for the future. For now, the only aspect to focus on is Philadelphia is flush with netminding options for years to come. Let’s take this opportunity to learn more about each of them and project their future within the franchise.

Felix Sandstrom

Philadelphia selected Sandstrom 70th-overall in 2015. Since then, he has developed into a quality netminder in the SHL. His save percentage numbers have never been anything to gawk at, however, he still prevents the opposition from having many high-scoring games. Throughout his tenure in the SHL, has never witnessed his GAA go above 3.00. At age 22, he’s acquired plenty of experience playing in Sweden and representing his country in international tournaments such as the World Junior Championships. It is now time for Sandstrom to take the next step in his hockey career.

In a recent press conference, current GM, Chuck Fletcher, mentioned his plan of bringing Sandstrom to North America next season. Already on his entry-level contract, there is little preventing this from happening. Barring something crazy, Sandstrom will tend goal in Lehigh Valley, most likely splitting time with another prospect. It will likely take some time for Sandstrom to graduate to the NHL, but he could serve as a reliable back-up for Philadelphia in time. Of course, there might be a time where he’s ready to seek a starting role. Obviously, that will need to take place elsewhere.

Kirill Ustimenko

Ustimenko, a former third-round pick in 2017, is another goalie prospect receiving a great deal of positive attention recently. This, of course, is well deserved. The 20-year-old netminder is absolutely tearing apart the MHL and has been for quite some time. In his third season in the league, Ustimenko has never seen his save percentage go below .920 or his GAA get above 2.00. Obviously, this alone is fascinating and a great sign. However, it would be foolish to not point out the competition in the MHL. It is still junior hockey, and there’s no telling whether this dominance will translate to the professional game.

In the same press conference he discussed Sandstrom, Fletcher also mentioned bringing Ustimenko to North America next season. He is yet to sign his ELC so a little more work needs to be done, however, it is likely Ustimenko would join the Phantoms as well next season. Of course, there is always the chance of him playing in the ECHL for Reading, but I find that to be less likely. The verdict is still out on Ustimenko and his ceiling as a professional netminder. He is still incredibly young and has a lot of development left to do. As of now, I’m picturing him as an AHL starter/NHL backup. To be fair, it’s simply because I need to see more from him at a higher level.

Samuel Ersson

To me, Samuel Ersson is the final member of the Flyers “goalie prospect big three”. Of course, this is under the assumption that Carter Hart remains in the NHL. Ersson, a former fifth-round pick, his having an amazing first year with Vasteras IK of the Allsvenskan. Through 27 games, Ersson has a 1.81 GAA and .938 save percentage. Additionally, his performance in this year’s WJC  garnered more national recognition.

At age 19, Ersson is still very younger, especially in goalie years. Whether he has the ability to post these kinds of numbers will be telling in regards to his ceiling. Personally, I think he’s got at least two more years in Europe before the Flyers consider bringing him to North America. Similarly to Ustimenko and Sandstrom, picturing Ersson as Hart’s future back up is not unrealistic. That being said, I would not be shocked if Ersson is used in a trade package to fill an NHL need. This will become even more likely if Ustimenko and Sandstrom succeed in North America.

Ivan Fedotov

Although he hasn’t received as much hype as the three prospects listed above, Fedotov also experiencing a great deal of success in the VHL and limited KHL time. At 22-years-old, Fedotov is having his strongest season to date. The VHL is Russia’s equivalent to the AHL. It will be interesting to see how Fedotov performs when he’s given more consistent playing time in the KHL.

As of right now, Fedotov is the low prospect on the totem pole when we think of the goalies that are having successful seasons. It will most likely take one or two of the other goalies not working out for him to receive a legitimate shot. However, that is certainly a possibility. If Philadelphia gets what they need from the other netminders, Fedotov could be another one that gets dealt for NHL-ready assets.



Mandatory Photo Credit: Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP