For years the Flyers struggled with subpar goaltending. That all seems to have changed with the previous General Manager, Ron Hextall. I mean why not, he only was a star goaltender for the Flyers. Why wouldn’t he be able to boost his position? Well, what we learned is that Hextall had an eye for talent when it came to the netminder.
In four drafts as the head of the Flyers, he selected five goaltenders. Carter Hart was at this point his best pick of the position and may go down as the steal of the 2016 NHL Draft. The other picks are as follows: Felix Sandstrom, Matej Tomek, Ivan Fedotov, Kirill Ustimenko, and Samuel Ersson.
With a roadblock of solid goaltending at the NHL and AHL level, Sandstrom and Ustimenko found themselves having to play for the Reading Royals. This isn’t something that is necessarily a bad thing. They both need to play and they would most likely sit behind Alex Lyon and Jean Francois Berube in Lehigh Valley.
Ustimenko is Leading the Way
Ustimenko won again last night, helping to get the Royals into a tie for first place. Kirill seems to be the go-to netminder as of now. So far this year, the 20-year-old Belarus native has played in nine games and only has one regulation loss. His record on the year stands at 5-1-2-0. Yes, the ECHL still has ties. He has faced 231 shots, allowing 24 goals for a .896 save percentage and 2.88 goals-against average.
This is Ustimenko’s first season playing in the United States. He comes to Reading from playing in St. Petersburg of the Molodyozhnaya Hokkeinaya Liga or MHL. The MHL is considered Russia’s major junior hockey league. The Flyers selected Ustimenko in the third round of the 2017 draft, 80th overall. Ustimenko was dominant in the MHL. In three seasons, his GAA was never more than 1.81 and his save percentage was never lower than .927.
Ustimenko is a project that is likely a few years away from being NHL ready. He is a solid prospect that gives the Flyers depth. Although he is in Reading, he should be able to see some time in the AHL this year.
The Young Swedes
The Flyers selected Sandstrom in the third round of the 2015 NHL Draft. He was selected 70th overall. As with Ustimenko, his is the first season that Sandstrom is playing in the United States. He spent most of his young career playing in the Swedish Hockey League, SHL. At 22-years-old, this could be a make or break season for Sandstrom.
Sandstrom comes to Reading having a history of injuries that has limited some of his growth. However, Sandstrom does have a history of success, having led Sweden to the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championships goaltender of the tournament award. He beat out fellow Flyers’ netminder, Carter Hart for the award.
Ersson is the other of the super Swede netminders in the Flyers system. The Flyers selected Ersson with the 143rd pick in the fifth round in the 2018 NHL Draft. He is currently playing in the SHL. Last year, Ersson was named MVP for Allveksan, which is the league below the SHL. The award is voted by the Players. He was also voted as the leagues’ best goaltender.
Ersson also was the top netminder for the Swedish U20 WJC team. He posted a 2.23 GAA and a .922 save percentage in the tournament. There is still a lot to learn about Ersson, however, the Flyers are going to take a patient approach with the 20-year-old. He is now in the SHL and off to a rough start. Here is what can be expected of Ersson from last year’s World Junior Championships.
As Carter Hart continues to shine for the Flyers, the future is bright for some of the young goalies in the system. Should it become necessary to move one for a different need, Chuck Fletcher has options. He should be thankful that Hextall stocked the position with prospects.
Mandatory Credit: Alex McIntyre