The Flyers made the announcement Thursday afternoon that they had signed Swedish goaltender Samuel Ersson to an entry-level contract. According to CapFriendly.com, the deal is worth $925k for three years. With the signing, the Flyers add even more depth to the goaltending position in North America. Kirill Ustimenko has one year remaining and is coming off of surgery to repair a torn labrum. Felix Sandstrom is a restricted free agent, but will likely be offered a contract when it’s time.
Interestingly enough, Samuel Ersson signing his deal has a few ripple effects throughout the organization. The Flyers have a few decisions to make surrounding Ersson and the other goaltenders not named Carter Hart.
The Circle of Life
Like that Lion King reference? Yes, this move may spell the end for Alex Lyon with the Flyers organization. Philadelphia just has too many young, talented netminders to use up another roster spot on someone who is, at best, a sub-par NHL backup. Kirill Ustimenko is coming off of a major surgery, but showed that he can perform in the season prior. If Sandstrom re-signs like many expect, he will be penciled in as one of the Phantoms netminders. Carrying three goalies makes little sense for the Phantoms.
Samuel Ersson making the jump to North America makes Lyon expendable. While he’s unproven on this side of the globe, it’s time to develop him into the goalie he can be. Alex Lyon is a known commodity, and that’s not a bad thing. While he’s a solid option at the AHL level, Ersson’s potential should absolutely take precedence over Lyon’s skill-set when it comes to developing him.
Who’s the AHL Tandem?
Likely, the Phantoms will enter the 2021/22 season with two goalies on their roster. The two goalies will likely be the two with the most experience in North America. Given that Ustimenko is healthy and Sandstrom re-signs, those will be the two Phantoms goalies to start the season. Much like their first professional season, Ersson will cut his teeth in the ECHL with the Reading Royals.
It’s not a bad thing either. Ustimenko took to the North American style of play very well and posted a 19-4-5 record. Add to that his .919 save percentage and 2.40 goals against average in 31 games during the 2019/20 season. While Sandstrom posted numbers that didn’t quite equate to Ustimenko’s (13-11-1 w/ .885 sv% & 3.27 GAA,) he found his footing a bit with Lehigh Valley this past season. He played 11 games, going 5-3-4 in those outings. He improved on both his save percentage (.903) and his goals against average (3.19.) While the numbers weren’t fantastic by any means, improvement is improvement.
Can Samuel Ersson ward off the competition?
Earlier this week, the Flyers lost the rights to Regina Pats goaltender Roddy Ross. Ross was taken by the Flyers in the 6th round of the 2019 NHL Draft. While the choice wasn’t Ross’ to make, the plethora of young options in net for the Flyers may ward off some of the other candidates for the jump to North America.
Back in 2015, the Flyers took Slovakian goaltender Matej Tomek in the third round of the draft. Tomek has since played for a different league each year, five in total. His numbers aren’t fantastic, but solid enough to potentially take a look at joining the Flyers organization. The Flyers have his rights until further notice, but Tomek has shown no signs of signing an ELC with Philadelphia. Right about the time that a prospect would look at joining the organization that drafted him was when the Flyers goaltending pool started filling up. It’s understandable that as of right now, Tomek has shown no interest in joining the team due to the competition and up-and-coming prospects in the pipeline.
To an even greater extent, the Flyers “prospect” Ivan Fedotov is still playing in Russia after being drafted in the same draft as Tomek. Taken in the seventh round, Fedotov is one of the top goalies in the KHL currently. While many are hopeful that the 6’8” netminder makes the jump sooner rather than later, no signs indicate that Fedotov is looking to come to North America. The KHL to Russian-born players is the NHL for North American-born players. Fedotov may never make the jump due to that, or due to the fact that the Flyers already have a myriad of young goalies who have made the jump and created a logjam within the organization.
While some of these points may be viewed as negative, Samuel Ersson signing his ELC is the ultimate positive. The promising young goaltender has seen time in Sweden’s top professional league as a 21 year-old. He’s pro-ready and could make an immediate impact with the Flyers organization. A stint with the Reading Royals may be in the cards just to get him acclimated to the style of play here in North America. If he passes with flying colors the way many suggest he will, he may force Chuck Fletcher’s hand and warrant a call-up to the Phantoms to test his mettle a level above. After that, it may only be a couple of years before we see him as Carter Hart’s backup.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves however. The Flyers have a glaring need behind Carter Hart that likely won’t be filled by any of the names mentioned above. While Ersson may show more promise than any of the young goaltenders sans Carter Hart, he’s going to need time to adjust to North American hockey. Let him get his reps in at the ECHL/AHL level. It’s been working with Ustimenko, so a similar approach may be what’s best for the Flyers organization, and ultimately Samuel Ersson.
Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre