Philadelphia Flyers: Goaltending options behind Carter Hart

VICTORIA , BC - JANUARY 2: Goaltender Samuel Ersson #30 of Sweden makes a blocker save against Switzerland during a quarter-final game at the IIHF World Junior Championships at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre on January 2, 2019 in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images) "n"n"n"n
VICTORIA , BC - JANUARY 2: Goaltender Samuel Ersson #30 of Sweden makes a blocker save against Switzerland during a quarter-final game at the IIHF World Junior Championships at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre on January 2, 2019 in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images) "n"n"n"n /

Carter Hart has solidified his role as the Flyers starting goaltender. But what about the options the team has behind him?

There’s no question that Carter Hart is the Flyers starting goaltender of the future. His technical skill and approach have helped him grow into that position. This season was not perfect by any means, but that’s okay. Even Hart’s down season is still the best the Flyers have seen in a long time.

That leads us to look at the options the team has to backup Hart. Brian Elliott was the team’s backup option this season. His stats were decent this season. He posted a 16-7-4 record, a 2.87 GAA and a .899 SV%. The 34-year-old goaltender was able to stay healthy this season, a problem he had in previous years.

But is the team going to offer the pending free agent another deal? We spoke about that when looking at the Flyers’ unrestricted free agents. What we didn’t focus on were the prospects the team has waiting behind both Hart and Elliott.

Some are more ready than others. Out of the seven goaltending prospects in the system, we’ll be talking about four of them. Roddy Ross was just drafted this past season and Matej Tomek is likely on his way out once his rights expire. Alex Lyon is a pending free agent and potentially on his way out.

To begin, we’ll start with the goaltenders that have seen both AHL and ECHL time. That leads us to Felix Sandstrom and Kirill Ustimenko.

Felix Sandstrom

The Flyers drafted Sandstrom in the third round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He was the first of three goaltenders the team took that year. Sandstrom had spent most of his career in the Swedish Hockey League. Between four seasons in the SHL, he spent time with Brynas IF and HV71. The numbers were solid.

The season after he was drafted, Sandstrom appeared in three games for Brynas IF J20 in the SuperElit league. He posted a 2.65 GAA and a .910 SV%. He split time as the main goaltender with Brynas with 25 games played. He boasted a 2.61 GAA and a .904 SV%. His save-percentage never dipped below .900 while he was in the SHL.

He shined for Sweden’s international team in 2016-17, posting a 1.98 GAA and a .928 SV%. He was named the WJC’s Best Goaltender. Coming into this season, he was expected to take the reigns in Lehigh Valley. That didn’t happen, however. The numbers didn’t look good, finishing out the year with a 3.16 GAA and a .885 SV%.

Sandstrom could get a chance next season depending on how the Phantoms goaltending rotation shakes out. The team traded J.F. Berube to open up a spot for Ustimenko. With Lyon set to become a free agent, that could open up Sandstrom’s spot as well. It all depends on how the team views Sandstrom’s first season in North America.

Kirill Ustimenko

The Flyers drafted Ustimenko in the third round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. He has spent his career in the MHL in Russia. The numbers were impressive. Before his draft, Ustimenko was playing for MHK Dynamo St. Petersburg. He seemingly had control of the starting role, and his numbers prove that it was a good decision. He led the way with a 1.74 GAA and a .938 SV%.

Ustimenko was also excellent in two games for Russia during the WJC-18. He had a 0.50 GAA and a .984 SV%. Somehow, Maxim Zhukov appeared in more games despite posting a 2.63 GAA and .926 SV%. Nonetheless, Ustimenko came away with a bronze medal.

He continued to post superb numbers his next few seasons in the MHL. He was named to the 2017-18 MHL All-Star Game. Ustimenko also earned MHL Goaltender of the Month twice during his last two seasons.

Ustimenko has brought his name into the conversation with those impressive stats. He also spent most of the season in the ECHL. But he posted much better numbers than Sandstrom. grabbing the starter’s role, he finished the season with a 2.40 GAA and a .919 SV%. It was the first time in his career he finished with a goal-against-average over 2.00 since 2014-15.

He will almost certainly make the jump full time to the Phantoms next season. The Berube trade was done especially to make that happen.

The Flyers’ next two options have spent their careers in Russian and Swedish leagues respectively. Only one of them has a real chance to make the jump next season.

Ivan Fedotov

Fedotov was taken during the same draft as Sandstrom, though he was further down the list in the seventh round. He has fluctuated between the MHL, KHL, and VHL thus far in his career. While he was taken in the USHL Entry Draft in 2016, he never appeared for the team there. His numbers seemed to improve as the years went on.

His MHL career was decent, but he had his best KHL season playing for Traktor Chelyabinsk this past year. As the team’s starting goaltender he posted a 2.10 GAA along with a .931 SV%. he was named KHL Goaltender of the Month in February and earned a Goaltender of the Week nod as well that month.

The KHL is one of the world’s top professional leagues’s so seeing Fedotov succeed there is a good sign. He is likely to soon make the transition to the smaller ice where the Flyers will get a better sense of his development. If he does, it’s likely going to be in the ECHL with Reading. He could also get a look during training camp, but hard to say right now that he could beat out the other options ahead of him.

Fedotov is likely a dark horse candidate to take over, but he will have as much of a chance as the two players mentioned above him.

Samuel Ersson

Out of this group, Ersson is the most recently drafted. He was taken in the fifth round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Similar to Sandstrom, he has spent time with Brynas IF in the SHL and the SuperElit league. After his draft season, he was with Vasteras IK in the Allsvenskan. A solid year there earned him the promotion to the SHL league this season.

For Vasteras IK, Ersson grabbed the starting role and ran with it. He posted a 1.95 GAA and a .933 SV%, far above the numbers the team’s other goaltenders finished with. He played nationally for Sweden as well. During the WJC-20 in 2018-19, he was named a Top 3 Player on Sweden’s team. he posted a 2.23 GAA and a .922 SV% during the tournament.

Earning the promotion to the SHL this season, Ersson seemed to have a grasp on the starting role there as well. For Brynas IF, he appeared in 35 games while his partner played in 20 games. Ersson finished that season with a 2.90 GAA and a .895 SV%.

He is most certainly headed back to the SHL for another season. The numbers in his first season certainly aren’t anything to brag about. His save-percentage was 20th in the league, goals-against-average putting him 21st.

Unless any of the aforementioned prospects run away with the role during training camp, we could see Elliott back. There’s a possibility the team could bring in an outside option. None of the options mentioned above has put themselves in a clear light to take the role. If the Flyers decide to bring back Elliott, it’ll be because they don’t feel they have another option ready to make the jump.