Before camp the "hottest prospect" was Mike Testwuide. Not that he hasn't performed, but he really had no shot to make the team. Right now our top dog is Russian sensation Sergei Bobrovsky. He was signed as an undrafted free agent this offseason and was expected to back up Johan Backlund, at the AHL level, who is currently nursing a hip injury. While them two were in the AHL battling for time, Michael Leighton was supposed to man the pipes for the big guys with Boosh backing up. Then came Backlund's injury, which gave all of Backlund's preseason playing time to the kid. And then the kid came to play. Last year in Russia in 35 games, on the worst team in the league (9-22-3) he racked up a 2.72/.919 one year after he had 2.49/.927 on a team that was 7-20-2. To put those numbers some perspective... Ray Emery in the previous year went 22-8 with a 2.12 and a .926, so the kid's numbers are legit.
After he gets 3 games (1 start) he went 2-0-1 with a .940 and a 1.57 (3 goals in 50 shots) with every game resulting in a shootout. Those numbers are nothing short of spectacular, however he did give up a few weak goals. I only got to see one of his appearences and he made two great saves in 7 shots (stopping all 7). The first save was a post to post with plenty of time to spare, not because it was a soft feed, but because he has explosive quickness. The next nice save was a breakaway from Jason Arnot where he comitted (In my best Tim Saunders impression) "Left handed larceny." In my short sample size he performed amazing. So what do we have right now:
1. Michael Leighton: 29 year old guy who just signed a two-year-deal coming off of his only good pro season with a lower back injury causing him to be out for a month (or more).
2. Brian Boucher: 31 year old backup in the last year of his deal who playd admirably last season despite horrible goal production when he played and won the first series of the playoffs and would have gone on if it wasn't for an injury.
3. Johan Backlund: Second year in North America as a 29 year old who was the only bright spot on the Phantoms last year.
4. Sergei Bobrovsky: (see above)
5. Nicola Riopel: Don't know much about him, except for he is young and has some potential.
With Leights and Backlund hurt right now our goalies if the regular season starting tomorrow is Boosh and Bobrovsky, and I wonder if that is a bad thing? Each of those four guys falls into the BEST POSSIBLE SCENERIO for them (except Leights, of course). How, you ask? Lets take a look...
Given the opportunity to start fresh, from day one, is a shot he hasn't had in ten years (his last time as a Flyer) or close to it. This preseason he's 1-0 in one start, with one goal given up in 21 shots. Last season when he was in the Flyers went 9-18-3 and he wasn't the reason they lost, he just had no support. However, when it mattered, he won 3 of the last 4 games getting us into the playoffs and then had the 6th best save % and the second best GAA (behind Leights' 2.46) with a 2.47. My point being, that with an improved defense and a motivated team, he should be fine in net for us. Give him a shot before we panic.
Johan Backlund is not healthy. Before we say, 'OMG WE CANT RUIN THE KID WITH THE NHL' think about what you are doing to Backlund if you throw him in there... He's a 29 year old rookie recovering from his first major surgery, and slow at that. I know he's just a backup up there, but what if he had to play. The risk of re-injury would ruin his season and possibly his carrier if he blows his second chance. Yes he is older, but he's still a rookie with potential. He played great last year, so why ruin him this year. Let him BACKUP for the PHANTOMS. What? Yes. Why even rush him into starting. He's got the expierence down there. Let him get fully healed, leaving the way for Nicola Riopel. Another young guy, looking for an opportunity... let him start. Why not? What do you lose? If he is good then he's good. Win. If he's bad then we can get rid of him because we have three more legitimate goalie canidates coming here soon and one is rated higher (hockeyfutures.com) than Bob! Jokeem Eriksson is our top goalie prospect playing in Sweeden, and he's coming here next year. If Nicola stinks, Eriksson playes for the Phantoms next year. We also have Brad Stewart (college guy we signed, not rated as high as Bob and Erikkson) and Adam Morrisson (3rd round pick a few years ago that had lots of potential before a horrible season last year) to battle it out with Eriksson. So give Riopel the reigns for the first few weeks until Backlund gets healthy and can play you rotate them to keep them fresh. Backlund doesn't need to play 55+ games, keep him as fresh as possible incase of a needed call up. With the Phantoms settled and the starter Boosh, that leaves Bob as your backup. I know, 'why do you want him to back up?' Well, if he's not starting for the Flyers than why ruin his confidence losing down there? I know, your supposed to lose your confidence playing up top and play well down there. Yes, the Phantoms are SUPPOSED to be good this year with all of the young talent, but what if they're not. Then our goalies go through another year of losing, and ask any goale, they'd rather win 5-4 than lose 1-0. Don't believe me? Last year when Boosh was losing htose 2-1 games and as soon as Leights would come back we would win 5-4, who did we want in net. The winner. Boosh's confidence got all messed up even though he was playing well. My point being, Bob can learn a lot from just being up there. Dominick Brown (Phillies top prospect) got called up to split time eventually. And he said something like, 'I learned way more up there by watching than I ever could by playing in AA.' Let Bob stay rested, learn what its like to be an NHL goalie, and get to be with Jeff Reese every day, practicing with NHL players every day. Backlund was a part of that run last year, he doesn't need that atmosphere, he already got that. Now the only way Bob plays is mop up duty, which cant hurt a young player or because Boucher gets hurt. If that happens, Bob is our next best available healthy goalie, so we better start him anyway. Starting Bob as the backup Flyer goalie from day one keeps Boosh's confidence up. Keeps Backlund rehabing untill he's 100%, gives Nicola Riopel a shot to prove himself worthy of being in the debate, and will do a great job in Bobrovsky's progression as a goalie. Salary cap wise its fine because Leights goes on LTIR (1.5 + the .8 or so we had) gives us enough room. Because it's a 2-way deal, when he needs to go down, his salary comes off of the books.