Heading into the 2015 offseason, the Flyers had assembled a number of exciting young defensive prospects and had a few forwards that had some potential, but the third and final position on the ice was one that everyone knew still needed a lot of work. 2012 draft pick Anthony Stolarz appeared to be a respectable prospect in net, but otherwise, the Flyers' stock of young goaltenders was severely lacking.
Fast forward two drafts later, and the Flyers are about as well-stocked in terms of goalie prospects as any team in the NHL. Six or seven young netminders in the organization can at least be considered "solid prospects", if not better. ESPN's Corey Pronman called the team's prospect depth in net "ridiculous" earlier this week. There's no one guy, yet, that you can point at and call a no-doubt high-end goalie prospect, but so few of those exist at all, and even without one, the franchise is going to get a lot of whacks at the goaltending piñata over the next few years as these guys start to make their way into the pro ranks.
Still, other than Stolarz, most of those aforementioned goalie prospects still have a lot of work to do before reaching even the AHL, let alone the NHL. So does the one among them who actually has meaningful professional experience under his belt have a bit of a leg up on his "competition"?
No. 24: Felix Sandstrom
Age: 19 (1/12/1997)
2015-16 League/Team/Statistics: Brynas, SHL - .904 SV%, 2.61 GAA in 25 GP
Nationality: Swedish (Gävle)
Acquired Via: 2015 NHL Draft -- Round 3, Pick 70 (Pick acquired via San Jose for Tye McGinn)
Because that's one thing that Felix Sandstrom can say that none of the likes of Merrick Madsen, Matej Tomek, Ivan Fedotov, Alex Lyon, and Carter Hart can. After spending his pre-draft season mostly at the Swedish under-20 level, Sandstrom spent most of this past season playing for Brynäs, a club at Sweden's highest league. Sandstrom played in just under half of Brynäs' games, splitting time with fellow Swedish netminder David Rautio.
It wasn't always easy sledding in the SHL for Sandstrom, who posted a .904 save percentage in the 25 games he played. Still, that's certainly respectable for an 18/19-year old in a league where the average save percentage is around .908 -- not to mention, a league that is probably one of the four or so best leagues in the world, at least. It's valuable experience for Sandstrom, who almost certainly picked up more than he would have with another year playing entirely against under-20 players. In an interview with Steve Coates that went up on the Flyers' website just this past weekend, Sandstrom stressed that it was very helpful for his development to be able to face off against the best Sweden had to offer for an entire season.
The Swedish leagues aren't the only place Sandstrom's been honing his craft, though. Quite the contrary -- one look at his resume shows years of play for Swedish junior teams from under-16 all the way up to under-20. And this past year was no exception: he was the backup for Sweden at the World Juniors, where he posted one shutout and one admittedly forgettable performance against Team USA in the bronze medal game, and just earlier this month he put together an excellent performance for the Swedish team at the World Junior Evaluation Camp. He's got the inside track as of now to be their starter in the tournament come December -- something he's stated is another goal of his.
He'll work towards that goal while playing for Brynäs this year, and with a year of work in the SHL under his belt, one should reasonably hope that the game slows down for him a bit this year and we see even better overall results. From the Flyers' perspective, the question becomes what happens after this season. Sandstrom's contract is in its final year this season, which would appear to at least leave open the option for him to come across the pond and play in North America next season.
How likely that is depends on a number of things -- how well he plays this year, whether he receives a good offer to stay in Sweden next year, whether the Flyers think they have room for him in the AHL next year -- but it's probably something the Flyers have on their mind. With the depth the Flyers have in net through the organization right now, they may not need him to, but it'll certainly be something they have to think about if he plays well enough.
Until then, though, Sandstrom will have to keep working to prove himself. He's got the pedigree -- some saw him as the top goalie in the entire 2015 draft, and as of earlier this past season the aforementioned Corey Pronman called him the sixth-best goaltending prospect in hockey (note: in his updated rankings released today, Pronman had Sandstrom ranked 15th in the league among goalie prospects). He knows what he needs to work on; he highlighted flexibility as something he's working to improve in that interview with Coates, and he mentioned stickhandling as something he was looking to improve last year.
Three other goaltenders in the system finished ahead of Sandstrom in our ranking. But if he keeps making the most of the opportunities in front of him, he's got the potential to be as good as any goalie the Flyers have had in a while.
How we voted for Felix Sandstrom:
How we voted at No. 24:
|Merrick Madsen||Jesper Pettersson||Taylor Leier||Tyrell Goulbourne||Alex Lyon||Merrick Madsen||Mikhail Vorobyov||Mark Friedman||Ivan Fedotov||Petr Straka|
Previously in Philadelphia Flyers Top 25 Under 25, Summer 2016: