The undrafted college free agent pool is one that the Flyers have always liked. Rarely does a spring go by without the Flyers plucking at least one player out of the college ranks to add to their prospect pipeline. This was a bit of a problem in the earlier part of the decade, when the college free agent pool was largely what the Flyers relied on to put together a prospect pipeline -- that's what'll happen when you regularly trade your first- and second-round picks for NHL pieces and rentals -- but as simply another way to add to the system, it's a good place to look.
But other than the signing of Matt Read in the spring of 2011, the names the Flyers were getting in free agency were mostly low-ceiling ones. Despite stated interest in a lot of the "bigger names" on the market (remember Christian Folin? Eric Hartzell? Andrej Sustr? Danny DeKeyser? J.T. Brown?), the Flyers were usually not the ones pulling in the big fish.
That changed this past April, when the Flyers got one of the best goaltending prospects on the college free agent market.
No. 22: Alex Lyon
Age: 23 (12/9/1992)
2015-16 League/Team/Statistics: Yale (NCAA) - .936 SV%, 1.64 GAA in 31 GP
Nationality: American (Baudette, MN)
Acquired Via: Signed as an undrafted free agent in April 2016
The Flyers appealed to Alex Lyon in a number of ways. Lyon himself admitted, via the Inquirer's Sam Carchidi, that the team's long-term uncertainty in net (with both Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth being free agents after next season) played into his decision to sign here, and he also mentioned that he really hit it off with Flyers goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh.
Still, the team did have to get a bit creative to sign Lyon, a then-junior at Yale who had at least a dozen teams bidding on his rights. Since he was signing his entry-level deal at 23 years old, the maximum contract length any team could offer him was a two-year deal. The Flyers signed him on April 5, just five days before the end of the NHL regular season, and they offered start the clock on the first year of his contract right away -- meaning the first year of his two-year contract expired five days later.
In some ways, that's appealing to the player, since it puts him a year closer to free agency; Lyon will now be able to negotiate a new contract next summer, as opposed to in the summer of 2018. On the other hand, there's some risk there on the player's end. He's essentially passing up a full year of salary, he's now got just one year to prove that he's for real, and if that one year doesn't go well for him then the Flyers can just drop him next summer. Lyon surely knows this, so if nothing else, you've got to admire his confidence in himself.
His confidence seems to be fairly justified, though, because it's tough to find any year in recent history that hasn't gone well for Alex Lyon.
Above, via the excellent eliteprospects.com, is Lyon's career résumé, from high school to American juniors to college. Simply put, the guy stops pucks. It's tough to find any year in there with a save percentage that doesn't look very good -- only 2011-12, in his first year in the USHL, does he have a number (.910) that leaves a bit to be desired. And in his last two years at Yale, he was incredible, with save percentages well over .930 and goals-against averages well below 2.
And he's received plenty of recognition for his strong performances in those last two years. He was a finalist for the Richter Award -- given to the NCAA's best goalie -- in both 2014-15 and 2015-16. He was one of the 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award this past season. And after his excellent sophomore season, he was even one of Team USA's three goalies in the IIHF World Championships
Alex Lyon has become something of a workhorse for Yale University this year. The notoriously strong program has been hit hard with injuries, and have relied on Lyon more so than usual. The 23-year-old hasn't wavered, and is posting the best numbers of his collegiate career.
Lyon's strengths are his hands and his ability to adapt and develop. He uses his posts well, and makes smart, confident decisions with his save selections. His hands also play an important role in his game, because he doesn't have the natural skating ability that you would like to see from a goaltender with average size. When he is caught out of position, he is able to make up for it with above average tracking skills.
Although he has made considerable improvements each season, it's hard to say what his ceiling is. His willingness to learn certainly helps his case, but the pro game will be his toughest challenge. As the speed of the game around him increases, he will need to make positional adjustments to account for his skating ability. There's obvious risk involved with that, but he's a prospect that is worth a look because of his raw skills and reputation as a hard worker.
The "hard worker" thing is important here, because Lyon is going to be fighting for every start he gets in the organization in this upcoming season. Lyon himself has said that he's gunning for a spot on the NHL roster, and while that's an admirable goal and mindset, it is obviously quite unlikely that he will break camp with the Flyers unless he outplays Anthony Stolarz and we see an injury to Mason or Neuvirth. In fact, with the signing of Mark Dekanich to an AHL contract a couple of weeks ago, it's not even guaranteed that Lyon has an AHL spot locked down, though you'd have to think he has the inside track for it.
Ultimately, there's little risk for the Flyers when it comes to Lyon. Their goaltending pipeline is half-a-dozen deep at this point, and if he doesn't work out, then the team can move on after the season ends. But there are a lot of potential rewards for him and the team if things do work out this year. At worst, Lyon can push Stolarz from the backup spot in Lehigh Valley and keep both of them on top of their games. At best, Lyon comes out and plays the same way he's played for years, and shows the Flyers that they have not only another call-up option this season but another legitimate goaltending prospect holding his own in the pros.
It'll be an adjustment for Lyon, who didn't play any professional games last year after signing with the organization. Going from college to the AHL will likely take some time, and as with any prospect there's no guarantee for success. But it's tough to bet against the guy who's done nothing but stop pucks for his whole life, isn't it?
How we voted for Alex Lyon:
How we voted at No. 22:
|Carter Hart||Jordan Weal||Merrick Madsen||Petr Straka||Petr Straka||Cooper Marody||David Kase||Radel Fazleev||Connor Bunnaman||Mark Alt|
Previously in Philadelphia Flyers Top 25 Under 25, Summer 2016: