If there is one prospect in the Philadelphia Flyers’ pipeline that needs to have a bounce-back 2018-19 season, that prospect may be Felix Sandstrom. The selection of the 2015 3rd-round pick marked the beginning of general manager Ron Hextall’s foray into rebuilding the franchise’s goaltender depth, and Sandstrom has since been very impressive at times. However, when looking strictly at Sandstrom’s numbers over the past season, he has had quite the up and down ride, but is there more to the story than what meets the eye?
As we all know, goalies are voodoo, so trying to predict whether or not a goaltender can translate success at lower levels to success in the NHL is fairly difficult (see: Fucale, Zachary). For this reason, should inconsistent numbers from a young goalie even worry us at all? Let’s take a look back through the past season for the Sand Man and see if we can pinpoint what caused his slide from 15th on our 2017 Top 25 Under 25 down to No. 19 in our latest edition.
No. 19: Felix Sandstrom
Age: 21 (1/12/1997)
Size: 6’2”, 192 (via)
Acquired Via: 2015 NHL Draft — Round 3, Pick 70 (Pick acquired from San Jose in exchange for Tye McGinn on July 2, 2014)
2017-18 League/Team/Statistics: Brynäs (SHL) | IK Oskarshamn (HA) | HV71 (SHL) - .904 SV%, 2.78 GAA in 19 GP
Ranking in BSH Winter 2018 25 Under 25: 18
Heading into the 2017-18 season, Sandstrom was coming off of a very strong 2016-17 campaign. He posted a respectable .908 save percentage, along with a 2.25 goals-against average, while playing in a tandem for one of the SHL’s better teams in Brynäs IF, where he also saw 13 games of post-season action. He also had a very strong World Junior Championship and was named the best goaltender of the tournament despite not winning a medal. Due to such a solid year, Sandstrom went into this past season with a lot of hype and expectation, even with his fellow Flyers’ goaltending prospect Carter Hart casting quite a large shadow.
Being one year older and having a full year of pro experience under his belt, many expected Sandstrom to take the reigns of the starting goaltender spot for his team, progress in his development, and take his next step toward becoming the franchise goaltender this fan base so desperately desires. Unfortunately, the opposite occurred. Sandstrom got off to a rocky start, bounced around between multiple leagues, and just couldn’t seem to find solid ground to stand on. His save percentage was down, his GAA was up, and there were vague reports coming out of Sweden that he was battling through an abdominal injury.
The why behind the what
Yes, Felix Sandstrom had a down year, but why? He has shown progression at each stage of his career, so why the sudden downturn in his development? Well, we would eventually come to find out that it wasn’t exactly an abdominal injury that hampered his play all season long. Sandstrom battled a throat and stomach ailment connected to the mononucleosis he had during the 2014-15 season, which made it difficult for him to keep food in his system (we won’t get into details here, but you get the picture). His team doctors decided to shut him down for nearly two months during the regular season in order to rest and recover, which caused Sandstrom to miss considerable playing and training time. Before being shut down, Sandstrom posted a .905 SV% along with a 2.87 GAA in just 8 games for Brynäs IF all while battling through his stomach issues.
Once he was deemed healthy enough to play, Sandstrom was loaned to IK Oskarshamn of the Swedish Allsvenskan league, which is basically a Swedish minor league that feeds to the SHL (think AHL to NHL). Unfortunately, the numbers weren’t pretty. In seven games for the minor league team, he posted an .895 SV% with a 3.10 GAA. Ouch. I know that looks quite abysmal, but we have to keep in mind that Sandstrom was out for two months without the ability to train, practice, or see any on-ice action whatsoever.
When Sandstrom was ready to return to the SHL, he ended up playing 3 games with the HV71 to finish the season, but only saw time in one playoff game. During that 3-game stint, Sandy posted a .902 save percentage and 2.58 GAA. So, slightly better than his numbers in the minor league, but not exactly where we would have hoped they’d be at the season’s end. Despite not putting up the best numbers, the HV71 management team must have seen something in Sandstrom that they liked, as they inked him to a one-year deal to remain in Sweden with the team through the end of the 2018-19 season.
2018 development camp
Fast forward to June 28 of this year. All of the Flyers’ prospects began making their way onto the ice at the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, NJ for the start of Development Camp. All eyes were focused on Carter Hart, who would soon be entering his first season of professional hockey with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, but there was certainly curiosity about how Sandstrom would perform at this year’s camp, especially with Carter Hart coming off of a record breaking season in the CHL. How exactly would Sandstrom handle the adversity in the face of such strong competition?
Well, to put it simply, Sandstrom impressed. His quickness and athleticism were on display and, while it was just a development camp, he was successful in helping his team to victory during the 3-on-3 tournament at the conclusion of camp. Who did he beat to claim the prize? None other than Mr. Hart himself.
Felix Sandstrom makes a great save - he’s so quick going from post to post #Flyers Development Camp 3v3 pic.twitter.com/tHZlGnFMw8— Dan Silver (@dsilver88) July 2, 2018
What To Expect For 2018-19
Sandstrom’s timer to become a Flyer has started ticking now that his ELC has been signed with the Flyers. It may seem odd that he signed two contracts this off-season, but for both he and the organization it made the most sense for the upcoming campaign. While one year of his entry-level deal will be burned since the contract is not slide-rule eligible, he will at least be able to play one full year of professional hockey in the SHL with the HV71. His only other option would have been to fight for a spot on the already-jam-packed-at-goalie Phantoms, or somehow try and beat out one of Elliott or Neuvirth for a spot with the big club. Barring any hypothetical trades or injuries to the other five goalies already signed in the professional ranks, heading back to Sweden for one more year was the best decision for both sides.
Sandstrom will be battling 26-year-old Jonas Gunnarsson for the starting spot on the HV71 for the 2018-19 season. Gunnarsson played in 18 games last season for the Malmo Redhawks where he posted a .908 SV% and 2.55 GAA until he was loaned to the HV71 for four games. Based on his career numbers, Gunnarsson will prove to be decent enough competition for Sandstrom heading into the season, but I believe a fair expectation for the Sand Man would be to win the starting role and play at least the bulk of the games during the year. Considering only four teams in the 14-team league do not make the playoffs, Sandstrom has a shot at some post-season action as well, so this will be a key year for his development and a great opportunity to rebound and prove his worth to this organization.
Having a healthy off-season to train and get back into shape coupled with a strong development camp showing during the summer, it’s important that we see Sandstrom have a bounce-back year and put up strong numbers. Playing the position of goalie is mentally taxing and requires a strong mind to respond well in the midst of adversity and pressure, so we will certainly see the strength of Sandstrom’s resiliency put to the test this season, after which both Brian Elliot and Michael Neuvirth will be set free into unrestricted free agency. It is then that Sandstrom will have his shot to make his way over to North America and fight for his chance to play in the best league in the world for the franchise that selected him back in 2015. In order to make this happen it will have to start with having a fully healthy season, followed by a backing of strong numbers and consistent performance in one of the more competitive leagues in the world.
How We Voted For Felix Sandstrom
How We Voted At No. 19
|Carsen Twarynski||Nicolas Aube-Kubel||Felix Sandstrom||Felix Sandstrom||Isaac Ratcliffe||Noah Cates||Samuel Morin||Danick Martel||Nicolas Aube-Kubel||Felix Sandstrom||Samuel Morin||Tanner Laczynski||Matthew Strome||Tanner Laczynski||Nicolas Aube-Kubel|
How The Community Voted For Felix Sandstrom
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Previously in Philadelphia Flyers Summer 2018 Top 25 Under 25: